Tag Archives: Albert Camus

Transfigured or vaporized

In the Catholic liturgical calendar August 6 is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, recalling how Jesus showed himself to three apostles in a radiant light, revealing the glory of God.

August 6, 1945, is a day that should live in infamy. On that day, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, not a military target. More than 90,000 were killed almost immediately. Many continued to suffer the effects of radiation for many.

On August 6, 1978, Blessed Pope Paul VI, died. He had called the bombing a “butchery of untold magnitude.”

In 1981, Pope Saint John Paul II said, when visiting Hiroshima:

“To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace. To remember what the people of this city suffered is to renew our faith in humankind, in their capacity to do what is good, in their freedom to choose what is right, in their determination to turn disaster into a new beginning. In the face of the man-made calamity that every war is, one must affirm and reaffirm again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable. Humanity is not destined to self-destruction.”

Two years later, in their 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, the US Catholic bishops noted the importance of changing the climate of the US, so that it might “express profound sorrow over the atomic bombing in 1945.” They then wrote:

“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.”

A few days after the dropping of the bomb, the French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus, who had resisted the Nazis, wrote:

…Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only goal worth struggling for. There is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments – a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.

In September, Dorothy Day poignantly wrote in  The Catholic Worker:

Everyone says, “I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?” How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgement on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

“You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save.” He said also, “What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.”

John’s head on a platter

In the Gospel account of the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29), there is one element that has puzzled me for many years.

The daughter of Herodias dances for Herod’s birthday party. He offers her anything she wants. A dutiful daughter, she asks her mother who tells her “the head of John the Baptist.”

Baptistry door, Florence

Baptistry door, Florence

When the young girl returns to Herod’s birthday party, she asks for John’s head “on a platter.”

Why a platter?

That’s a macabre image, a bloody dessert. I’ve never read an adequate explanation of why she doesn’t just ask for John the Baptist’s head, as her mother had told her, but adds “on a platter.”

Maybe she didn’t want her hands bloodied and so sought a platter to collect the blood.

Do we also cooperate in the death and suffering of others but want a dessert – without the blood?

Do we want to avoid getting our hands bloody, but still want to enjoy the benefits of the death of those who prick our consciences?

We need, as Albert Camus noted, “to confront the blood-stained face that history has taken on today.”

Without the platter.

Contemplating our bloody history

For the next few weekdays the first reading in the Catholic lectionary will offer us stories about King Solomon, mostly from the First Book of Kings.

If today’s reading is indicatory, we will be reading a very sanitized version of his life.

In today’s reading 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12, David on his deathbed is giving Solomon advice to follow the ways of the Lord.

What we don’t hear are David’s request to settle accounts with his army commander Joab and with a reality of Saul who insulted him. David asks Solomon to get rid of them.

David and Solomon were deeply flawed persons, not the paragons of virtue and wisdom that we are often shown.

Murder and adultery, and even idolatry in Solomon’s case, are indicative of their reigns. It is thus not surprising that they have conflicts with their sons and there are conflicts between the sons about who shall be king.

How can we deal with this? It’s in the Bible, some might say.

I began this morning to read Daniel Berrigan’s The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power. This Jesuit poet and prophet (now 92 years old) has written many poetic commentaries on scripture which combine scholarship with a prophet’s insightful critique. He reads the scripture with an eye to conversion – even today.

And so he writes of these bloody accounts:

The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Maccabees imply that we humans must move in great darkness before we are blessed and enter the light. This, it sold seem, is the law of the Fall… Let us ponder such forbears, and weep.

We must suffer the anti-human as well in ourselves….

Through these books, we must come to know the worst of our ancestry — as well as the worst that lurks in ourselves.

The stories of David and Solomon – and the other bloody tales – call us to look at the evil around us – the pathology of power – as well as the evil within. For “the books of the Kings stand like a record of our own benighted century, bloody as beef newly drawn and hung.

And so Dan Berrigan prays:

Grant us knowledge of our crimes. Help us take our true bearings in the world, to confess how rarely, in public life and private, in religion and statecraft,  in temple and marketplace and home —how rarely authority is joined with virtue. Grant us knowledge of our plight, that we may cry out for relief, and be drawn forth.

