Saturday, 5 May 2007

Letter in Jail to Dorothy Day

Letter in Jail to Dorothy Day
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

A shorter version of this letter/article was published in the December, 2004 issue of the Catholic Worker.

The following is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Dear Dorothy,

I have just found great joy and inspiration in reading your autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Thank you for sharing your life of love and struggle with us.
Jon Sobrino, the Jesuit at the Central American University in San Salvador who was giving a seminar in Thailand when his six Jesuit brothers and Elba and Celina were assassinated by U.S.-trained Salvadoran troops in 1989, writes a letter on every anniversary of that massacre to his dear friend and martyred brother, Ignatio Ellacuría, who was the Jesuit rector of the university and principal target of the assassins. I would like to write to you in the same genre.
I’m sure you won’t remember (although, perhaps now, with your memory, mind, and body transformed in the risen Christ, you will) our brief conversation over tea when I visited the Catholic Worker in New York City -- perhaps in 1972, after I got out of federal prison where I had done two years for destroying draft records as a protest against the Vietnam war in 1969. The content of our chat eludes me now, but I do remember your warmth and graciousness.

I feel that I have also come to know you through my friendships with Catholic Workers over many years. In 1967 in Chicago I met Karl Meyer and his family, who had a CW house on the near north side. With some other friends, Karl had organized a series of discussions in parishes concerning various aspects of the Vietnam war and the draft; I gave some input in several sessions.
Karl and I were later together in federal prison at Sandstone, MN -- I for the “Chicago 15" draft-board action, Karl for practicing and promoting tax resistance. There we grew closer in friendship as we talked while walking around the softball field. Karl spoke often and warmly of you, Peter Maurin, and Ammon Hennacy; thus I became more familiar with CW thought.
Karl now identifies himself as an atheist, but this has not diminished our friendship (why should it?), as I’m sure it has not lessened your love and respect for him. In The Long Loneliness you describe your deep friendship with Rayna, a beautiful person and committed revolutionary, who died “at the peak of her glowing, radiant life.” Your reflection about her resonates deeply in me: “When I think of Rayna, I think of Mauriac’s statement in his life of Christ that those who serve the cause of the masses, the poor, working for truth and justice, have worked for Christ even while denying Him” (p. 68).
I also think of Karl and so many other good friends and comrades in this way, as “anonymous Christians” (Mt. 25:31 ff), to use Karl Rahner’s phrase, even though, out of respect for their self-definition, I usually do not tell them that I see them in this light.

In early 1969 I attended a meeting at the CW house in Milwaukee, Casa Maria, where Mike Cullen and his family lived in service of the needy. Mike had taken part in the “Milwaukee 14" draft-board action in 1968, as you well know, and had not yet started his sentence. The meeting was an occasion for a group of interested persons to learn of Mike’s path to civil disobedience and to discern whether the Lord was calling us in that direction. Later, when I arrived at Sandstone, Mike welcomed me and we became close friends as we often discussed politics and theology.
Chuck Fullenkamp, one of my “partners” in the “Chicago 15" action, who had lived and worked with Mike at Casa Maria, was with us in the same prison; and we also shared spiritually and became lasting friends. (Chuck and his son visited me last year in Nicaragua.)
In Chicago after my release on parole in 1972, I became a close friend of the Catholic Workers, especially of John Baranski, who with others participated in anti-war resistance actions. I have also come to know the Day House community in Detroit and have visited CW communities in Davenport, Los Angeles, and D.C.
The movement has been and remains a sign of hope and an inspiration to me: people (the vast majority being laity) living out the poverty and hospitality of the gospel (e.g., the Beatitudes and Mt. 25) and struggling non-violently to combat the injustices which cause misery for others, especially war and the un-Christian priorities evident in military budgets.

But I feel that my story connects with yours in several interesting ways, the first going back long before my birth in 1943. In 1916, at the age of 19, you returned with your family to your native New York City to live in lower Manhattan. My Dad, Eugene Mulligan, had been born in that part of the city in 1906. It is thrilling to me to imagine that perhaps he as a boy and you as a teenage girl might have walked the same streets, seen the same tenements, noticed the same smells, and heard the same variety of immigrants’ languages.
It is for this reason that I relished your vivid descriptions of the area. Dad’s family’s living conditions were probably similar to those you and your family experienced -- not destitution, but poverty.
My Mom, Genevieve Lillis, a year younger than Dad, was born and grew up in Astoria, Queens, across the East River from you. She also lived in similarly austere conditions.
I myself have never lived in real material poverty -- not even in Nicaragua, where such is the common lot of the majority. My current jail experience is just a brief taste of it, and even here our basic physical needs are met perhaps more adequately than they were in your case and that of my parents as children.
Nevertheless, my parents’ stories of living with little made a lasting impact on me, helping me to define my real “needs” as being quite simple and to experience solidarity with the truly needy. My modest degree of freedom from “inordinate attachments” to comfort and security has enabled me to live, at least for short periods, in austere situations in Nicaragua and in prisons and jails in the U.S.

Another commonality I feel with your experience has to do with the poem, “Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson. You describe listening to Eugene O’Neill reciting the poem in a saloon. “The idea of this pursuit by the Hound of Heaven fascinated me,” you recall. “The recurrence of it, the inevitableness of the outcome made me feel that sooner or later I would have to pause in the mad rush of living and remember my first beginning and my last end” (81-2).
I first heard the poem not in a saloon but in my English class at the Jesuit high school in Detroit, recited by a teacher. “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days....” But it had a similar haunting effect on me and kept speaking to me from time to time during my senior year and two years of college before the Hound carried me off to the Jesuit novitiate!
You would kneel in the back of a Catholic church, “not conscious of praying.” Once the Lord helped me to open myself to his call and to think seriously about it, I would go to the Duns Scotus Franciscan friary just north of Detroit to sit or kneel in the chapel, reflecting in silence.

