Take the high road

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In an age of terrorism and hatred, we are called to be people of peace, who walk the high road of Jesus

Over the years, I have had many conversations about taking “the high road.” I think of the high road as the way of reconciliation, the way of peace, the way of humility, the way of guarding one’s tongue, the way of non-retaliation. I have had most of these conversations with myself, when deciding what to do in certain situations. But occasionally, when speaking with friends, or when offering advice to someone who had sought my counsel, the idea of the high road has arisen. It is a hard road to take, and at times we take it kicking and screaming.

Not so the Lord Jesus.

Jesus was fond of the prophet Isaiah and seemed especially drawn to those passages about “the Servant of God,” recognizing in them his heavenly Father’s will for him. The servant passages also reminded the people of Israel of their mission to be a light to the nations and prophesied of one who would bring true liberation. These passages suggest that the One to come would be of kingly stature, but they offer a surprising twist: This reign will come about not through military conquest but through deliberately nonviolent means.

         … he shall bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry out, nor shout,
         nor make his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he will not break,
         and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.
                                                                          (Isaiah 42:1-3)

In other words, the servant of God would not raise his voice or cry out in the streets to draw attention to himself, nor would he preach revenge, for his strength would be of a different order. He would hold others in gentle respect and would never do anything to break an already bruised heart. Should he find only a smoldering wick of faith, he would do nothing to snuff it out, for there is always hope in the faithfulness of God, who can do the impossible. He would forge a path of patience and humility, one that would look to God alone for strength and wisdom.

The high road.

As Isaiah and the people of Israel meditated on these prophetic words, they found both challenge and hope. They believed God was going to establish justice on the earth and bring the kind of healing and reconciliation they could not accomplish on their own. But they could never have imagined that the servant they awaited would be God’s own Son. Only divine intervention of the magnitude of the Incarnation could break the cycle of violence and self-centeredness to which humanity had succumbed by sin.

The tragic reality of terrorism is very much in the news and on our minds these days. In his message for the World Day of Peace many years ago, St. John Paul II wrote: “Terrorism springs from hatred, and it generates isolation, mistrust and closure. Violence is added to violence in a tragic sequence that exasperates successive generations, each one inheriting the hatred which divided those that went before.” The cycle of violence is difficult to break, but the Lord Jesus has shown the way: the difficult but liberating high road of forgiveness and mercy.

St. John Paul added, “Forgiveness in fact always involves an apparent short-term loss for a real long-term gain. Violence is the exact opposite; opting as it does for an apparent short-term gain, it involves a real and permanent loss. Forgiveness may seem like weakness, but it demands great spiritual strength and moral courage.”

The humble servant and Son of God was strong and courageous. Who among us would have the courage to do as he did?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man … you refuse to hate him.” Apparently the high road is not only “high” — it also takes us deep within.

There lies the daily challenge for us, a challenge written large in this age of terrorism. Our faith in the Lord Jesus leads us a different way, along the high road, a road whose route winds deep within through an unceasing examination of conscience. Do I ever use aggression or revenge to achieve short-term “victories”? Or do I offer and seek forgiveness, which builds long-term peace?

This year, Pope Francis dedicated his message for the 51st World Day of Peace to migrants and refugees, those who seek to build a better life for themselves because their homelands are not places of peace. Who among us would not long to live in a land not constantly (and literally) shaken by war and terrorism? Who among us would not want to live in a land where we could lovingly provide for our children and elderly parents? Who among us would not dream of living in a land where we could practice our faith without fear?

Pope Francis challenges us to welcome the “stranger” precisely because we are called to be people of peace, who walk the high road of Jesus. He reminds us that others have done this before us and cites a heroine of the Church in Western Washington, Mother Cabrini:

“Among these, we remember St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in this year that marks the hundredth anniversary of her death. … This remarkable woman, who devoted her life to the service of migrants and became their patron saint, taught us to welcome, protect, promote and integrate our brothers and sisters. Through her intercession, may the Lord enable all of us to experience that ‘a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.’” (James 3:18)

The High Road is the Lord Jesus himself, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - May 2018

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.

Website: www.seattlearchdiocese.org