I am become death

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the first test of an atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. As the bomb burst, one of the scientists involved cited a few lines from the Hindu scriptures: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

In less than a month, atomic bombs were dropped on two civilian targets in Japan – Hiroshima and Nagasaki. About 200,000 persons were killed and many injured – all most all civilians.

The United States had become death, the destroyer of worlds, committing what Pope Paul VI called “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

The United States still has a major stockpile of these weapons, The US did manage to persuade Iran to cease from seeking nuclear weapons but when will the US look at the beam in its own eye (Luke 6:42).

Today’s first reading from the third chapter of Genesis speaks of a God who takes note of the suffering of the people of Israel in Egypt. At Moses’ insistence, he reveals his name in the mysterious word, the unspeakable tetragrammaton: Yahweh. I am who am; I will be what I will be.

It is the great “I am” who sends Moses to call for the release of the people from slavery and oppression. “I am” the one who hears the cry of the poor.

In the Gospel, Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus calls the weary and heavily-burdened to come to Him; He will give them rest.

He is not death, the destroyer of worlds. He is the God who saves, who takes on the burdens of His people. He is the God who died on the cross and died under the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – as well as under every form of war, oppression, torture, and murder.

He is the God of life.

Today then is a day to repent, to express sorrow for the use of weapons of mass destruction and for planning to use them in the future.

What the US bishops wrote in 1983 in their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, must become our challenge:

… we must shape the climate of public opinion which will make it possible for our country to express profound sorrow over the atomic bombing in 1945. Without that sorrow, there is no possibility of finding a way to repudiate future uses of nuclear weapons or of conventional weapons in such military actions as would not fulfill just-war criteria.

Let us follow the God of Life, not the gods of death.

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