Category Archives: peace

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.

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.

Longing for the peaceable kingdom

Honduras is suffering – or, rather, the poor in Honduras are suffering.

Violence abounds in the big cities; a drought and a coffee fungus have wreaked havoc on the lives of the poor in the countryside.

The government fails to provide medicines for health clinics, while it provides funds for a militarized police force.

Those who seek peace and justice experience threats and death, as noted in an editorial from America magazine, found here.

Costs rise and so many flee the insecurity and the poverty.

In the midst of this, today’s first reading (Isaiah 11: 1-10) touched me deeply.

Here we long for “the shoot” that will not judge by appearances, who will let the elite transgress the laws with impunity.

We want someone who will judge the poor with justice and decide for the afflicted in the land.

But we also want to see the wolf and the lamb lie down together, where long-held grudges are replaced by real attempts at mutual understanding and reconciliation.

We want a little child – Jesus – to guide us.

But will we follow?

Disarming nations and hearts

The lectionary readings for Advent are full of promise and hope.

Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah 2: 1-5, promises a new city where peace reigns, where swords are turned into plows and guns are melted down to make tools for life.

It’s almost too much to hope for.

The violence that surrounds us calls for something that will give hope. I’m not just thinking about ISIS and Ferguson; I’m thinking about the violence here, where the young are not spared and where all too often simple disagreements escalate into deadly quarrels, mostly because of the presence of too many weapons.

We need this hopeful vision that Isaiah offers – as inspiration for our work for peace and reconciliation.

But even today’s Gospel , Matthew 8: 5-11, offers us signs of hope. A Roman centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to cure his servant.

The Greek word used – παῖς – is ambiguous. It can mean servant, slave, or child.

Why would a centurion care about the health of a child servant? What moved him to seek the help of one of the conquered peoples? What caused him to declare his unworthiness before one of those oppressed by the Roman Empire?

What in the world – or out of this world – moved him to compassion?

What moves us from our fears and our desires to protect ourselves from others whom we consider as threats?

What can move the world to care for the little ones, the marginalized, the servants?

What can disarm our hearts?

Or, rather, who can disarm our hearts?

A loving God who comes among us as a poor man, in a conquered country.

A disarmed God can disarm us.

The poor and peace

El Greco's St. Martin

El Greco’s St. Martin

St. Martin of Tours, whose feast is celebrated today, is well known for a simple act of charity.

He had been forced to join the military, probably in part due to his father being a member of the military. One day, in Amiens, in the cold of winter, he encountered a beggar. Having nothing more than his cloak, he cut it in half and gave one half to the poor man. That night in a dream he saw Christ clothed in the cloak; Christ affirmed the charity of this simple act: “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with this cloak.”

Martin then proceeded to be baptized.

But baptism brought another challenge.

Martin refused to go into battle. “I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.”

He was accused of cowardice and imprisoned, though he was subsequently released from military service.

Martin shows us that the way of Christ is care for the poor, sharing what we have, and refusing to kill, even our enemies.

Neither of these acts is easy, but love of the poor and the love of the enemy should be the marks of a follower of the poor man of Nazareth who died on a cross, forgiving his enemies.

They are also what we need today.

Today is also Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars.

Recalling this, I want to share the words of General Omar Bradley, which compliment the example of St. Martin:

“With the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world with its moral adolescence. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Mankind is stumbling blindly through spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death….

“…the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience, Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace; more about killing, than we know about living.”

Would that we learn how to live and love as Martin showed us, following in the steps of Jesus.

Not the peace of the world

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or cowardly.
John 14: 27 

 What type of peace do we seek?

Do we seek the peace of the cemetery – or a peace that is vibrant and living?

Do we want a peace that doesn’t upset us – or challenge us?

Do we try to attain peace by arming ourselves with weapons or securing ourselves behind impregnable walls?

Do we just want to be left alone – in peace?

