Category Archives: war

Love Your Enemies

Remembering today the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a plane in 2001, recalling the US sponsored coup in Chile in 1973, and noting the massacre at the church of Saint Jean Bosco in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1988, today’s Gospel (Luke 6: 27-38) is one that most of us don’t want to hear.

love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you….
love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind
to the ungrateful and the wicked….
Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.
…the measure with which you
measure will in return be measured out to you.

These words of Thomas Merton, in his essay “The Root of War Is Fear,” found in New Seeds of Contemplation and first published in The Catholic Worker in October 1961, give us a hint of why this Gospel is so challenging:

At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another: they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self. …

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 causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

And so today it would be good to ask ourselves if we are willing to let ourselves be converted, from fear to love, from self-righteousness to mercy, from revenge to self-giving nonviolence.

Idols and orphans

We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.
Hosea 14: 4

 What do orphans have to do with idolatry?

Yet Hosea has the people giving up idolatry in the light of the Lord’s compassion on orphans.

In Israel, the care of orphans and widows was an essential part of keeping the Covenant with God.

In a male-dominated society, a woman without a man to care for her and a child without a male protector were helpless, since they without connection to any support system. Thus the community had the obligation to see to their needs. Failure to care for them was a failure to live as the People of God.

Idolatry means placing our hopes in something which is not God, but is of our own making. Idolatry is often a response to insecurity or to the need to have something that gives us power or protection.

Pope Francis has talked of the fetishism of money, how we give money a magical power to control us, thinking it will save us.

Hosea also sees reliance on horses – that is war alliances with Egypt – as idolatry, thinking we can save ourselves by weapons, the work of our hands.

But our God is a God who cares for the orphans, who identifies with them. There is security when we follow our God in our love and care for the orphan.

I think that President Eisenhower’s remarks in a April 16, 1953 speech also reflects the problem of choosing between idols and orphans

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Lenten conversion means turning away from idols and turning to the care of those in need – not just in our personal lives but in our nations.


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.

Justice and peace shall kiss

El Greco's St. Martin

El Greco’s St. Martin

St. Martin of Tours, whose feast is celebrated today, brings together two aspects of early Christianity that we would sometimes like to forget.

St. Martin is most known for cutting his cloak in half to give to a beggar in the cold of winter. That night he had a dream of Christ, clothed in the cloak. His concern for the poor continued throughout his life.

But St. Martin also demonstrates the early church’s opposition to war. Martin had been forced to become a soldier, probably because his father was a military tribune. But, faced with the prospect of killing others in battle, he told his commander, “I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.”

He offered to go into battle the next day unarmed. Instead he was jailed. He was subsequently released and became a monk and then the bishop of Tours.

His love for peace and nonviolence led him to go on a peacemaking visit to Candes, even though he knew he was dying.

Martin shows us that we are called to love and care for all – to care for the poor and to love even our enemies, not kill them.

Today is Armistice Day, a day originally established to remember the end of what later became know as the First World War. In the US it is Veterans Day.

But Saint Martin of Tours is a challenge to war and injustice. He calls us to imitate the poor and nonviolent Jesus, his Master and ours.

But St. Martin was not the only former soldier to warn about war. General Omar Bradley once said:

“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. [Humanity] 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 knew the ways of peace. (Luke 19: 42)

What the world expects of Christians

One hundred years ago today, November 7, 1913, Albert Camus was born in Algeria.

A philosopher, novelist, journalist, and member of the Resistance against the Nazis and their French collaborators, this atheist has become for me and for many Christians a voice that challenges me to live the Gospel in a world full of evil. He saw the world as absurd and the only honest response is revolt – but not an unthinking revolt that is only interested in a cause. It must be a revolt to affirm the human person.

In 1946, in an article, “Neither Victims Nor Executioners,” Camus identified the twentieth century as “the century of fear.” I think we can identify our twenty-first century also as a century of intense fear.

For him, fear “implies and rejects the same fact: a world where murder is legitimate and where human life is considered trifling.…” And so,

Before anything can be done, two questions must be put: “Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly want to kill and assault?” All who say No to both questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences which must modify their way of posing the problem.

His novel The Plague, set in Algeria, but written in France during the Second World War, portrays an Algerian city suffering a mysterious plague. where people faced these question. Camus explores how people respond to the plague. The plague is probably a symbol of the violence that plagues humanity, but it seems reasonable to suggest that Nazism was the foremost plague that Camus had in mind. He wrote much of the novel in the French Huguenot town of Le Chambon-sur–Lignon, which rescued Jews, under the leadership of Pastor André Trocmé.

