Category Archives: Gandhi

Love awakened

In this is love: not that we have loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

Love is essentially God’s gift. Our love is a response to that gift and should reflect God’s love.

Today’s Gospel shows the love of God, Jesus full of compassion, feeling in the depths of his being for the people, without a shepherd. In his love he sought to feed them – but not without the cooperation of the disciples.



Thirty five years ago today, on January 5, 1981, Lanza del Vasto died. An Italian he studied philosophy but really didn’t find his meaning in life until after going to India and meeting with Gandhi and other holy men. His pilgrimage is related in Return to the Source.

Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” the Servant of Peace. Later, he and his wife Chanterelle, with others founded the Community of the Ark, as a kind of Noah’s Ark in the midst of the violence of the times.

The community eschewed many modern conveniences and sought to live a nonviolent life, finally establishing a community in a beautiful and isolated valley in southwest France. They lived without electricity (except to grind their wheat), families and single people, with a regimen of work and prayer.

But they did not isolate themselves from the world. Lanza del Vasto and the community participated in many nonviolent campaigns in France. He also went to Rome in the early sixties to fast for peace; he was given an advanced copy of Pope John XXIII’s peace encyclical, Pacem in Terris.

When I visited the community in 1973, I participated in the daily life of the community, praying and working in the garden. But the last day and evening I spent with community at a demonstration in the nearby Larzac, where the people were fighting against the militarization of their lands.

Shantidas’ message was not an easy one, but I think it was based in his deep faith in Christ, a faith which opened itself to all faiths.

An example of this is noted in this short description of love from his Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious:

Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm words for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.

Love should wake us up to feel with the compassion of God and be of service to God’s people.

it is not easy – as Dorothy Day reminds us by her citation from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov:

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thin compared to love in dreams.

May we wake up and love!


Courage and nonviolence

Do not throw aside your boldness…
You need patient endurance to do the will of God…
Hebrews 10: 35-36

 Today is the international day of peace and nonviolence.

On January 30, 1948, Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma (the Great-souled one), was assassinated by a fanatic.

Gandhi had led the people of India in a long nonviolent campaign for independence. He also sought an end to the caste system and the marginalization of the so-called “untouchables.” In addition, he sought reconciliation between Hindus and Moslems.

The first writings of his that I remember reading were in the collection of Thomas Merton, Gandhi on Nonviolence.

What most impressed me was Gandhi’s insistence that nonviolence demands courage. A coward cannot be a practitioner of nonviolence. It is easier for a soldier to struggle nonviolently than for a coward. A soldier knows that he (or she) must be willing to sacrifice one’s life for others.

The votary of nonviolence must be courageous and willing to struggle, willing to die. If she or he cannot, it is better to use violence than to flee, as noted int hse two quotes of Gandhi from Merton’s book:

A non-violent man or woman will and should die without retaliation, anger or malice, in self-defense or in defending the honor of his women folk. This is the highest form of bravery. If an individual or group of people are unable or unwilling to follow this great law of life, retaliation or resistance unto death is the second best though a long way off from the first. Cowardice is impotence worse than violence . The coward desires revenge but being afraid to die, he looks to others, maybe to the government of the day, to do the work of defense for him. A coward is less than a man. He does not deserve to be a member of a society of men and women.

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence. Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become nonviolent. There is no such hope for the impotent.

Nonviolence is a weapon of those without power – but it is not weakness.

Many think of nonviolence as passivity; probably for this reason, Gandhi called his method Satygraha – the force, the strength, of truth.

In Brazil, the method has been called firmeza permanente – permanent firmness.

In many ways this phrase mirrors what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews advocates:

Do not throw aside your boldness …
You need patient endurance/steadfastness to do the will of God.

May we learn boldness and endurance to live as followers of Christ and be true instruments of peace.

Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

On January 30, 1948, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic.

Gandhi, often called “Mahatma” – the “Great Souled” one – had struggled for many years to free India not only from the British but from dependency on British, from discriminatory policies against the untouchables, and from the divide between Hindus and Muslims.

In the course of his life he articulated what have been called the seven deadly social sins:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice

For us Christians, these could provide a great assistance in our examinations of conscience.

Some day I need to reflect more deeply on each of them. But today I offer them for our examen.


International Day of Nonviolence

Because today is the anniversary of Gandhi’s birth in 1869, it is also the International Day of Nonviolence.