What Jesus offers is a peace in the midst of conflict, in the midst of persecution, in the midst of the pain and reality of everyday life – as well as in the midst of the oppression experienced by the poor and marginalized.

A few weeks ago I was stopped on a deserted road by the police. One policeman aimed his rifle at me in the cab of my truck. After a few questions, they let me pass.

In the midst of this, I felt at peace.

That’s not because I have confidence in the police here. Just a few months before police beat up a priest in another part of the diocese. I also had been stopped earlier that day by a rather rude soldier at a checkpoint.

I still don’t know how I was able to maintain peace – even afterwards. (I even checked my blood pressure and it was not high!)

Somehow I had been gifted by the peace Jesus promises in today’s Gospel.

Let us pray that we can always be open to that peace – and respond with untroubled and brave hearts.


There is still time

There is still time:
come back to me with all your heart.
Joel 2:12
(from the Latin America lectionary)

 The English lectionary begins today’s first reading differently:

Even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart…

There is still time.

Conversion can happen at any moment in our lives. In fact, the life of faith is one of constant conversion, continuing opening ourselves to God’s call to be one with God, to be reconciled with God and with others.

Today Thursday March 6 is the fortieth anniversary of the death of the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, who is most known for this quote:

When the Nazis came to get the Communists, I was silent. When they came to get the Socialists, I was silent. When they came to get the Catholics, I was silent. When they came to get the Jews, I was silent. And when they came to get me, there was no one left to speak.

Reading about him this morning in Robert Ellserg’s All Saints and in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday’s Cloud of Witnesses, I realized that here was a man who went through a whole series of conversions.

He was a German U-boat commander in World War I. He was disillusioned by the treaty of Versailles and was found Hitler’s critique appealing. Even though he became a Lutheran pastor, following his father’s example, he was still an ardent German nationalist.

But Hitler’s taking over the German Lutheran Church and the banning of Lutheran pastors of Jewish ancestry, moved him to untie with other pastors in a protest, that developed into the Confessing Church.

Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and spent almost eight years in German concentration camps – as Hitler’s personal prisoner!

But after the war, he recognized the real evil that was Hitler and Nazism and helped formulate a Declaration of Guilt. The evil was more than Hitler’s takeover of the church. As Niemöller said, “The issue was whether one saw Jesus as the highest authority, or Hitler.”

But, as the Cold War heated up, Niemöller had a further conversion – against nuclear weapons and against all war. He became a prominent pacifist leader in Germany and throughout the world.

Not one conversions but many.

Yet, in an interview two years before his death, he shared the root of his life of conversions.

I was a schoolboy of eight when my father often took me along in the afternoons when he went around to visit the sick. One day we went to see a weaver who was dying of tuberculosis. Downstairs was his loo, and my father parked me there while he went upstairs to the sick man’s bedroom. I took in the bare room with nothing but the loom and whitewashed walls.
In one corner I noticed something framed and under glass which was embroidered in pearls – nothing but the question, “What would Jesus say?” I’ve never forgotten it – never. And that’s the sum of Christian ethics.

Robert Ellberg gives March 5 as the date for Niemoeller’s death, while almost all other sources say March 6.

Following our deepest impulses

Joy and growth come from following our deepest impulses,
however foolish they may seem to some, or dangerous,
and even though the apparent outcome may be defeat.
A .J. Muste

A. J. Muste, who died at the age of eighty-two on February 11, 1967, was one of the most important leaders of active nonviolence in the US in the twentieth century. Born in Holland, A. J. (Abraham Johannes) had been a Dutch Reformed minister in Michigan until his pacifist opposition to World War I led his congregation to dismiss him as their pastor.

Though he is relatively unknown, he had a major impact on efforts for peace, in part during his role as executive secretary of the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith pacifist group. But he made a major impact on peace efforts after he left that role.

I have seen pictures of him climbing over a fence to protest nuclear weapons, standing with Dorothy Day to witness the burning of draft cards during the Viet Nam war. The year before he died he made a trip to North Viet Nam to see the devastation wrought by US bombs.