In 1948, after the war, he was asked to speak at a Dominican monastery in France. That talk, published as “The Unbeliever and Christians.”

He called for dialogue but he also challenged us:

What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.

Those words have challenged me for many years, most clearly in the past in relation to war, to speak up for the victims of war and injustice, to be on their side. But Camus is realistic.

He told his Christian audience,

… I, and a few others, know what must be done, if not to reduce evil, at least not to add to it. Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us to do this?

But the challenge remains. As he concluded his remarks to the Dominicans:

…if Christians made up their minds to it, millions of voices — millions, I say — throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and for [human beings].

Will we take up the challenge of Camus, the, prophet? Will we take up the challenge he gives us to speak up against violence and all that degrades human life?

Will we pledge, like he did, that “I will never he one of those, whoever they may be, who compromise with murder, and ….I take the consequences of such a decision”?


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 Jesuit Pope Francis’ Examen on violence

I don’t know what I expected from Pope Francis but his homily at the Peace Vigil in St. Peter’s Square is full of surprises, though it is also very traditional

He starts his homily with a short reflection on the goodness of creation. His first words, from Genesis 1, were “And God saw that it was good.”

…this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”.

Is this the place to start at a homily at a vigil for peace? Not with a strident critique, but a call to vision, a call to return to the beginnings, to the vision of a world of peace.

As I reflect on the homily, I think this reveals the deep Ignatian identity of Pope Francis and, I believe, reflects Examen promoted by St. Ignatius of Loyola. (A good summary is in James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to [Almost] Everything.)

The first step of the Examen is to ask for God’s grace. In gratitude, we recall the good things that God has done for us during the day.

Pope Francis, after recalling this “house of harmony and peace,” asks:

Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

Only after this does the pope asks us to question whether this is the world we experience:

Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war.”

The second step in the Examen is to ask for the grace to know one’s sins.

Using the Genesis account of Cain and Abel, the pope asks:

We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another!

He then goes on to identify the sin of war and violence and their causes, perhaps reflecting the third step of the Examen: reviewing one’s day.

Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death!

Pope Francis’s third point is centered on conversion:

“Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”

The fourth step of the Examen is to ask God’s forgiveness for one’s sinfulness. The fifth is to resolve to change.

In the midst of this final section, Pope Francis makes a plea to put the Cross at the center of our meditation:

My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!

This very much reflects the importance of the Crucified Lord for St. Ignatius.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urges the person making the exercises to look upon the crucified Lord and reflect on three questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?

Recalling the remarks of Ignacio Ellacuría, the martyred rector of the Jesuit university in El Salvador, Father Jon Sobrino wrote:

Concluding his meditation on sin, Ignatius Loyola asks us to look at the crucified Christ and ask ourselves what have we done for him, what are we doing for him, and what are we going to do for him. Ignacio Ellacuría, also crucified, asks us to place ourselves before the crucified people and answer the same three questions: What have I done to crucify them? What am I doing to take them down from their cross? What should I do to ensure their resurrection?

Pope Francis is, I believe, also asking us to look upon the crucified, but not merely as a victim of the violence of the world. He is calling on us to look upon the Crucified Lord as providing a way out of the spiral of violence.

Though he does not use these words, I think Pope Francis is asking us to follow the nonviolent crucified Lord.

How very Christian, how very Jesuit, how very Francis – and how very human.


God and the bomb

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, when Jesus on a mountain top (possibly Mount Tabor) with Peter, James, and John was “transfigured.”

As Mark (9:3) put it in a homey image: “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.“ Moses and Elijah appeared with him and, according to Luke’s account (9:31), they spoke of Jesus’ upcoming death.

On this day, the US dropped a bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing up to 166,000 and leaving tens of thousands more with debilitating radiation sickness. This bombing and the bombing three days later of Nagasaki are the only uses of nuclear weapons in war – and they were used against cities and killed civilians.

President Truman showed no remorse for the use of these weapons of mass destruction. According to Eduardo Galeano, in Children of the Days, Truman said: “We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”

How different was the response of Pope Paul VI (who incidentally died on August 6, 1978), who called it a “butchery of untold magnitude.”

The light of the mount of Transfiguration and the blinding light of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima provide striking contrasts. Des Moines bishop Maurice Dingman wrote of this in a pastoral letter in 1978:

“The very existence of the human race is in jeopardy. We must halt the arms race in the spirit of Tabor or proceed with the armaments race and face annihilation in the spirit of Hiroshima.”

The light of Tabor was not a light of destruction but of self-giving. Jesus was discussing his upcoming death with Moses and Elijah. And as he came down the mountain he told his disciples to keep this secret until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.

The difference is, for me, clear.