A third experience of yours that I identify with is your heady feeling of optimism about the movement of history in favor of justice after a revolution -- in your case, the Russian Revolution of 1917. “We took the revolution for granted. We watched its progress; we were thrilled by its victories.... We became internationally minded. We lived in one world, and it was a world where dreams came true, where there was a possibility of the workers beginning to take over the means of production and starting to build that kind of society where each received according to his need and worked according to his ability.... We were arrogant and impatient of study and felt we were carried along on a wave of success” (83-4).
You saw the time come when the dictatorship of the proletariat became “a dictatorship by the elite few, by the members of the party.” But in its infancy the revolution was positive and hope-giving.
Did you imbibe some of this optimistic excitement in the 1960s and 1970s? I did, in spite of the reversals, tragedies and, as we saw later, the limited nature of the triumphs. With great sacrifice the civil-rights movement achieved significant gains, as did Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, which you supported; that picture of you sitting captive between two burly California cops speaks volumes.
The movement against the war in Vietnam grew to massive proportions, contributing to a cease-fire in 1973 and U.S. withdrawal in 1975. The socialist physician, Salvador Allende, was elected president of Chile in 1970 (then, it is true, killed in the brutal U.S.-sponsored coup three years later). The Sandinistas, including many revolutionary Christians in their ranks, led the 1979 overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua -- thus sparking hope for other revolutionary movements in Central America. (“If Nicaragua won, El Salvador will win!”)
And the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) opened the windows of our old Church to the modern world and its currents of change, officially affirming the Catholic commitment to justice and peace which you and the CW movement had been exemplifying for decades.
True, political and ecclesiastical reaction soon gathered force, reversing many of the accomplishments. But you and other young radicals needed the victories and optimism of the late 1910s, just as you and your CW family and other radicals in the 1960s and 1970s were nourished by the positive signs of the times of that era. I certainly was.
Now the challenge is to keep that flame of struggle alive, knowing what was achieved in the past (with all its limitations) and therefore what things and greater things can be attained in the future through struggle, even in spite of the evidently advancing evil, especially of U.S. imperialism. For this our hope needs to be firmly grounded in prayer and in faith in Christ’s ongoing empowerment of us in the struggle to bring his Kingdom of justice and peace closer.

A fourth aspect of your story which brings me closer to you is your concern about Nicaragua, where I have lived for 18 years. In the late 1920s you went around “in a stew and fomented over our interventions in Nicaragua and the political situation in New York” (116). At the time of your baptism in the Catholic Church, you were “working with the Anti-Imperialist League, a Communist affiliate, that was bringing aid and comfort to the enemy, General Sandino’s forces in Nicaragua” (145).
You probably knew Bishop John Lancaster Spaulding of Peoria, IL, a member of the League. General Sandino’s brother, Socrates, was also a key figure in the solidarity movement in the U.S. Together you all helped to bring about the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1933. If you had lived beyond 1980, you surely would have joined the struggle against the Reagan administration’s policy of training and supporting the anti-Sandinista Contras.

I was delighted to discover a fifth experience of yours that I share -- turning to God in prayer out of happiness and gratitude rather than just because of a need. In a time of such prayer, the old phrase, “religion as the opiate of the people,” came to you repeatedly as a jeer. “But, I reasoned with myself, I am praying because I am happy, not because I am unhappy. I did not turn to God in unhappiness, in grief, in despair -- to get consolation, to get something from Him” (128). And so you went on praying in gratitude to God.
As a teenager, whenever I turned to God (which was not all that often!), perhaps in a high-school retreat or sometimes at Mass, I was aware of all that I had received from God, from my family, from my childhood parish and grade school in New York, from my high school in Detroit, and from my friends. I felt gratitude for all these gifts of love and wanted to try to do something meaningful and significant with my life and talents in response for all that I had received.
In my two years at the University of Detroit, I was considering medicine and had just begun to follow a pre-med curriculum when, in a moment of considerable openness during an obligatory weekend retreat on campus, I was struck by the seriousness and strength of Christ’s invitation to serve him and his people as a priest. As I devoted some time and meditation to this, consulting with some Jesuits I had known in high school and college, the call became clearer, and suddenly I was very grateful for this gift. Ever since, in times of prayer, especially at the start of the retreat, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I rejoice and give thanks for God’s abundant gifts, especially the people in my life.

A final point which resonates with me is your perception, sharpened by your first jail experience, of class discrimination by the criminal-justice system. While picketing the White House with a group of suffragists, you were arrested and then sentenced to 30 days in jail. During your first eight days, while you and others were on a hunger strike, you reflected on the other inmates, especially prostitutes, and on their upper-class counterparts: “People sold themselves for jobs, for the pay check, and if they only received a high enough price, they were honored. If their cheating, their theft, their lie, were of colossal proportions, if it were successful, it met with praise, not blame. Why were some caught, not others? Why were some termed criminals, and others good businessmen? What was right and wrong? What was good and evil?” (75-6).
Did you ever discuss this with your friend, Thomas Merton, whom you knew through correspondence? I thought of you last November when I visited the Trappist monastery in Gethsemani, KY, and the cemetery where Merton is buried. On this matter, especially big-business involvement in war, he wrote: “Violence today is white-collar violence, the systematically organized bureaucratic and technological destruction of man. The theology of violence must not lose sight of the real problem which is not the individual with a revolver but death and even genocide as big business. But this big business of death is all the more innocent and effective because it involves a long chain of individuals, each of whom can feel himself absolved from responsibility, and each of whom can perhaps salve his conscience by contributing with a more meticulous efficiency to his part in the massive operation.”
Merton noted that Adolf Eichmann and others like him “felt no guilt for their share in the extermination of the Jews.” Their feeling of justification was due “partly to their absolute obedience to higher authority and partly to the care and efficiency which went into the details of their work.” They could forget the reality of what they were doing because they were dealing with numbers, not with people, and “since their job was one of abstract bureaucratic organization.”
Merton saw the same distancing mechanism at work “to an even greater extent in modern warfare in which the real moral problems are not to be located in rare instances of hand-to-hand combat, but in the remote planning and organization of technological destruction.... Modern technological mass murder is not directly visible, like individual murder.... It is this polite, massively organized white-collar murder machine that threatens the world with destruction, not the violence of a few desperate teen-agers in a slum.
“But our antiquated theology myopically focused on individual violence alone fails to see this. It shudders at the phantasm of muggings and killings where a mess is made on our own doorstep, but blesses and canonizes the antiseptic violence of corporately organized murder because it is respectable, efficient, clean, and above all profitable” (Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books: 2000, pp. 120-1).
Here in jail, a large young man told me he is doing a sentence for battery (in a bar), which of course is a serious violent crime. But there are no corporate or governmental officials here for battering the people of Iraq or the environment. Another is here for bank robbery, but I haven’t met anyone doing time here for robbing millions of small-time investors by cooking the corporate books or for the usury committed against Third World people by squeezing hundreds of billions of dollars out of them just in interest payments on foreign debts contracted by their upper-class rulers and their unscrupulous and irresponsible First World bankers.

