Tag Archives: peace

A missing verse in the Christmas lectionary

The first reading from Isaiah for the Christmas midnight Mass (9:1-6) has consoled me for many years. It includes this promise of the end of repression and war against the people:

For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed…
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.

I especially remember one year, perhaps it was in 1989 after the massacre of the Jesuits at the Central American University. As I heard these words, I began to cry, thinking of the many deaths wreaked on the people of El Salvador (and many other lands) by an oppressive military, funded by the United States.

As I prepared this morning to preach at Mass tonight in Dulce Nombre, I read the lectionary in English and in Spanish. I plan to read the first reading and the Gospel in several different translations in English and Spanish (and look at the Gospel in Greek) to try to capture the details.

I am rather upset, though, to find that the fourth verse of the reading from Isaiah is omitted in the Spanish lectionary and that people in Latin America may not hear the verse that prophesies the destruction of military boots and bloody cloaks.

The verses may refer to not taking booty in a holy war, but I hear them more as a promise that violence and war do not have the final word.

In a continent ravished by violence, in a country with a high index of murder, I want to hear this promise. I want to share this promise that the newborn Prince of Peace brings. I want to say to those who have seen their neighbors slain – by gangs in the big cities, in vengeance killings throughout the countryside, by government and death squads – that God’s vision is different, that God is Peace, who comes as a poor baby, born in a manger, visited by shepherds, outcasts of their time.

Maybe I’ll just have to include this verse in my homily – announcing the Prince of Peace.

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Fasting from war and injustice

Dresden

Dresden, 1945

See the fast that pleases me:
breaking the fetters of injustice
and unfastening the thongs of the yoke,
setting the oppressed free
and breaking every yoke.
Isaiah 58: 6

Isaiah 58 is one of the most important chapters for taking Lent seriously. It contrasts fasting from externals and the fasting that changes oneself and one’s nation.

On February 12, 1945, US and British air forces began the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, in which more than 22,000 people were killed.

Eileen Egan, a close associate of Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, worked in Europe after the Second World War for Catholic Church relief work. She saw the results of war first hand.

An ardent advocate of peace she once wrote:

“Instead of feeding the hungry, we destroy the fields that produce the food; instead of clothing the naked, we bomb factories that produce clothing; instead of giving drink to the thirsty, we bomb reservoirs. In war, the enemy is dehumanized and is no longer seen as a child of God. As Christians, we must penetrate the disguise and see Jesus in the enemy. Then, we would not kill and destroy.”

Would that we would pay attention to her words and the words of Isaiah and make of this Lent a time of real conversion – at all levels: personal, community, and world.

Would that we turn from war and violence and injustice and seek the God of mercy and justice.

Today we can also remember a woman who did that, living and working in the Amazon. On February 12, 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang was killed for her defense of peasants and small farmers. See my blog post a year ago.

Sister Dorothy saw the face of Christ in the poor. As she prayed:

I light a candle and look at Jesus on the cross and ask for the strength to carry the suffering of the people. Don’t worry about my safety. The safety of the people is what’s important.

Eileen Egan asked us to see the face of Christ in the enemy.

What better way to spend Lent – contemplating the face of Christ and responding in mercy and solidarity.

 

Paradoxes

In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:25), Jesus reveals a paradox:

whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Holding on to ourselves closes us in and so we die; but letting go of ourselves, losing control, handing ourselves over, can open us to new life.

But there’s another paradox I’d like to share today, the anniversary of the death of A. J. Muste in 1967 at 82 years of age.

“One has to be both a resister and a reconciler to be an effective pacifist. You have to be sure that when you’re reconciling you’re also resisting any tendency to gloss things over; and when you’re primarily resisting, you have to be careful not to hate, not to win victories over human beings. You want to change people, but you don’t want to defeat them.”

Paradoxes teach us that it is not always black and white – and that doesn’t mean that everything is grey. For me, it means that the truth is found in the ongoing dialogue, the ongoing paradox, the living in the midst of paradox and ambiguity.

AJ Muste seems to me to be one who lived with conviction – but int he midst of paradoxes.

Abraham Johannes Muste, born in the Netherlands, was raised in Michigan. After college he taught for a few years at what is now Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. After seminary he served for several years as a minister of the Reformed Church. He would subsequently pass through several denominations, before joining the communist Workers Party.

After several years he returned to a faith based on the Sermon of the Mount and advocated an activist pacifism. He was for several years the executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith pacifist organization.

When he retired from that role, he continued to be an advocate for justice, peace and nonviolence – protesting nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, and the draft. A year before his death he was arrested protesting outside the US Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam. A few weeks before his death he visited North Vietnam to see the effects of the US bombing.

One of the most striking photos of A J is his climbing over the fence at a Nebraska missile base.

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What makes for peace

If this day you only knew what makes for peace
—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19: 42

Jesus cries even today,
because we have preferred the ways of war,
the way of hate, the way of being enemies.
Pope Francis, 19 November 2015 

As war fever mounts, it might be useful to consider these words from an essay of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton from “The Root of War Is Fear.”

The essay can be found in New Seeds of Contemplation. But when it was first published in The Catholic Worker, it included the following words in an introduction which are not found in the original book.

What are we to do? The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, his hope in Christ, and love for God and man, to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probable at every moment everywhere. Unless we set ourselves immediately to this task, both as individuals and in our political and religious groups, we tend by our very passivity and fatalism to cooperate with the destructive forces that are leading inexorably to war. It is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, for which the Church itself is not fully able to see clear and decisive solutions. Yet she must lead the way on the road to the nonviolent settlement of difficulties and toward the gradual abolition of war as the way of settling international or civil disputes. Christians must become active in every possible way, mobilizing all their resources for the fight against war.

First of all there is much to be learned. Peace is to be preached, nonviolence is to be explained as a practical method, and not left to be mocked as an outlet for crackpots who want to make a show of themselves. Prayer and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons, they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We may never succeed in this campaign but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident.

At the end of the essay Merton reflects on what we should be praying for when we pray for peace.

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 warmakers, 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.

So today in the wake of violence let us pray for peace, for our conversion to the way of the Christ of peace, for the abolition of war.

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From the church “Dominus flevit” in Jerusalem