In their 1983 Pastoral Letter on Peace, The Challenge of Peace, the US bishops wrote some words that may provide us with some challenge and inspiration today as we seek to follow the non-violent Jesus.

111. Moved by the example of Jesus’ life and by his teaching, some Christians have from the earliest days of the Church committed themselves to a nonviolent lifestyle. Some understood the gospel of Jesus to prohibit all killing. Some affirmed the use of prayer and other spiritual methods as means of responding to enmity and hostility.

115. In the centuries between the fourth century and our own day, the theme of Christian non-violence and Christian pacifism has echoed and re-echoed, sometimes more strongly, sometimes more faintly. One of the great non-violent figures in those centuries was St. Francis of Assisi. Besides making personal efforts on behalf of reconciliation and peace, Francis stipulated that laypersons who became members of his Third Order were not “to take up lethal weapons, or bear them about, against anybody.”

116. The vision of Christian non-violence is not passive about injustice and the defense of the rights of others; it rather affirms and exemplifies what it means to resist injustice through non-violent methods.

117. In the twentieth century, prescinding from the non-Christian witness of a Mahatma Gandhi and its worldwide impact, the nonviolent witness of such figures as Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King has had profound impact upon the life of the Church in the United States.

May the God of Peace guide our lives and hearts to live as people of peace.


No to violence! Yes to peace!

It is good to remember what happened on September 11 throughout history, not only what happened in 2001. Here’s a list of events that happened o September 11.

2001: Attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and another airplane

2001: Father Michal Judge, OFM, Franciscan friar, New York Fire Department chaplain, killed at the World Trade Center while ministering to the victims.

1999: Father Karl Albrecht, S.J., German Jesuit missionary, killed in East Timor, by Indonesian forces.

1993:  Antoine Izmery, Haitian businessman and friend of the poor, is assassinated, by paramilitaries and policemen, outside a church in Haiti.

1990: Myrna Mack, Guatemalan anthropologist and human rights advocate, is assassinated in Guatemala City.

1988: Saint Jean Bosco Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is was attacked and burnt by armed men, probably the Tonton Macoutes paramilitaries. Between 13 and 50 were killed and 80 wounded. This was the parish church of Jean-Bertrand Aristide who later became Haiti’s president and was overthrown twice by coups.

1981: Sebastiana Mendoza, indigenous catechist, promoter of Caritas in El Quiche, was abducted from the Guatemala City cathedral.

1973: US-supported coup against elected Chilean president Salvador Allende resulted in deaths, abductions, and years of terror and repression.

1919: US marines invade Honduras.

1649: Cromwell’s forces kill 3000 at Drogheda, Ireland

1609: Expulsion order announced against the Moriscos of Valencia, beginning of the expulsion of all Spain’s Moriscos. The Moriscos were Muslims who converted to Christianity in the early 1500 but were expelled between 1609 and 1614.

So much death and injustice cries out to God for justice, peace, and life.

There is, though, one note of hope:

On September 11, 1906, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi coined the term “Satyagraha” – “The Force of Truth” – to characterize the non-violent resistance movement in South Africa.

The dignity of manual labor

No race or society can prosper until it learns
that there is as much dignity in tilling a field
as in writing a poem.
Booker T. Washington,
born April 5, 1856

 In the early 1970s I had a poster with these words of John Gardner:

An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

I once shared this with someone who worked in the New York City Catholic Peace Fellowship office where I volunteered every once in a while. He noted that he was a plumber and that I was studying philosophy.

The dignity of work is a theme of Catholic Social Thought that is often overlooked, especially the dignity of manual labor. There is, within many of us, a subtle prejudice against manual labor. Why get my hands dirty when I can use my mind?

But many spiritual leaders of the twentieth century, especially Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Lanza del Vasto, have not only praised manual work but have considered it essential for a true spiritual life. Otherwise we become oppressive!

Sad to say I don’t do enough physical labor, though I really should try my hand at raising a few vegetables. But I have always respected manual laborers and I see them as essential, though neglected, members of our world, often doing more for the common good than office workers and intellectuals.

Manual labor, especially farming, demands a lot of skill and expertise. As Brazilian theologian Clodovis Boff wrote (Feet-on-the-Ground Theology, p. 60):

A human being should be able to exercise the same degree of skill in picking beans and doing research, hauling papayas and consulting books.

And manual labor should be seen as a place for prayer. As Gandhi noted:

Whether you wet your hands in the water-basin, fan the fire with the bamboo bellows, set down endless columns of figures at a desk, labor in the rice-field with your head in the burning sun and your feet in the mud, or stand at work before the smelting furnace, so long as you do not do all this with just the same religiousness as if you were monks praying in a monastery, the world will never be saved.