I just want to mention two more things – before the lights are turned off at midnight. Thanks for reporting on and sharing your indignation over the judicial crime perpetrated in 1927 in the conviction and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti -- “two anarchists, a shoemaker and a fish peddler, who were arrested in 1920 in connection with a payroll robbery at East Braintree, Massachusetts, in which two guards were killed” (141).
Vanzetti, “with his sense of peace at his fate,” wrote in a last letter to a friend: “If it had not been for these things [his imprisonment and imminent execution] I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died unmarked, unknown, a failure. This is our career and our triumph.
Never in our full life could we hope to do such work
for tolerance, for justice,
for man’s understanding of man,
as we now do by accident.
--- That last moment belongs to us
- that agony is our triumph.”
A sense of peace and joy in the midst of suffering was the astounding gift promised by Jesus to his faithful disciples. Thanks for providing another example of this mystery from the experience of Sacco and Vanzetti, who found meaning and purpose, and therefore peace, in bearing persecution for the cause of the oppressed.

Dorothy, I must tell you how delighted I am with one anecdote in particular -- a real gem with an important message. In 1918 you entered nurses’ training at King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn and soon started working as a student nurse. Your first patient was a 94-year-old Canadian woman who became more than cantankerous in refusing to be bathed daily.
“‘Let us help you,’ one of the nurses said soothingly. ‘Can’t you see that we want to take care of you because we love you?’
“‘Love be damned,’ the little old lady cried, ‘I want my wig.’ She sat there perched on the end of her thin spine, her eyes blazing black and clear. Her arms were clasped around her bare and scrawny knees. Around a large bare spot on her head she had a thin fringe of hair which stood up like a field of ferns.
“‘She has been crying for her wig since she came in,’ the other nurse said. ‘We let her have her teeth, but she wants her wig.’
“The little old lady needed more than soap and water and clean bed linen. She needed more than to be loved. She wanted to be respected as a person, and for that she needed to have her wishes respected. She needed such appurtenances as her wig. I remember we compromised with a cap and so pleased her” (86-7).


Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Jailhouse Reading -- "The Immigrants," a novel by Howard Fast

Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

The following is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Yesterday a friend brought The Immigrants, the epic novel by the late Howard Fast. In this setting one can devote full attention to a novel and read it well in a day or two!
Howard Fast describes the rise to power and wealth of Dan Lavette, son of an Italian immigrant fisherman, in San Francisco in the first third of the twentieth century. But his drive to the top, buying up ships, hotels, a department store, and even running an airline, imprisons his heart and soul, preventing him from giving himself entirely to May Ling, the love and joy of his life.

Having married into vast wealth, Dan found his relationship with the banker’s daughter turning into hostility and emptiness. But when he falls in love with May Ling, the beautiful daughter of his Chinese bookkeeper, he encounters new life, joy, and peace.
His wife Jean, however, refuses to grant Dan a divorce, and his empire-building requires him to maintain the fiction of “proper” family life. His relationship with May Ling was deepening, but Dan would leave San Francisco for weeks on end, once without even telling her he was going. When he returned, May Ling told him that she could not take that kind of relationship for more years and so she was moving to Los Angeles with her parents and the son Dan had fathered and loved.
“I love you,” he assures May Ling.
“As much as you can love anyone, Dan.”
“You’re my whole life.”
“No. Not even ten percent of it, Dan.”
“...I know it’s been hard for you.... I get involved in things. It’s not the money. I don’t give a damn about money, you know that. But all my life I’ve been climbing Nob Hill and pushing at those bastards up there. I go to bed and dream I’m still the kid in the fishing boat with the whole damn city in flames” (p. 294). Dan’s parents had been killed in the earthquake and fire of 1906.

Dan was not only the business partner of Mark Levy but also a very close friend of him and his family. Mark’s wife, Sarah, asked Dan bluntly but out of deep concern for him: “Why don’t you leave Jean?”
“Everything Mark and I have, everything we built, a whole lifetime of making something that’s going to be the biggest thing in this state, maybe in the whole country -- and we’ve just begun, it’s just starting to roll. I leave Jean, and she washes it out. She told me this. It’s not just a question of community property -- we’re in hock almost fifteen million dollars to her father’s bank.”
“Danny, it’s just a business. It’s nothing. It’s a golem that has both of you by the throat. Why can’t you and Mark see that?”
“It’s not just a business. It’s my life. Without it, I’m nothing.”
“God help you,” Sarah whispered (p. 314).
Dan’s sense of identity and self-worth was totally tied up with his meteoric “success” in building his and Mark’s empire.

When Dan longed to start an airline, Mark suggested that they go public, issue stock, and get a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Dan was hesitant but soon agreed, due to his exuberant confidence and need to climb higher: “We’re just beginning to crawl onto the top of this golden shitpile they call big business, and once we get there, we’re going to stake it out” (p. 346). He knew the nature of the green stuff of the pile; what drove him was power and the need to prove himself.
Arriving in Los Angeles on the first flight of his new airline, he visits May Ling and asks: “Do you believe me when I say that I love you -- more than anything on earth?”
“I believe you love me. Not more than anything on earth. I think you love the game you’re playing more” (p. 374).
Dan had just admitted it was a game: “Funny, we got this damned empire, and it’s all like a game I’m playing.” A game with high stakes -- his own humanity and a precious relationship.

