Turning the other cheek

By Archbishop Henry D’Souza

Reflections on the occasion of the BBC’s Programme on Mother Teresa

It seems a foolish thing to do – to turn the other cheek when you are struck. But such was the Lord’s advice: “to any one who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek as well”. (Luke 6/29) It is an advice, which is foolishness to the world, but to those who have been called by Christ, it can reveal the power and wisdom of God. As St. Paul writes: “God’s folly is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. (1 Cor. 1/25)
When St. Francis Xavier went to Japan, he was treated with great respect as he was a man of noble birth. He was given a bungalow and freedom to preach the Gospel. Every morning he would be at the village well preaching Christ along with a Japanese companion who would interpret for him.

One day a rough man came in front of him and spat on his face. St. Francis Xavier took out a kerchief, wiped away the spittle and continued the instructions. A Samurai (warrior) sitting at the edge of the crowd saw what happened. After the crowd went away, he went to Francis Xavier: “Tell me how you were able to stay calm when that man spat on you. That needed much courage and self-control. We Samurais admire a courageous person”.

Francis Xavier pulled out a crucifix. Jesus had to suffer the same. He too did only good but was made to suffer ignominy and shame and even a death on the cross. It is death that is the beginning of new life. Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains alone.

The Samurai converted along with his family. They were the first Christians of Japan. Turning the other cheek is a hidden power of Christ.

The logic of the human mind is “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. Its evidence is seen in all the escalating violence we read about in the daily papers. Hundreds of innocent people die because of terrorism and terrorists are persons seeking to get revenge or obtain objectives by means of violence. Action leads to reaction. Violence to further violence. Anger to hatred. Hatred to revenge. In this process, the world lives in fear and unhappiness.

The message of Jesus is forgiveness. Yes! 70 times seven. It has power, but it requires greater courage than revenge. That message is being slowly understood in the world. The unilateral laying down of arms by the IRA is in this direction. They have realised that peace cannot be obtained through arms and guns; but it is possible through dialogue and negotiations. There was also a unilateral disarmament declared by Russia. It brought down the Berlin wall. People began to breathe the fresh air of freedom. Unilateral actions call for reciprocal responses. Unbelieving eyes and hearts are invited to gestures of peace and generosity. Love turns out to the stronger than hate.

Mother Teresa has been the image of compassion and disinterested love and sacrifice. Her example has captured the imagination of the world. Her respect for human life, her love for every human person no matter in what condition, has found responsive chords in the hearts of persons of all religion all over the world.

It was a sad day when the BBC allowed itself to become the tool of powerful forces in the name of freedom of speech. By using facts inaccurately and distorting reality, it has permitted a nasty attack on the world’s most revered and saintly woman.

When some Hindu fundamentalists had spoken in Calcutta against Mother Teresa, it was dismissed as the fanaticism of a few. But when the BBC does the same, we are astounded. The response of one of her sisters is in the Christian tradition: “People treated Jesus badly and Mother Teresa has been treated in the same way. We will be praying for the producers and all those who contributed to the programme, that they will experience God’s love”.

A month ago, two priests and a brother were brutally murdered in the Gumla Diocese. The method of the killing indicated deep human hate and revenge. The persons involved must be very lonely and alienated people who carry their angers and grudges in the depths of their hearts and live in deep pain themselves. They need prayers and forgiving love.

The strength of the church is not in material power nor in the popularity of its institutions or personnel. Its true strength comes from the example of Jesus who being God humbled himself and took the form of a slave: who dying on the cross could say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

In the final message on religious life, the Synodal Fathers gave this advice: “By your way of life, you give witness to the closeness and goodness of God, to the truth of our hope in everlasting life, to the power and efficacy of that love which God places in your hearts in order to overcome the evil and suffering that afflicts so many”. (No.VIII)