And so I need to try to live a life where I use my hands as well as my head and heart. After all, Jesus was a manual laborer for many years.


Gandhi: Living a civilized life

Sixty-five years ago in 1948, Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi, know as the Mahatma, the Great-Souled, was assassinated in India.

When he visited England, he was asked by a reporter,  “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?”

Gandhi replied: “I think it would be a good idea!”

Graffiti on a NYC wall (scanned from a post card)

Graffiti on a NYC wall (scanned from a post card)

Faced with what many identify as the superior Western Civilization, Gandhi saw that this claim is baseless. The imperialism of the West, most often seen in economic and military terms, is really a question of spirituality.

At one point Gandhi identified what I would call the seven capital social sins:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice

If we use these “sins” as part of an individual and community examination of conscience I think we’d be on the road to living the civilization of love that Christ preached. As the late Pope John Paul II said, “Only a humanity in which there reigns the ‘civilization of love’ will be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace.””

Again Gandhi offers us a challenge on how we can be better followers of Christ. Will we listen to his voice?

Fear, Gandhi, and Thomas Merton

Mohandas K. Gandhi (the “Mahatma” – the great-souled one), was assassinated India, on January 30, 1948. Since I first read some of his writings in the 1960s I have been moved by his call for courageous resistance to injustice. This is no easy call – but I think it’s part of our call as humans, especially as followers of the nonviolent Jesus:

“Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for nonviolence. Violence does not mean emancipation from fear, but discovering the means of combating the cause for fear. The votary of nonviolence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He reckons not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life. [Whoever] has not overcome all fear cannot practice nonviolence to perfection. The votary of nonviolence has only one fear, that is of God.”

As I re-read this quote, I recalled Thomas Merton’s remarkable essay, “The Root of War Is Fear,” found in his  New Seeds of Contemplation. As he wrote:

“At the root of war is fear; not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves.”

May the Lord deliver us from fear and give us the courage to speak truth to power, not counting the cost.

The Servant of Peace

Lanza del Vasto was a disciple of Gandhi, founder of the Community of the Ark, in France. Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” servant of peace. He died on January 5, 1981.

In the 1980s I ran across his tale of his spiritual journey,  Return to the Source, where he relates his trip to India. In his search he encountered Gandhi and eastern sources of thought. He returned to Europe a Christian, but with a nonviolence that opened him to all peoples and religions of the world.

He and his wife, Chanterelle, founded a Gandhian style community in France that embraced nonviolence, simplicity, use of simple means to live (avowing much technology and using almost no electricity.)

I visited L’Arche in France in 1973 at the end of a summer bicycle tour/pilgrimage throughout Europe. I was impressed by the community but it is so much of an alternative to the world – almost an interfaith activist Amish community – that it has never been large. But its influence has been great, particularly in some parts of Latin America. The Mexican who has mobilized the anti-violence campaign was influenced by L’Arche and Lanza del Vasto.

Lanza del Vasto’s writing are often quite esoteric, especially some of his scripture commentaries but I appreciate much of what I’d call his basic wisdom of the ages. A number of them can be found in his book of short sayings, Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious. Here are a few examples.

“Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm [words] for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.”

“Science can lend itself to any use; the conscience cannot. Intelligence can lower itself to any scheme; wisdom cannot. Power can stoop to anything; self control cannot. Money can be put to all kinds of uses; honesty cannot. Courage can defend any cause; charity cannot. Power can be used to any purpose, but nonviolence or the Power of Justice can serve only Justice.”

“Whoever fasts becomes transparent.
Others become transparent to him.
Their suffering enters him and he is defenseless against it.
So take care to stop up your sense by eating well
if you don’t want to be devoured by charity.”

The dignity of work

Mohandas K. Gandhi was born on October 2,1869.

Not only was he only the leader of the nonviolent movement for the independence of India from Great Britain. His campaign for Swaraj – self-rule – included the call for manual work as a way to live well in community, independent of the great powers. Thus he knew and affirmed the value of work. As he said:

“Whether you wet your hands in the water-basin, fan the fire with the bamboo bellows, set down endless columns of figures at a desk, labour in the rice-field with your head in the burning sun and your feet in the mud, or stand at work before the smelting furnace, so long as you do not do all this with just the same religiousness as if you were monks praying in a monastery, the world will never be saved.”