Liberation from the game came to Dan in the form of the stock-market crash of 1929. He and Mark lost everything; and when he and Jean divorced, he wanted her and their two children to have all their common property.
With his last $120 in his pocket, Dan went to supper at Mark and Sarah’s. The two men were more relaxed than Sarah had seen them in years.
Mark said: “I can’t believe that it’s over.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Dan said.
“I don’t understand,” Sarah said. “In a world where men jump out of windows because they’ve been ruined, you two are celebrating.”
“It makes a kind of sense,” Mark said. “If only because it’s finally over” (p. 470).

Dan went to Los Angeles on a one-way bus ticket. Assaulted by thugs for a few dollars he had earned as a manual worker, he fought them off but ended up punching a cop who arrived on the scene. After doing ninety days in jail, Dan emerged only to spend a night around campfires on a weedy lot with a hundred other homeless and jobless men. “It takes twenty-four hours without food to make a bum, or four days without shaving,” an old man said to him. Dan admitted it.
The next morning he was seen by a fishing-boat captain who had worked for him in San Francisco and who offered Dan a job. With some money and clean clothes, he mustered all his courage and went to see May Ling. She, their son, and her parents received Dan warmly and gratefully, and he pulled out the words to share what had transpired.
May Ling watched “and listened to the single man she had loved and given herself to in the one lifetime she lived. She understood.... His life had been smashed and battered, and that was necessary. There was no other way for him to come to an accounting with himself. She understood the illusion of free will, and finally, in his own way and in his own good time, he had arrived at that understanding. It was a great triumph that he was celebrating, but that knowledge would be for the two of them and only for the two of them” (p. 490).
The stock-market crash had freed him from his false self, enabling him to live his own life with the wife and son he loved.
Leaving City Hall after their wedding, May Ling asked: “What they call the good life -- you haven’t any regrets?”
“I could do it again,” he said. Start over. Bluff and bull his way into the world of the wheeler-dealers, even making the construction of the Golden Gate bridge happen.
“No. I would have died ... in some flophouse along Main Street before I’d go back. At least it would be a death of my own choosing” (p. 493).
Now it was not merely external circumstances which had forced his liberation: his decision about his life flowed from his truly free will.

In the final paragraph of his novel, Howard Fast wrote: “ In the book of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, which Feng Wo [May Ling’s father] had translated from the Chinese and which was published by the University of California Press, there were a few lines from the Natural Way of Lao Tzu:
Moved by deep love, a man is courageous.
And with frugality, a man becomes generous.
And he who does not desire to be ahead of the world,
becomes the leader of the world.”
One of my cellmates, a man with long hair and long beard who has lived on the streets and in jails, read The Immigrants with great interest and pleasure. “I had a feeling it would end that way,” he told me. “Dan finally found peace of mind.”

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, whose purpose is to free us from “inordinate attachments” so that we may choose what is in accord with our true self, the author teaches that “all things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.”
The purpose of meditating on the life and work of Jesus in the gospels is to come to an intimate knowledge of him, “who has become man for me, that I may love him more and follow him more closely,” according to Ignatius. As in the case of so many others, if the rudimentary boyhood faith of Dan Lavette had been nurtured to maturity, perhaps he would never have gotten caught up in the deadly and deceptive game.

Several years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Howard Fast and his wife, Mimi, in their home in Connecticut. I was drawn to him after reading The Confession of Joe Cullen, a novel which Howard was inspired to write after reading “The Mysterious Death of Father Carney” by Anne Nelson and George Black in The Nation (August 4-11, 1984).
I had been working on the case of Fr. James (Guadalupe) Carney for some years. In 1997 and 1998 the CIA and Defense Department released declassified (and heavily expurgated) documents concerning Father Carney. The priest had worked in Honduras for eighteen years. His defense of human rights and his support of the farmers’ organizing efforts resulted in his deportation in 1979.
After working as a pastor in Nicaragua, he returned to Honduras in 1983 as a chaplain to an armed revolutionary column; the group was captured by the Honduran army, and Father Carney “was disappeared.” Although officials presented his chalice and stole to his relatives, they never explained the circumstances of his death, suggesting only that he probably starved to death in the mountains. Five years later, a former officer of the Honduran army told The New York Times that he personally had interrogated Carney (New York Times Magazine, June 5,1988).
His body has not been found, and the Honduran military officers responsible for his death have not been identified. Whether any U.S. agents or officials were involved in his disappearance remains an open question.
The most striking aspect of the CIA and Pentagon documents is the extraordinary amount of material which is blacked out.

In Fast’s novel Joe Cullen is a pilot who, on a mission in Honduras, gets to know an American priest who had been captured by the Honduran army after he had entered from Nicaragua with a revolutionary group. The Hondurans put the priest into Cullen’s aircraft and order him to take off, but during the flight they throw the prisoner out.
Cullen returns to New York City where, plagued by guilt, he confesses his complicity to a district attorney. The plot develops from there.

I was graciously received by Howard and his wife, and we spent several hours sharing our life stories and our work. I have come to know Howard better by reading his autobiography, Being Red, and several novels. Knowing his life-long struggle for justice in solidarity with the oppressed, I am not surprised to find his passion running through his beautifully crafted novels. His heart was clearly with the underdog and outsider, and he elegantly laid bare the false world of the rich and powerful.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Letter from Jail

Letter from Muscogee County Jail
By Joseph Mulligan
Published in The Witness online, February 9, 2004

Letter from Harris County Jail
March 11, 2004

[Ed. Note: These two parts constitute one full article by Joseph Mulligan on U.S. foreign policy and Central America, specifically in terms of Nicaragua and the conservative/reactionary political leadership of that nation. The first installment was written from the Muscogee County Jail in Georgia. In late February, Mulligan and several other political prisoners were moved to the Harris Co. Jail in Georgia.]

