A few years before his death in 1999, the great Latin American advocate for the poor, Brazil's Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, was speaking at a crowded church in Berkeley, California. He was asked, "After facing death squads, would-be assassins, corporations oppressing the poor, violent government opposition, and even hostile forces within your own church, who is your most difficult opponent?"We cannot truly show mercy to others until we show mercy to ourselves. We cannot genuinely forgive others until we forgive ourselves. We cannot authentically befriend or accept or love others until we befriend and accept and love ourselves. There's no other way, my friends. Please believe me; there's no other way.
Without saying a word, Dom Helder pointed his hand into the air, then slowly arched it around, until it turned on himself, his index finger pointing to his heart. "I am my own worst enemy," he said, "my most difficult adversary. Here I have the greatest struggle for peace."
Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi was once asked about his greatest enemy. He spoke of the British and his struggle against imperialism. Then he reflected on his own people, and his struggles against untouchability, bigotry, and violence in India. Finally, he spoke of himself, and his own inner violence, selfishness, and imperfection. The last, he confessed, was his greatest opponent. "There I have very little say."
If we want to make peace with others, we first need to be at peace with ourselves. But this can sometimes be as difficult as making peace in the bloodiest of the world's war zones.
Those who knew Dom Helder Camara and Mahatma Gandhi testify that they radiated a profound personal peace. But such peace came at a great price: a lifelong inner struggle. They knew that to practice peace and nonviolence, you have to look within.
Peace begins within each of us. It is a process of repeatedly showing mercy to ourselves, forgiving ourselves, befriending ourselves, accepting ourselves, and loving ourselves.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
The importance of inner work
Today I want to bring you a passage from the writings of John Dear, a Jesuit priest who is committed to the work of peace. In it we see how important it is to confront and heal the violence that lives within: