The genealogy of Jesus in today’s gospel ends with the following description: “Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations.” Prior to this was a long list of names of personalities with colorful and rather controversial backgrounds.
What can we initially say about the long list of Jesus’s ancestors amounting to forty-two generations (14×3)? It’s a long and seemingly boring story, and if we read the entire Old Testament up to the infancy narratives of the New Testament, it is a story at once complex and violent. But if we read scriptures prayerfully and lovingly we begin to see more than names. We appreciate the stories behind all the names. We begin to see not only a long and complicated history of wars, victories and defeats, conquests and losses but the mysterious and wonderful interventions of a loving God in the lives of his chosen people.
Last Monday, I celebrated mass for the Christmas celebration of the 502nd Brigade of the Philippine Army in Echague, Isabela. I met the new commanding officer Colonel Reynaldo H. Labanen. Colonel Labanen is a most charming and engaging leader, truly a gentleman soldier. In no time we were also talking about running. The good colonel shared how in his younger days at the Philippine Military Academy, he trained hard and regularly by running twenty kilometres a day. We agreed, one day we shall do a run together. Before the mass, I was informed that many of those present were members of Balweg’s Cordillera People’s Liberation Army who, as part of the peace process, are now being integrated into the military. During the homily, I challenged the soldiers to choose well between hawks and doves. While all soldiers are trained to handle various weapons and use these to fight the so-called enemy, they can still develop an attitude of peace over war. Colonel Labanen explained how his men become more than soldiers when they are in the fields. They become teachers, builders, farmers, foresters, and much more. The colonel said, “It is sad and absurd how brothers and sometimes blood brothers end up shooting at each other.”
For the last forty-two years since the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, our country has seen all kinds of wars, not against external aggressors but between brothers and sisters. Forty-two years compared to forty-two generations is not a long time. However, it is long enough for many of us to remember painful moments of conflict, destruction, and death. I have fought in a nonviolent way from Marcos to Cory to FVR to Erap to GMA to P Noy. My nonviolent struggle has been costly and has wounded myself and others. In a violent struggle, as in so-called just wars against external aggressors, there are always casualties on both sides. Even if one side emerges as winner, both sides suffer losses. The experience reminds me of two important figures, Mohandas Gandhi and Jose Blanco, SJ. While I never met the great soul of India, I had the good fortune to meet and work with the Filipino prophet of active nonviolence or ANV, Fr. Joe Blanco.
Fr. Joe, who is an avid admirer of Gandhi, always insisted that greater than the science of war is the science of peace, concretely demonstrated through active nonviolence. If war is a science that is undergoing constant development, peace can likewise be a science deserving of similar, if not more attention and support. In a new book entitled Gandhi CEO, Alan Axelrod quotes Sun Tzu: “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” How many countries are actually investing not only in the peace process to end conflict, but in peace education as well?
There are a few peace educators in the country today. One of them is a good friend and teacher, Dr. Loreta Castro, who works at the Miriam Peace Institute. Loreta teaches people not only how to avoid violence and conflict. She, like Fr. Blanco, teaches people how to promote peace in their lives. If only we can learn how to promote peace in our thinking, feeling, speaking, deciding, and acting, then this world will have more and more leaders of peace who will slowly make the science and technology of war irrelevant.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. His life story is one of love, mercy, and compassion. Nonviolent action or active nonviolence was second nature to him. He knew exactly how to “subdue the enemy without fighting.” In our own lives, we have surely experienced violence, both as actors and as victims. Shouldn’t we try learning peace this Christmas, and become active promoters and educators for peace? Wouldn’t it be better to pursue and live peace rather than merely avoiding violence?
I am looking forward to doing a special run with Colonel Reynaldo Labanen and his men. One day, let us invite all—big and small, rich and poor, known and unknown of Isabela—to run with the doves, to run for peace!!!
Fr. Roberto P. Reyes, OFM
St. Francis of Assisi Parish,
Rizal, Santiago, Isabela