This is the first chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Stations of the Cross in Jail

Stations of the Cross in Jail: Part 1
By Joseph Mulligan
Published in The Witness online, February 28, 2006

As I enter the fortieth day of my fast (March 7), I begin to "do" the Stations of the Cross in my mind and imagination.....


Stations of the Cross in Jail: Part 2
Published in The Witness online, March 30, 2006

IV. JESUS IS DENIED BY PETER (Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-62)

Peter, who was loath to admit the cross in Jesus' path, now could not accept it in his own. "I do not know this man you are talking about" (Mk 14:71).

Would I have had the courage to admit being a disciple of Jesus, knowing that I might be put in jail and tried with him as a "co-conspirator"?.......

This is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Meditating on the “Our Father” in Jail

Meditating on the “Our Father” in Jail
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

The following is from my journal written while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas. The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
My “Letter from the Muscogee County Jail” was published by The Witness during my first month in jail –
Other jail journal entries have also been posted by The Witness.


If the Lord’s prayer is for all people,
then God is the God of all,
who then must be brothers and sisters of one family.

God of all nations, races, and language groups.
God of drug users and pushers
and of social drinkers and liquor dealers,
of smokers and tobacco advertisers;
of petty thieves in jail,
and of corporate criminals in country clubs,
and of the victims of both.
Of those who terrorize with chemical and bacteriological weapons,
and of those who hurt and kill by polluting the atmosphere for profit,
and of their victims.
Of those who assault and batter a person for a purse,
and of armies which attack nations for their oil and investment opportunities.
Of those who defraud with a bad check,
and of the company insiders who cheat by cooking the books
and steal by selling their stock before the crash,
and of their victims.
Of those who are in jail for perjury,
and of those who lie in advertising and governmental public relations.
Of those in prison for probation violation,
and of those in the White House, State, and Defense
who violate the rules of international law.
Of those behind bars for DUI (driving under the influence),
and of those equally reckless ones, behind desks, using and threatening WMD.
Of the drunk and disorderly,
and of the sober (or careful) executives of disorderly, rogue corporations.
Of those who fail to appear in court for driving without a license
and of those who invade without a license.

Today I finished reading Joyce Milton’s Tramp -- The Life of Charlie Chaplin (DaCapo Press, 1998). Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, condemned as a serial wife killer who swindled his victims before killing them, accused the judge, jury, and spectators of hypocrisy: “As for being a mass murderer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and children to pieces, and done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison.”
But he and they will be judged: “I shall see you all very soon.” (footnote 1)

“Our” Father,
of prostitutes in prison, and of their pimps on the street,
of business executives who cause unemployment,
and of politicians who allow social ruin in the maximization of profits.
Of the gun users and of the sellers of weapons,
and of those who promote violence by filling the media with it,
by exemplifying it in war, or in the home.

Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University of New Orleans and lead attorney in our trials, in “Yesterday My Friend Chose Prison” (4-9-03), dedicated to the anti-SOA prisoners of conscience, wrote:
“Yesterday my friend joined the people we put in the concrete and steel boxes,
mothers and children and fathers that we cannot even name,
in prison for using and selling drugs,
in prison for trying to sneak into this country,
in prison for stealing and scamming and fighting and killing,
but none were there for the massacres,
no generals, no politicians, no under-secretaries, no ambassadors.”

Who’s the criminal here? All of us stand in dire need of God’s mercy and transforming Spirit, but only some are judged “guilty” and punished by human justice.



“Abba” -- Dad/Mom
Love, care, and mercy for all the kids, especially the most difficult and needy.
Unearned, unmerited mercy,
not dependent on our talents, moral worth, or reputation;
grace generously given,
and thus powerful to free us from our self-righteousness, which is always self-deception,
since it makes us selective in our vision and protective in our blindness.

As Love, Abba frees us from our need to rationalize our anti-social behavior
and to justify ourselves by focusing on some “works” and looking away from others.
Frees me to be myself -- a sinner called to be a saint, an egoist called to be generous --
and to let the masks, props, and titles fall,
to know myself as I am before Abba,
to repent of hurting others either on a personal or world scale,
to stand up and continue on the journey, open to the Spirit’s energy
to change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh;
to try to be caring and responsible in my personal relations
and in my social, political, and economic ones.


“who art in heaven”

and who are here on earth, in society,
through your Incarnation (“becoming flesh”) in Jesus of Nazareth,
who is in the prisoner, the hungry, the naked, the homeless,
crying out to us as individuals and social groups,
denying us the escape of saying “I love God”
while hurting or ignoring my neighbor and my neighbor countries.

But yes, who art in heaven --
that is, everywhere,
on earth and above, throughout the galaxies,
to be confined, tamed, named, and domesticated nowhere.
Not as the tribal god of any gender, nation, race, or class,
nor under house arrest in Washington, Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, or any other temple.
Who does not need our children to say,
in the pledge of allegiance, that our nation is “under God,”
but who does want every nation to acknowledge
that it is under higher laws and principles, not a law unto itself,
and that its citizens should not consider nationalism their “ultimate concern,”
their Absolute, especially in time of war,
which cannot be “just” for both sides at the same time,
no matter how fervently the chaplains bless both armies,
assuring them they are doing God’s work.

Abba “in heaven” is our Supreme Authority,
whose commandment is that we love one another.
Who, as Pater and Mater, does not forbid patriotism,
but keeps it in perspective,
reminding us that our true Patria is the universal Kingdom of justice, peace, and love,
not just the land under our flag.
Who inspired an anti-imperialist statesman to say: “My country right or wrong --
may it ever be right,
but when it is wrong, let us make it right” (Carl Schurz).
For it is always my country, for which I share responsibility.

Thus the true patriot, “under God” who is in heaven,
is not the one who simply waves the flag,
prays for the troops and urges them on (from the sidelines)
as they march off to wars around the world,
and consoles their families when they return in flag-draped coffins,
but the citizen
who democratically questions the government policies which send the soldiers
to kill and to die,
who exercises the rights to freedom of speech and redress of grievances,
who organizes to pressure for change,
and who invites soldiers and civilian collaborators
to let their conscience examine what they are about to do,
to be a conscientious objector before or after induction,
if that is where their Light leads,
and to obey their conscience, which for them is the voice of Truth,
of the Commander-in-Chief of the worldwide human nation.


