In Central America and some other countries in Latin America, we celebrate today as the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
The cross of Jesus is a challenge to us who live comfortable lives, seeking always security. Why would God save us by dying on an instrument of torture?
The only answer is God’s love for us.
That love should move us to love, to give ourselves to God and others, seeking only the Reign of God – on earth as in heaven.
Thirty years ago today the US bishops issued their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. It is an extraordinary document, even though I believe it is not as prophetic as it could have been.
They wrote in the midst of the Cold War, where many felt that the presence of nuclear weapons was threatening the continuation of life on this planet. A strong “Nuclear Freeze” movement was stirring in the US, especially in the faith communities. Similar efforts to “ban the bomb” were active in western and eastern Europe.
What is also extraordinary is the process the bishops took in writing the document. A committee was appointed and worked on a document. There was a lot of debate in the years leading to its final publication and there was a lot of input, not only from church and government leaders, but also from the lay faithful. The bishops welcomed input in the preparation of the document, though the final word was often influenced by what the Vatican said, especially in terms of nuclear deterrence.
The document relies on scripture, theological reasoning, and political analysis. But I find two passages that point to the scriptural basis of a faith that seeks the abolition of nuclear weapons and the creation of a culture of peace.
First of all, the following of Jesus includes a witness to peace – even to the point of shedding one’s blood. The challenge of peace is to live the cross, as tehy note in paragraph 276:
… In our own country we are coming to a fuller awareness that a response to the call of Jesus is both personal and demanding. As believers we can identify rather easily with the early Church as a company of witnesses engaged in a difficult mission. To be disciples of Jesus requires that we continually go beyond where we now are. To obey the call of Jesus means separating ourselves from all attachments and affiliation that could prevent us from hearing and following our authentic vocation. To set out on the road to discipleship is to dispose oneself for a share in the cross (cf. Jn. 16:20). To be a Christian, according to the New Testament, is not simply to believe with one’s mind, but also to become a doer of the word, a wayfarer with and a witness to Jesus. This means, of course, that we never expect complete success within history and that we must regard as normal even the path of persecution and the possibility of martyrdom.
The bishops insisted that this was not something merely political, though the document included a critique of many nuclear policies of the US government. The call to peacemaking is, first of all, an act of conversion, rooted in faith. As they wrote in paragraph 333:
In the words of our Holy Father, we need a ‘moral about-face.’ The whole world must summon the moral courage and technical means to say ‘no’ to nuclear conflict; ‘no’ to weapons of mass destruction; ‘no’ to an arms race which robs the poor and the vulnerable; and ‘no’ to the moral danger of a nuclear age which places before humankind indefensible choices of constant terror or surrender. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. The content and context of our peacemaking is set, not by some political agenda or ideological program, but by the teaching of his Church.
Today as the US continues to use military violence or threats of violence, maybe we need to return to a spirituality of peacemaking based in the love of Christ on the Cross.
How then can we approve the use of drones which often kill civilians, the threat and use of violence in the Middle East, the continuing inflated military budget, the military assistance to governments that do not respect human rights (e.g., Honduras), and the continuing reliance on nuclear weapons.
The call of the Cross is different. It is the call to “give one’s life,” not to take the lives of others.