He seems to have been a gentle soul, though resilient in his struggles for peace.

Some may think all this was foolhardy – but as he said to a reporter questioning a vigil outside a nuclear weapons base, “I don’t do this to change the world. I do it to keep the world from changing me.”

He followed his deepest impulses and is an example to many of us who still hold the dream of nonviolence and justice, who see the wisdom of one of his most famous statements:

There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

Gentle strength

There is nothing so strong as gentleness
and there is nothing so gentle as real strength.
St. Francis de Sales

Today is the feast of Saint Francis de Sales, a Swiss bishop who pioneered a spirituality for lay people which emphasized patience with oneself and living God’s love.

Today is also the anniversary of the death of Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, a Dubuque Franciscan sister, who died in 2008 at the age of 94.

She was a remarkable little sister, a tireless advocate for peace and human rights. She took part in one of the walks for peace across the United States and continually protested against war in all its forms.

She was arrested several times, including an arrest at the age of 88 at the School of the Americas, protesting US involvement in Latin America.

In this she remembered the witness of her brother, Ron Hennessey, a Maryknoll missionary in Central America who lived under the oppression of the indigenous in Guatemala. (Ron’s witness is told in Thomas Melville’s Through a Glass Darkly: The U.S. Holocaust in Central America.)

Her persistence in witnessing for the poor and oppressed is a sign of how God uses all sorts of people to show His love and justice.

Today is also the anniversary of the death in 2011 of Don Samuel Ruiz, bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. A detailed homage can be found at Mex Files here.

He was a bishop totally devoted to the poor, especially to the indigenous in his diocese in southern Mexico, who called him Jtatic Samuel. Although despised by those in power he was asked to meditate during the Zapatista rebellion because he was probably one of the few persons the people trusted. He had spent his life with them and had risked his life many times.

He also was not always appreciated by the Vatican, especially for his efforts to promote indigenous deacons in the diocese. A coadjutor was appointed, Monseñor Raúl Vera, who ironically has become one of the most progressive bishops in Latin America and is now the bishop of Saltillo, Mexico.

Don Samuel was beloved by his people. I saw a manifestation of that love when I visited San Cristobal in late January 2012 for the wedding of a friend. His tomb, behind the cathedral’s main altar was decorated with flowers.

Tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

Tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

But he was more than a beloved pastor. He was a prophet.

Reflecting the words of Mary in her Magnificat, he once said:

Justice means bringing down from their throne those who are privileged and elevating those who are humble to the same heights.

The gentle strength and the strong gentleness of Sister Dorothy and Don Samuel offer us a way into living the Gospel, in solidarity with the poor.


Waking from a dream of separateness

Forty-five years ago, on December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton died.

Trappist monk, writer and poet, peace advocate, a gregarious hermit, and more: he was a man of contrasts.

His biting essay “Devout Meditation on Adolf Eichmann” and his poem “Chant to Be Used in Processions Around a Site with Furnaces” remind us of how easy it is to be accomplices in the killing of the innocent.

His essay, “The Root of War Is Fear,” in New Seeds of Contemplation, after appearing in the Catholic Worker inspires me in the midst of a world still paralyzed by fear.

The closing paragraph reveals his realization that war and violence have deep roots in our own hearts:

 So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the cause of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate them in  yourself, not in another.

In some way I think Merton’s insights into the roots of war came not just from his theology, but from his experience. One experience stands out: his famous Fourth and Walnut “epiphany” on March 18, 1958. He realized that we are all connected and therefore he was overwhelmed by the love he felt for all of them.

As he tells it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness….

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! …

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

We are not strangers. We are connected in so many ways – even, perhaps especially so, in God becoming flesh and living among us.

Sometimes this is hard to see, but at times, when we open our hearts, this message that we are “all walking around like the sun.” And we would fall down – perhaps not in worship – but at least to wash each other’s feet.