“Hallowed be thy name”

May your name be held holy, revered, respected,
not tripping lightly off the tongue
of every political, civic, and church leader
who talks in public as if he/she had a special Internet link to your will.
And may your name, “Abba,” be understood correctly:
“Mom/Dad,” ever kind and merciful to all the kids,
and thus our liberator from all our pretensions.
Parent and Creator, who brought the universe,
with all its inhabitants, into being,
and so cannot but want life in all its fullness and joy
for all your universal family.

Your name is holy. You are all-holy, entirely Good.
No human construct is all-holy --
no nation or empire, no constitution, no tradition, no “sacred” book,
no human structure of organized religion or government.
When our human products fall into the common temptation
of deifying and sacralizing themselves,
then those idols which demand human sacrifice
need to be shattered, secularized, relativized, de-mystified --
that is, brought down to earth and shown to be of clay --
so that human beings may be free
to know the truth and to love Abba and all people.

Yes, in your holiness and goodness we are all called to share.
St. Paul addressed his letters to the “saints” in various communities,
invited to be a New Creation in Christ.
But Christ is the only human being who is totally holy,
totally filled with the Holy Spirit, one with Abba.
The rest of us share his life and holiness, in very limited measure.
Paul emphasized that he had not yet attained the crown
but was running toward it (Philippians 3:12-14).


“Thy kingdom come”

May human society be transformed into a loving and just community for all peoples,
and may nature and all the universe continue to evolve into their fullness in Christ.
We are delivered into your Kingdom
when we live and build the world in a way
that demonstrates that you are indeed King,
that your principles and values hold ultimate sway in our daily living
and in our political and economic relations,
when we love one another as individuals
and as citizens of sister nations and races in the community of all peoples.
May your Spirit change our hearts and world structures
so that peace with justice will reign.

St. Matthew used “kingdom of heaven” out of reverence for your name; he meant the same as Mark and Luke did when they wrote “kingdom of God” -- not some incredible fantasy of a spiritual realm filled with disincarnate souls floating around, but this universe and this earth transformed into the garden for all which you intended at the origin.
Jesus himself proclaimed that this Kingdom is at hand, among us, not merely within, as some translations put it, as if it were a kingdom of interior consolation, warm feelings, and nice intentions in our heart and mind.
The Kingdom is larger than that: Jesus is Lord of all -- of our hearts and minds and interior values, certainly, but also Lord of the work of our hands and of the structures we create to live socially, politically, and economically.
The federal magistrate conducting the trial of those who protested against SOA/WHINSEC, after listening to our testimony and hearing of our dreams for a peaceful society, delivered his opinion that what we were describing sounded like the Kingdom of heaven but that we should know that that is not of this world. Perhaps Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” is foremost in the judge’s mind, or perhaps he has other reasons for holding his opinion.
Yes, your honor, Jesus did say that his kingdom is “not of this world “ (in a very specific situation in his life), meaning that he would not rely on the world’s violent methods of self-defense such as armies when the police came for him: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18:36). (footnote 2)
Similarly, before the start of his public ministry, he had rejected domination and coercion as his method for helping the Kingdom to come. In the desert he rejected political power over others, any kind of miraculous spectacle which could coerce people´s will, and the power which comes from distributing bread and other necessities (Mt 4:1-11). His sword would be the one that Paul later took up: “the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God” (Eph 6:17).

But throughout his ministry
he courageously denounced evil, corruption, and injustice
in this world
and sketched the outlines of the Kingdom
inaugurating it by his way of living and struggling
here on earth.
That is why he was jailed and executed as a trouble-maker, criminal, social critic,
but in his resurrection he conquered death
and the injustice which had condemned and crucified him;
he is proved, for those with faith, to be the innocent party in the trial,
while his executioners are shown to be guilty of judicial murder.
He is the first-born of the New Creation, of the Kingdom,
which is present in seedling
and, as he proclaimed, is coming here and now.

Yes, the Kingdom is “utopia”
in the literal sense
that in its fullness it is “nowhere” on earth, in history.
That is all too obvious
in our criminal-justice system
as well as in the increasingly unjust distribution of the world´s resources
and in the military domination and exploitation
of the world by the U.S. and other powers.
But there is some justice and peace,
and we keep struggling for more.
The seeds of the Kingdom are planted and are growing,
even if in a fragile and quiet way as the parables indicate.
The risen Christ is with us in the struggle,
keeping our hope alive,
nourishing our love and commitment,
accompanying us and strengthening us in our wavering moments,
and assuring us that his Abba’s project will not ultimately be defeated.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

“The people united will never be defeated”
has been a popular slogan of struggle in Chile and other Latin American countries.
“Nicaragua won; El Salvador will win”
was chanted in El Salvador in the 1980s,
where revolutionaries found hope in the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua.
“We shall overcome,” proclaimed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
along with those who organized, marched, and went to jail with him.
“Yes, it can be done” (“sí, se puede”) chanted César Chavez and the United Farm Workers.
“Don’t mourn, organize” was the message of Mother Jones and other labor organizers.

These encouraging messages show us how to cooperate with God
in bringing about the coming of the Kingdom and the implementation of God’s will.
It couldn’t be clearer that God’s will for the Kingdom
is to be carried out on earth,
not just among the departed souls and angels.
How? By using our God-given intelligence and freedom to solve our problems,
working together with her for a better world.
We must let God’s will be done in our lives, families, and communities
and organize so that God’s will for justice and freedom
may become a reality for all
in social, political, and economic structures.
In these structures and systems, it is people’s power, united and smart,
which makes change,
for the entrenched power of the ruling class
does not yield without a struggle.
As Dr. King said, “We know through painful experience
that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor;
it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Organized Truth-force, speaking truth to power,
non-cooperation, boycotts, marches, sit-ins,
draft resistance, tax resistance, and other forms of civil disobedience,
organizing unions, neighborhood groups, and political parties,
voting and getting out the vote, especially when the stakes are significant --
these are some of the methods of exerting power non-violently at our disposal.