Will we let ourselves be transfigured, transformed, by the Lord who gave his life for us and calls us to take up the cross in order to live?

Or will we impose a cross of war and injustice on others in order to preserve our “way of living”?

And so, it is not “God and the bomb.” It is God or the bomb.


Church and war – Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus died on July 12, 1536. In his 1517 work, Complaint of Peace, he criticized war and the tendency of church leaders to support and encourage wars – a prophetic voice in an age of warrior popes and bishops.

What possible consistency can there be between a miter and a helmet, a pastoral staff and a sabre? between the volume of the gospel and a shield and buckler? How can it be consistent to salute the people with the words, “peace be with you,” and, at the same time, to be exciting the whole world to bloody war! with the lips to speak peace, and with the hand, and every power of action, to be urging on havoc?
Dare you describe Christ as a reconciler, a Prince of Peace, and yet palliate or commend war, with the same tongue – which in truth, is nothing less than to sound the trumpet before Christ and Satan at the same time? Do you presume, reverend sir, with your hood and surplice on, to stimulate the simple, inoffensive people to war, when they come to church, expecting to hear from your mouth the gospel of peace?
Are you not apprehensive, lest what was said by those who announced the coming of Christ, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who brings glad tidings of peace; who brings tidings of good, who brings tidings of salvation!” should be reversed, and addressed to you in this manner: “How foul is the tongue of priests; exhorting to war, inciting to evil, and urging men to destruction.” Think of the incongruous idea, a bloody priest!

The battles and wars fought during the past ten years were fought for causes which did not concern the common person.

There are times when Peace must be purchased. If one considers the tremendous destruction of people and property – it is cheap at any price.

We must look for peace by purging the very sources of war – false ambitions and evil desires.

Let us examine the self-evident fact that this world of ours is the Fatherland of the human race.

A brilliant mind, with an acerbic pen, Erasmus was a friend of Saints Thomas More and John Fischer, the English Renaissance scholars and martyrs.

A priest and theological scholar, he edited Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament. He was a true Renaissance humanist and wrote “In Praise of Folly” which lampooned traditions, even in the church. The work was dedicated to Thomas More.

He longed for reform on the church and, at first, looked with some sympathy on Luther. But he later criticized Luther, including Luther’s treatise on the bondage of the will.

A renegade in his time, he would still be considered one today, even as his friend St. Thomas More is often used in ecclesiastical battles on religious liberty.  Erasmus would portably have written quite sarcastically of this. He had very little tolerance for fools.

In high school or college I did a paper on Erasmus which saw him as one who was seeking a reform of the Church but who rejected Luther’s path. Erasmus sought a different path to change and to Christian life. I found him an intriguing figure. Sad to say I never really followed up with a careful study of his works.

Yet his words on war still touch me – as food for meditation in a world where religion is often used by politicians in ways that promote values opposed to the Kingdom of God. Preachers, subservient to political and economic elites, still praise war and look down on the poor.

We all need to follow Erasmus’ advice:

We must look for peace by purging the very sources of war – false ambitions and evil desires.

Let us examine the self-evident fact that this world of ours is the Fatherland of the human race.


Put an end to war

He puts an end to wars over all the earth;
the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps….
“Be still and know that I am God….”
Psalm 46: 10-11

 In the midst of violence and war, the world cries out to God for an end to violence.  But we need to remember the roots of war in our lives and our nations’ policies.

On Sunday, Pope Francis made some very strong statements on war, which the Catholic Peace Fellowship has shared:

“War is the suicide of humanity because it kills the heart and kills love…
“…war comes from hatred, from envy, from desire for power and … from that hunger for more power.
“…so many times we’ve seen … the great ones of the earth want to solve local problems, economic problems, economic crises  with a war.
“Why? Because, for them, money is more important than people! And war is just that: it is an act of faith in money, in idols, in idols of hatred, in the idol that leads to killing one’s brother, which leads to killing love. It reminds me of the words of God our Father to Cain, who, out of envy, had killed his brother: Cain, where is your brother?
“Today we can hear this voice: it is God our Father who weeps, crying for this madness of ours, who asks all of us, Where is your brother?
“Who says to the powerful of the earth, Where is your brother? What have you done!”

And Pope Francis prayed: “

“Take all evil far away from us…even with tears, with the tears of the heart: Turn to us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we are sad, we are distressed. See our misery, and our pain and forgive all sins, because behind a war there are always sins: there is the sin of idolatry, the sin of exploiting men on the altar of power, sacrificing them.
“Turn to us, o Lord, and have mercy, because we are sad and distressed. See our misery and our pain. We are confident that the Lord will hear us and will do anything to give us the spirit of consolation. So be it.”