Reading the whole bloody story is necessary so that we may see the faithlessness in our lives as well as the bloody story of our times – the wars, the hunger, the injustice, the idolatry of power and money. May we, as Albert Camus challenged us, “get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

Then, maybe we might repent, as persons and as nations, and begin to seek the ways of peace.

 

 

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”?

 

True Christianity – an unbeliever and a bishop

What does it really mean to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? What does it mean in a world of hunger and oppression?

Many would claim to be Christian because of a statement of faith they made once or which they make each Sunday. But is that what makes a true Christian?

Some would seem to limit true Christianity to code of ethics, especially in the realm of sex?

For me true Christianity means following the God who became flesh as a poor man in an occupied land in order to make us free – from sin, from oppression, from strife. He is a liberating God.

Today is the anniversary of the death of the French author and philosopher Albert Camus who died in car accident on January 4, 1960. His novel The Plague and several of his essays, especially those in the collection  Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, have touched me deeply. In particular I continue to be challenged by this excerpt of a talk he gave in 1948 to Dominicans, entitled “The Unbeliever and Christian”:

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 bloodstained face history has taken on today.

On this day in 1995 another prophet died, the Puerto-Rican Jesuit bishop, Monseñor Antulio Parilla-Bonilla. He was a bishop who spoke out forcibly against the Vietnam War and for the independence of Puerto Rico. I met him once in a church’s gym in Spanish Harlem in the early 1970s. It was probably around the time he spoke these words at a Mass in the First Spanish Methodist Church in New York which was being occupied by the Young Lords:

There’s oppression in the whole world: two-thirds of humanity is oppressed by the white axis of nations. The poor, nonwhite population is being oppressed, I would say, by maybe 15 or 20 percent of the people of the whole world. And anybody who will just cross his arms before a situation like that should not call himself a true Christian.
It’s about time that we realized what true religion is – seeing that when Christ was trying to explain who was going to be rewarded and who was not, he didn’t refer to a catechism, he didn’t refer to daily communion, he didn’t refer to externals – he referred to good deeds and good works. And it’s not good works to one person individually; it’s good works to change structures now, this moment in the history of humanity.

An unbeliever and a bishop reveal to us just a bit of what real Christianity is.

True Christianity

True Christianity

As people argue about Christianity and politics, the question is who is the real Christian, the real follower of Christ.

Albert Camus, French/Algerian author and philosopher, active in the French Resistance during World War II, died in a car crash, on January 4, 1960. In 1948, he was asked by the Dominicans of the monastery of Latour-Arbourg, France, to speak on “The Unbeliever and the Christian.” One paragraph of his speech has stayed with me since I first read it in the nineteen-sixties:

“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 bloodstained face history has taken on today.”

Some Christians have spoken without sugarcoating the reality. One I was privileged to hear once in the early 1980s in New York City was Bishop Antulio Parrilla-Bonilla, S.J., a Puerto Rican bishop. The auxiliary bishop of Caguas, Puerto Rico, he was a promoter of cooperatives and a fierce proponent of Puerto Rican independence. He was speaking to a small crowd in a church hall in Spanish Harlem of his opposition to the Viet Nam war and to the draft. I don’t remember exactly what he said but I feel privileged to have met this bishop who, for his forthrightness, did not advance up the episcopal ladder, but continued to advocate for the poor. Here was a man “sin pelos en la lengua” – with no hairs on his tongue – as we say here in Latin America.

At a Mass for the Young Lords who were occupying the First Spanish Methodist Church, he noted:

“There’s oppression in the whole world: two-thirds of humanity is oppressed by the white axis of nations. The poor, nonwhite population is being oppressed, I would say, by maybe 15 or 20 percent of the people of the whole world. And anybody who will just cross his arms before a situation like that should not call himself a true Christian.

“It’s about time that we realized what true religion is – seeing that when Christ was trying to explain who was going to be rewarded and who was not, he didn’t refer to a catechism, he didn’t refer to daily communion, he didn’t refer to externals – he referred to good deeds and good works. And it’s not good works to one person individually, it’s good works to change structures now, this moment in the history of humanity.”

He died on January 3, 1994.