A major event in Ireland this year has been the commemoration – and in places, celebration – of the 1916 Rising. In all of what took place there was scarcely any mention of what Jesus thought of it, how it fitted in with the revelation of God’s Truth of how we should live. I decided to devote my Christ the King homily this weekend to this subject.
Last June I visited our 3 parish schools and asked the children what they thought about the 1916 Rising – this was after the centenary commemorations. There were two expected answers. Firstly they were happy that Ireland had gained its independence. Secondly they were sad about the killing involved.
Next I asked about what Jesus would have thought of 1916. The unanimous response was that Jesus was sad because of the killing involved. I cant remember any child having a contrary view. In at least one instance I pursued why Jesus would have been sad. The response was that Jesus’ brothers and sisters (through our common baptism, whether British or Irish) would have been killing each other. We can all imagine how we would feel if our own blood brothers and sister started killing each other in a civil war.
One concrete example of what would have saddened Jesus was Countess Markievicz killing an unarmed policeman. (As a prop, I showed the pistol which she used.) This policeman was no different that any other policeman we see around today. He was at his appointed duty of keeping law and order. He may very well have had a wife and children, mother and father, brothers and sisters.
The children who were in 3rd to 6th class were aged 8-12 and would have had no advanced knowledge of the Bible or Catechism. Yet they knew by instinct that the killing involved in the 1916 Rising was not pleasing to Jesus. They were likely to have encountered the 5th Commandment – Thou shalt not kill – whilst being prepared for First Confession. Yet any of us without a detailed knowledge of the Christian Faith need to look no further than a crucifix, Sacred Heart picture / statue, picture of Divine Mercy or the infant in the crib to know that Jesus was non-violent.
Jesus didn’t just talk about loving enemies, being gentle, merciful and being a peacemaker, he also practiced it in the most dire circumstances. We see this clearly in today’s gospel.
Jesus is abused and ridiculed by the Jewish leaders, soldiers and one of the condemned criminals. He refuses to retaliate to hate with hate and increasing the cycle of enmity and darkness in our world. In one of the Seven Last Words he even prays and makes excuses for his executioners: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In the gospel which we just heard, Jesus welcomes into the Kingdom the “Good” Thief who repents and turns to him with the most modest of requests: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He ends up winning the Lotto: “Amen I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.” As the Year of Mercy closes, this same promise is held out to everybody who turns with repentance and confidence to our loving Saviour.
All of this is the complete opposite to a violent revolutionary who uses lethal force to achieve their aims.
The bigger point I want to highlight is that if Jesus is King of our hearts and minds, it is his truth, his way of life that should be the supreme standard by which we live our lives. This is what is meant by giving Jesus the title LORD. This is borne out by the end of the new act of contrition: Help me to live like Jesus and not to sin again.
For a Christian, Jesus is not just one wise person among many. Jesus is the Son of God, he is God and teaches us with divine authority. This is the message of today’s second reading: “… for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, everything visible and invisible… God wanted all perfection to be found in him.”
To return to 1916, does Jesus’ teachings on non-violence and loving our enemies mean that we cant pursue legitimate freedom and self-determination? Not at all! One of the greatest figures in the Irish independence movement was Daniel O’Connell – he used exclusively non-violence means to win Catholic Emancipation and the repeal of the Penal Laws in 1829. For this he won the esteemed title of “The Liberator”.
His conversion to non-violence came about as a young man when he killed an adversary in an ‘honour’ duel. So affected was he by having killed another person that for the rest of his life he wore a black glove on the hand that fired the lethal shot. He said that the freedom of Ireland wasn’t worth shedding a single drop of blood. He did however spend the entire balance of his life to bring this about by peaceful means, as did others such as Edmund Burke, Jim Larkin and Michael Davitt. Gandhi and Martin Luther King where later leaders to pursue their legitimate goals by non-violent means.
Daniel O’Connell died in 1847 when at the height of the Irish Famine he travelled to Rome to request alms from the pope. He died on the way and requested that his heart be brought to his intended destination of Rome while his body was brought back to Ireland.
In summary: If Jesus is king of our hearts and minds, then his teaching should be the supreme standard by which we live our lives. Loving our enemies is one of the most challenging of these teachings.
At the end of Mass I acknowledged that what I had covered in my homily was challenging and that if somebody wanted to talk it over with me further, they were welcome. However they should first read a more comprehensive study of the morality of 1916 than I had time to cover in a short homily. The author is associate professor of theology Fr Seamus Murphy and was published in the Irish Catholic. It is copied below.