God’s will
is not that women and children be beaten,
that more people be unemployed or exploited,
that millions suffer malnutrition or AIDS,
that the prisons and jails of the U.S. contain over 2 million inmates,
that the U.S. invade other countries at will.
These evils happen
because we misuse the freedom and potential God has given us.
Problems made by humans,
can be solved by humans.

In this seemingly impossible and overwhelming task, we may feel alone,
even if we organize millions to act in unison.
But we are not left to our own devices, limited energy, and propensity toward despair.
Moses and the prophets were always assured of Abba’s presence and strength
even in the face of fierce opposition.
Jesus often told his disciples: “Do not be afraid; I am with you.”
United to the Vine, we will produce much fruit.
It was not God’s will that Jesus suffer cruelly and perish ignominiously on the cross
“for our sins,”
to assuage some divine wrath,
to make a sacrifice of expiation,
to save us.
These are Old Testament images which were applied to Jesus after his death and resurrection. In retrospect, Christian theology sees that they were fulfilled in a magnificent way by Jesus.
It was God’s will that Jesus
announce the Kingdom of justice and love and inaugurate it by his work,
that he denounce hypocrisy and corruption in high places
that he be faithful to this dangerous mission
in face of the intense persecution it would unleash against him,
and that Jesus and his cause be vindicated in the resurrection.
“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want”(Mk 14:36). Jesus’ will was one with Abba’s; he was the faithful prophet and courageous liberator to the very end.


“Give us this day our daily bread”

Today our jailers were 1 1/2 hours late bringing the sandwiches and cookies for lunch; since I am fasting, for me this meant only that I had to wait a while to enjoy my regular noon-time treat of milk flavored with Yoo-hoo chocolate drink.
The other inmates waited patiently, confident that their “bread for today” would come, just as breakfast had been delivered through the slot in the wall, and supper would be.
But most people in the Third World do not have this confidence that three meals, or even one, will come their way today. When they pray for their daily bread, they ask with a deadly seriousness and with a hope tempered by hunger.
Let us pray and struggle that the super-abundant resources of the world be distributed justly so that no one suffers a lack of daily bread, and that the rising numbers of obese and overly but unhealthily fed folks in the rich societies learn to take their just portion and right quality of daily nourishment.
Meeting the food needs of the world depends on forging economic systems of adequate production and just distribution. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

In Christian spirituality “our daily bread” began to refer to the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, where we recognize the risen Christ “in the breaking of the bread,” as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). When the community comes together as brothers and sisters to share a meal, we feel Christ’s presence in our midst and especially in the miracle of sharing. “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Jesus is present in community: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).
As this spirit of sharing feeds the hungry and houses the homeless in the U.S. and throughout the world, we will recognize Christ as the Love inspiring it, just as we sense his presence in every effort for justice and peace.

“You are the body of Christ,” wrote Paul (1 Cor 12:27). But is the community the real presence? I believe so. Not only that, but the real presence in the sacrament is meant to be the Bread of Life to nourish and strengthen Christ’s presence in the people. “I was hungry and you gave me food.... Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:35,40).
Where is the risen Christ? In large part, in the community and in our work for the Kingdom. Imagine if we showed the same respect, reverence, and love to Christ’s Body in the Church, in the sick, in the imprisoned as we do to his Body on the altar and in the tabernacle! The HIV/AIDS patient or the addict or the unemployed would be the Most Blessed Sacrament, and we would really encounter Christ in our sharing with his members.
Perhaps this is why the tradition of benediction (adoring the Eucharistic bread and blessing the people with it) has waned in the post-Vatican II Church -- because we believe that Christ is present in the sacrament not so much to be adored there as to nourish and help his Body, the Church. And his presence on the altar is most meaningfully and salvifically celebrated when the altar is the table of our shared meal.
At Mass, when I say the words of Jesus -- “This is my body, which will be given (or broken) for you; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for you” -- I am thinking not so much of the epiphany of Christ in the bread and wine at that moment but in the wonder of his giving his body to be broken within hours on the cross and his blood to be shed out of faithfulness to his prophetic mission for his people.
He knew that his body would be torn apart, and his blood spilled out, as a consequence of his liberating work, and he accepted this death penalty rather than waver from his task. This is epitomized for me by the moment of martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador: one day after delivering, in his Sunday sermon broadcast nationally, one of his strongest denouncements of his own government’s repression (“Stop the repression.... No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to God’s will”), standing at the altar at the offertory, shortly before the consecration, his body was broken and his heart burst by one bullet from an assassin in the service of the oligarchy and the U.S.-supported military.
He enacted the words of consecration in his own sacrifice of his life, and he celebrated the resurrection with his Lord Jesus. “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people,” he had said.
During the Eucharistic prayer I am also aware of and joyfully celebrating the change of the bread and wine, and I am conscious of the words Jesus used about the New Covenant. This is the interior, personal covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).
This is an extremely serious and important affirmation by Jesus: that the New Covenant is embodied in him. Let us pray that we, as members of his Body, may truly be people of this new covenant of love.


“And forgive us our trespasses”

Abba is love and mercy.
We simply have to accept the gift
and believe that we are forgiven.
No “works” are required on our part
except to recognize our sin, repent, and have a sincere intention to do better in the future.
The key element is to be struck by what is really sinful in my life,
not what I am “supposed” to feel sorry for according to the catechism.
Have I hurt someone by an unjust act or word?
Have I done harm to large numbers of people
by my involvement in unjust, anti-social policies
of my gender, government, corporation, church, or other group I am part of?
This latter dimension of sin is often overlooked by preachers and counselors
who focus only on the interpersonal dimension of our lives, e.g. --
Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to my family?
Do I avoid using violence at home or with my neighbors?
Do I refrain from stealing from them or from the corner grocery?
But we are also social and political beings,
members of collectives which act in our name and for us.
Is my government or corporation hurting or helping
the hungry children of the whole human family?
Is my government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,”
as Dr. King believed?
Are we stealing the oil of Iraq by assault and armed robbery?
While I may try to respect the dignity and rights of women,
does my Church violate their rights systematically
by denying equal rights to participate at all levels of ministry?
While I, with the assistance of the law, avoid blowing smoke in others’ faces,
is the corporation I work for or hold stock in
destroying bodies on a massive scale by polluting the air, water, and earth?
While I may have some friends among (or at least talk respectfully with)
unskilled laborers and members of minorities,
is my company, school, or church a vicious union-buster
and a violator of equal-opportunity laws?

