Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 18, 2005
Behold the magnanimous souls
Take the high road: Move on with peace in your forgiving heart
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Our lives are not without tensions and conflicts. Being neighbourly has not always been humanity's strong point. Our world has seen countless wars, bloodshed and violence over the centuries. The law of the jungle, where the strongest takes all, has been the way of life of people and nations for centuries. Behind all of this is the instinct of domination, the yen to control one's environment - and that of others - for one's own profit.
Father Steckling, a Jesuit priest who taught the history of the Church at the Gregorian University in Rome during my seminary years, related how the world has changed dramatically over the last century or so. He shared how in the past several decades world leaders demonstrated a will to settle differences peaceably instead of violently.
Make peace, not war
The two world wars of 1914 and of 1939 were tragedies that left behind ruined countries and tens of millions of dead. Following the Second World War, the countries of the world got together and founded the United Nations, which became a world forum where nations could debate their differences and avoid future wars. For many years there was a will among nations to preserve peace and avoid war.
What really happened is that the virtue of magnanimity took hold of the world, whether or not the world was aware of it. The word magnanimity describes one who has a great soul, one who has vision that goes beyond the small stuff, beyond the narrow mindedness too common sometimes in our lives.
Magnanimity describes the ability of a person to take the high road; one who resists the temptation to get even at all cost. It includes the quality of one who is able to forgive the unforgivable and move on with peace in the heart and no bitterness whatever. It is the quality of one who turns a curse into a blessing.
In present world affairs there are exceptions, unfortunately. The tragedy in Iraq, with our neighbours from the South launching a war against a much smaller nation, leaves us wondering whether this violence has not been a front for control of Iraq's energy resources. The excuse given to start the war, -- that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was harbouring weapons of mass destruction -- has not been verified. Quite the contrary.
There has been a horrendous loss of human lives on both sides and destruction of towns and cities that will require decades to rebuild. One cannot but wonder if that war hasn't been a great step backward for humanity as well as a ruthless grab by the U.S. of the Middle East's considerable energy resources.
I believe and hope however that history will prove this recent tragedy to be a passing aberration, untypical of the greatness of the US. Looking back at the Second World War, the role of the Allies, including the United States, with the rebuilding of Europe, including Germany as well as Japan, has been one of the greatest positive feats in the history of humankind.
The enemies started hugging each other and a lasting peace descended on the community.
Allies took the high road
The Allies took the high road, not seeking revenge and pay-back, but rather investing immensely in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, helping these two destroyed and humbled nations find their feet again.
At another level, the relationship between individual persons also requires magnanimity. Conflicts between individuals are inevitable. We have different backgrounds and different views of things. We don't all agree on issues and don't have to. Often it's the small stuff that divides us.
I remember that on some occasions when I was a kid we'd have conflicts with the neighbours. We would find all sorts of things to criticize about them. Dad would listen and then he would share with us the qualities of these people, underlining their struggles to overcome poverty, lack of jobs. He would take the high road every time. Dad was a man who was magnanimous. He had a great soul.
A few years ago, in a small indigenous community in Northern Alberta a war took place took place between two large clans. It was a community that I knew well as I had been the pastor there for several years. I returned to conduct a parish mission there. The media had already publicized episodes such as the burning of houses, pitched battles with fists flying and stone throwing, and shooting at houses at night.
Love your enemies
Part of the mission was to conduct small faith communities around such Scriptures as: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you; bless those who curse you, pray for those that cause you harm." These words of Jesus and other challenging Bible texts were shared by groups of people in various homes for three evenings of the mission.
When the first evening of Great Assemblies of the Mission began with the gathering of all the people in the church, inspiring hymns were sung, a talk was presented on love and forgiveness. Young people presented a drama on the same theme. With the final hymn and the blessing imparted, people went home.
But a group of six stayed at the back of the church. They represented one of the fighting clans. When the leaders of song, who represented the other clan, began their walk to the back of the church, they saw their enemies waiting. They were even more surprised when the leader came up with hands extended, asking for a handshake. Then the enemies started hugging each other and a lasting peace descended on the community.
Because a few people really heard Jesus' words of peace and reconciliation, their hearts were transformed and they were able to take the high road and bring the permanent gift of peace and love to their community. A few great souls, magnanimous people, carried the day and brought permanent healing.
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