The faithful insecurity of Father Dean Brackley

Two years ago today, Father Dean Brackley, SJ, a friend, died in El Salvador. I had gotten to know him in El Salvador and had found myself inspired by his example and aided by his book on Ignatian spirituality, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola.

In 1990, Dean had volunteered to leave the insecurity of work in the South Bronx and teaching at Fordham University to the insecurity of teaching at the Jesuit University of Central America in San Salvador, where six Jesuits and two women had been killed in November 1989 by government forces. In addition, on the weekends he served in the mountain parish of Jayaque where one of the martyred priests had served.

I live in Honduras, a country which many (including the US State Department) consider “insecure,” in part because of the high murder rate, especially in the major cities and along the north coast. Many, including the US government, see militarization of the police as the answer.

And so these words of Father Dean strike home:

What makes us secure? The “war against terror” demonstrates every day that military force can no longer make us safe, if it ever could. Instead, traditional military action is making everyone, including the U.S., less secure.

… The word of God is eloquent on these matters. Security comes from God, not from Tomahawk missiles or oil. “Trust in Yahweh and you will be secure” (2 Chr 20:20)….

It is important to recall, especially in affluent countries, that the vast majority of people who have ever lived (and all poor people today) have struggled daily to stay alive in the face of dangers: natural disaster, sickness, scarcity and social violence. But the practical  measures people take to address these threats never eliminate insecurity altogether. So, throughout history, people have turned to gods. Gods are supposed to provide security. In Israel, we have a unique situation: the people are to trust in only one God, Yahweh, for all their security needs. Only Yahweh provides real security and prosperity- shalom….

Jesus demands “total” faith: Do not fear those who can kill the body. Do not worry about what you are to eat or to wear. Do not worry or be afraid of anything. Do not let fear – a normal enough reaction to danger – dominate your lives. Instead, seek first the Reign of God and its justice. The rest will take care of itself….

It is essential to unmask the official lies that would justify imperial conquest and violations of human rights. It is crucial to promote the road of nonviolent peacemaking and to advance in our ethical thinking as a church. However, the present situation suggests to me the fruitfulness of proposing questions like these: Is the war on terror making us more secure or less so? What really can make us secure? What does our faith say to this? Can we be secure if half the world lives in misery? What idols do we rely on for national security? What idolatrous rituals does our nation engage in? How do these idols enslave? What victims are we sacrificing to them as a nation?

In the face of obsession about security, it is important to recognize that the quest for absolute security (an impossibility) can lead us to an idolatry that paralyzes us.

Fear and the pursuit of security can enslave us, but Jesus shows us another way, as Hebrews 2: 14-15 notes:

Now since the children share in blood and flesh, [Jesus] likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.

Will we live in the radical insecurity of the reign of God or rely on the gods of power and might?





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