We must encourage young people to be peacemakers, evangelizers

Michael McCarthy | Special to The Michigan Catholic

The New Evangelization cannot move within our Church, guided by Jesus, until we embrace the full Good News of Jesus: nonviolent, all-forgiving, all-merciful love. The central word of the Word of God is the Sermon on the Mount. His blessed way is the way of the Beatitudes.

For our human societies, the Beatitudes are hard sayings. The message of non-retaliation, of love your enemy, return good for evil, put away all swords, is an impracticality in the minds of most Catholics, and treasonous to the very nature of all nation-states down through time.

Yet this nonviolent unconditional love is the very nature of God revealed in Jesus, what he wants for us, and gave us for our salvation. All worldly kingdoms, all personal fortunes and agendas are rubbish when compared with his love. His life, teaching and healing, his death on the cross rejecting the sword and forgiving his executioners, are the definite expression of the Way his followers are to pursue the gift of eternal life for themselves and others. “If we cannot know from the New Testament that Christ totally rejects violence, then we can know nothing of His person or message. It is the clearest of teachings,” says Catholic scripture scholar Fr. J. L McKenzie, SJ.

Scripture, in which we encounter Christ, and our sacraments, give us the heart and mind of Jesus. Our Church family will spread his good news to other hearts as we draw closer to Jesus. What are the practical ways in which we will change as we do this?

The history of Catholicism in America (as has been the case in all nations’ political expressions) is one of accommodation to the laws and purposes of the country. This at times has even meant participating in war. Many have been our good soldiers, and many their sacrifices — many the killed in action. Believers and non-believers alike consider this necessary behavior. But what would Jesus have us do? Certainly never be passive in the face of evil — but does He ever call us to be killers of the enemy he tells us to love? Is His kingdom ever of this world?

These are critical questions for the individual member of the faithful, and for the collective conscience of the Church as a whole. We must pray to become more active peacemakers, teachers and healers, more like Jesus, less invested in war and self-promotion. If our lives are no different in how we spend our time and money, in how we serve other’s needs, in how we are willing to be violent if the situation demands it, then how are we to attract others to the way of Jesus, and have them join us in our faith?

Hope in our Church is to pass our faith in Jesus on to our children and young adults. A practical measure of this would be to encourage and support every one of them who is able, to participate in one- to two-year youth mission and service opportunities here and abroad. They would, at some point after high school, become evangelizers in service to others, deepening their faith and empathy. The Catholic Volunteer Network and other groups offer referrals, as do a number of our diocesan parishes. The Mormons do something similar. Shouldn’t we do more — a “next step” after confirmation?

We must enflesh such ideas if we want a Church that grows. It will be a definite sign of evangelization when the columns of prayer requests for parish members in the armed services appearing in our church bulletins have a new, second column that grows and surpasses the first:  “Pray for those in our parish in un-armed mission services.” Jesus will bless and be within us, as we trust in him and his mercy, not in lethal weapons — as our Church community grows in following his deep, boundless, nonviolent love, sacrifice and service.

Michael McCarthy is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron and is a leader of Blue Water Pax Christi, a Catholic organization that promotes peace around the world.