Dear EP: The other day I had really had it with a guy I know. He's stubborn, obstinate, and undercuts me behind my back. I confronted him about it and felt my fists clench. I wanted to slug him, but I heard the voice of my third grade CCD teacher, "Violence doesn't solve anything." Should I have hit him?
EP Responds (Mattias): We've all been in a situation where we've had our blood boil and we want to hit someone. Okay, I admit to you, thanks to my temperament, the thought's crossed my mind more often than I'd like to admit. And I hear that little voice, too.
Why don't we see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death. (CCC 2306)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Still, I can relate. There are situations where I've really been tempted to throw a punch. Thinking back, I don't believe I've hit anyone since high school (well over 20 years ago). I still remember one of my classmates; let's call him "Luke" (actually, his real name is Luke). He was having a tough year, with a lot of change going on in his life. He was wicked smart but also wanted to be cool, and decided picking on me and a couple other guys would be his thing.
When he wasn't being a jerk, I actually liked Luke, even if I wasn't going to be his friend. One day I'd had enough with Luke and while he was picking on me I took a swing and hit him square in the chest — caught him totally off guard. But something funny happened after that. Luke left me alone. In fact, he was rather nice to me for the rest of the year. It's like my punch told him, "Hey man, wake up! Stop being a jerk."
Throwing a punch out of pure anger feels good. For a moment. But whether it does a lot of good depends really on the person you are hitting. By the time things get to the point where you want to hit someone, you've probably exhausted a whole lot of opportunities to talk some sense into someone (or have sense talked into you). I could see hitting someone, then, as a real hope filled act — your last attempt to literally knock some sense into them. Sometimes it might be the only way people get the message.
I don't think that's "the end justifying the means." Slugging someone hardly rises to the level of violence and destruction the Catechism talks about. But it should be a pretty rare move. The last time I was in that position, I was actually disappointed when I realized that if I threw that really satisfying punch, it would have done absolutely nothing to, or for, the person who is my brother in Christ. His obstinance would have endured. That's totally unsatisfying because it means that the only way to change things is through patience, peace, and prayer, which in the moment are all far less personally gratifying.
Of course, Saint Nicholas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) once punched Arias (or so they say). That's a fun image to try to get out of your head! But it also illustrates how rare the times are when we can hit someone. At least we know it's possible!