Tag Archives: Hiroshima

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.”

Transfiguration, Hiroshima, and Pope Paul VI

On a mountain in Galilee, Jesus let his disciples see the glory of God, his divinity, hidden beneath his humanity. And so we celebrate today the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The world hides the glory of God which is concealed at the depths of the creation. In fact, we distort the glory of God by the bombing of civilians, as at Hiroshima, what Pope Paul VI called “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

But God has a way of undermining our attempts to destroy creation.

God has a way of revealing the Glory of God hidden in Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, and in God’s creation.

God is the God who transfigures, who subtly reveals the Glory that God wishes for us.

St. Irenaeus said that “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero said that “The Glory of God is the poor person fully alive.”

How will I make that glory known and loved today?

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. On this day in 1978 Blessed Pope Paul VI died.

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.

Tabor or Hiroshima

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

What happened on Mount Tabor?

In the first place, Jesus revealed in a stunning way that He is God. By doing this He also sought to inspire hope in his followers who would witness His death – and resurrection.

But I think that in another way Jesus was trying to show us who we really are in the depths of our being and who we really can become.

The Orthodox tradition takes seriously the statement of St. Athanasius that God became human that we might become God.

There is the spark of God’s love and divinity at the center of our being. It is obscured by sin but it is still there. On Mount Tabor, Jesus showed us that speak of God which can become a burning flame of love when we listen to Him.

But sometimes what we do or fail to do or the circumstances of life try to put out that spark – or substitute false fires of destruction for that flame of love.

So today, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, we remember that attempt to unleash the power of death, ignoring the lives of the civilians who lived in Hiroshima.

Pope Paul VI, who died on August 6, 1978, put it bluntly in his World Peace Day Message for 1976:

“If the consciousness of universal brotherhood truly penetrates into the hearts of [humans], will they still need to arm themselves to the point of becoming blind and fanatic killers of their brethren who in themselves are innocent, and of perpetrating, as a contribution to peace, butchery of untold magnitude, as at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945? In fact has not our own time had an example of what can be done by a weak man, Gandhi — armed only with the principle of nonviolence — to vindicate for a nation of hundreds of millions of human beings the freedom and dignity of a new people?”

Will we choose the spark of love of Jesus on Mount Tabor and give of ourselves or will we choose the fire of death of atomic and nuclear weapons, of drones, of missiles aimed at civilians?

The future of our planet depends on what we choose.

But even more, our future depends on our choice.

Will we nurture the spark of God in our hearts and the hearts of others or will we bring death with the fires of our weapons?


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.