A radical idea

Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy explains the non-violent Jesus

By Connie Berry
SUN editor

Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy began to percolate the concept of nonviolence when he was kid watching Movietone newsreels between westerns and war movies. Like most young boys in the 1940s and 50s, he would go to the movie theater on Saturday afternoons.

“It began to occur to me that there were real people in the planes I was watching burst into flames or dive into water,” Father McCarthy said. “The newsreels would always show some kind of violence between the U.S. and Germany or Japan. I watched war movies. I ate them up and I played war and cowboy, but when I saw those films run between the movies, I hated it. Something told me this was real.”

Strong feelings of empathy have always accompanied Father McCarthy, along with an equally deep desire to find the truth.

Ordained in 1981, he is an Eastern Rite priest as well as a lawyer, an educator, an author and a Noble Peace Prize nominee. He founded and directed the Program for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution while at the University of Notre Dame. He is cofounder of Pax Christi USA. Father McCarthy is married to Dr. Mary McCarthy and has 13 children.

He presented a talk on Gospel nonviolence at All Saints Church in the university neighborhood in Syracuse on Sept. 30 and then had breakfast at a local restaurant with a small group the following morning.

“As far back as I have memories, I’ve had this almost compulsion for empathy and truth that I just cannot walk away from,” Father McCarthy explained at breakfast. “That doesn’t mean I was always truthful or empathetic, but I always didn’t like myself when I wasn’t empathetic or truthful.”

With his Boston Irish Catholic upbringing, Father McCarthy said he grew up in a typical family who respected and applied the pre-Vatican II interpretation of Catholicism. It wasn’t until he went away to college at Notre Dame that he began to realize there were other people willing to discuss and discern what the church was teaching.

While an undergraduate, he began to wonder whether or not the church was teaching what Jesus taught in the Gospels.

“I began to read the Gospels and I’d ask priests questions about the Gospels and somewhere in my mid-20s I came to the conclusion that Jesus was non-violent and that logical implications followed that conclusion.”

The conclusion Father McCarthy explained at All Saints is this: If Jesus is God incarnate and God is truth, then the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel must be the truth. If this is the case then it follows that “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” (Mt. 5:38) and “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.“ (Mt 5:43) are the truth. These Scriptures then cast a long shadow over war and those who propagate war.

“Nothing is clearer in Scripture than Jesus’ rejection of violence,” Father McCarthy said.

Up until about 140 years ago most Christians were illiterate, Father McCarthy said. It wasn’t up to them to interpret Scripture. “Today, you and I can read Scripture as well as anyone else and Jesus teaches us a way of nonviolent love just as he teaches us about non-adulterous love,” Father McCarthy said.

And even more significant, “Christians are the only ones who have to follow Jesus — who is God — and therefore if God says something how do you argue with Him?” Father McCarthy asked.

His answer was that once it is accepted as common sense that Jesus is nonviolent, everything changes. “The whole church has to change then,” Father McCarthy said.

All human beings have the desire to know the truth, Father McCarthy said. “St. Augustine said he met a lot of people who lie but not a lot of people who wanted to be lied to. Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality; untruth is unreality,” he said.

Father McCarthy said the just war theory cannot be found in Jesus’ teachings and it cannot be found in a pre-emptive war such as the latest U.S. war in Iraq.

“Do you think you can take a dagger and stick it in someone and kill them and still be a Christian or pour napalm on children and still be a Christian?” he asked. People brought the just war theory into being and then the next thing you know, it becomes an accepted teaching of Jesus and this, Father McCarthy said, is an untruth.

The Vatican did speak out against the war in Iraq as an unjust war, but there was little of that sentiment from the U.S. bishops, McCarthy said.

“One million civilians killed in Iraq,” he said. “Even the just war theory gives civilians immunity.”

While Father McCarthy’s logic-driven arguments are derived from Scripture, there is the Old Testament to contend with. The first sin outside of paradise is violence; Cain’s murder of Abel, Father McCarthy said. The Old Testament is filled with violence, but people now can read, can understand that Jesus’ words in the Gospel prevail.

The apathy that permeates U.S. culture regarding violence is not likely to go away after centuries of complicity, according to Father McCarthy. And it will not disappear until those in power come to accept the non-violent Jesus.

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