The criterion for receiving communion and for considering someone a “good Catholic”
should be much more encompassing than simply whether the person
has been married in the Church or is in a second marriage.
Sexual relationships can be beautiful expressions of love and communication
or they can be hurtful and destructive.
But there are many other ways we can harm people as well,
and many of them are in the sphere of our political and economic relationships.

It is a truly liberating gift of God
when we allow our masks and lies and excuses to fall away
and our conscience is shaken by the recognition of some harm we are doing.
The next moment is also a divine gift:
when we feel sorrow, repent, and ask God and others for forgiveness,
accept that unearned mercy,
and get up and begin to live differently,
knowing that we are sinners called to be apostles.


“As we forgive those who trespass against us”

When I recognize my own sinfulness, feel sorrow, ask for forgiveness, and gratefully receive that forgiveness and begin a new life, I cannot but respond positively to someone who goes through the same process and asks my forgiveness.
But the process must be complete: the aggressor must stop abusing the victim before the victim can forgive. How, then, can women in the Catholic Church forgive the all-male clergy, unless we are struggling alongside them for their full rights? How can the people of Latin America forgive us, unless we are trying to abolish SOA/WHINSEC and other instruments of violent repression, which harm them, and striving to cancel their crushing foreign debt?


“And lead us not into temptation”

Perhaps the gravest temptation for people engaged in the struggle to build the Kingdom is to despair of this possibility and abandon the dream. As an antidote to this, we have the entire record of the bible, where Abba and Jesus constantly try to raise the hopes and spirits of their people, encouraging us to continue on the journey.
And throughout history a cloud of saints and martyrs, as well as “holy atheists” who often put professed Christians to shame, show that it is possible to live a life of integrity in the midst of corruption and of struggle against overwhelming odds.
We also have the support of one another in our communities where our dream is kept alive and our hope nourished. Active engagement itself, always searching for new strategies, sustains hope: those who remain faithful to the struggle find their hope being renewed, whereas those who drop out to live a strictly private life fall into a deeper and deeper cynicism and pessimism, perhaps partly to rationalize their inactivity.
Let us use our minds to develop effective strategies to produce victories, which we need along the way, even small ones: but let us see that the ultimate value of our work and struggle is intrinsic to them, not depending wholly on the outcome, so that we can say, if necessary: “We did our best; we lost this inning; but it was all worth it.”
Ultimately hope, like faith and true love, is the fruit of God’s life in us.

Another serious temptation in this line of work is self-righteousness: considering ourselves superior to the unenlightened and uncommitted masses, and some of us thinking of ourselves as a “vanguard” going further, taking more risks, bearing more crosses, and working harder than our comrades in the same movement.
The first kind of self-righteousness, based on a failure to remember our own process of conscientización (consciousness-raising), impedes our ability to communicate with the people and sometimes leads activists to label the people as their enemy. Antidote? To recognize that many people are insecure about their own future, are super-busy with their daily life and work, and are easily manipulable by the media and other opinion-formers -- but are nevertheless capable of gaining an adequate social analysis, recognizing their own and others’ true interests (as distinct from the interests of the elite), and entering into struggle. Their birth of consciousness can be assisted by us if we do our jobs sensitively, respectfully, and intelligently.
The second kind of self-righteousness, based on a spirit of egotistic competition within the ranks of our own movement, divides us and undermines our power. Antidote? To recognize our own and others’ gifts and limitations and to see ourselves as members of one body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor 12:21).


“But deliver us from evil”

In Spanish we say: “libranos del mal” -- liberate us from evil. The many dimensions of this process are explored systematically in liberation theology.
From the evil of self-centeredness in our own heart,
often based on fear and self-doubt,
and from the evils of injustice
which are products of that selfishness --
Liberate us as you liberated your people from slavery in Egypt,
by calling us to struggle to free ourselves.
For freedom cannot be given or imposed,
against our flight from it,
against our desire to remain “happy slaves,”
against our conformism, passivity, laziness,
and poor self-image to which we may wish to cling.
Freedom is seized by those who respond to the call and the challenge.


“For thine is the kingdom”

It is the Kingdom of God, and it will come in God’s time and manner; we are its heralds and servants, called to be steadfast in our task.

“And the power”

The energy and force for good in the universe is God’s: the gentle force of truth and love which can touch hearts and transform them by the Holy Spirit and can “bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly,” filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty (Lk 1:52-53).

“And the glory”

Let us not build kingdoms to our own glory, but to God’s, lest we become the oppressor.

“Now and forever. Amen.”


1. Seeing the movie, “Monsieur Verdoux,” after my release, I found some additional interesting statements by Verdoux. He opens his pre-sentence speech by jabbing at the problem of unemployment: “The prosecutor at least admits that I have brains. I have, and for 35 years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself.”
Just before going to the guillotine, Verdoux was interviewed by a reporter. “Crime doesn’t pay, does it?”
Verdoux: “No, sir. Not in a small way.”
“What do you mean?”
“To be successful in anything, one must be well organized.”
“Give me a story with a moral to it. You, the tragic example of a life of crime.”
“I dont see how anyone can be an example in these criminal times.”
“You certainly are, robbing and murdering people.”
“That’s business.”
“Other people don’t do business that way.”
“That’s the history of many a big business. Wars, conflict, it’s all business. One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow.”
When a priest visited and said “I’ve come to ask you to make peace with God,” Verdoux replied: “I am at peace with God. My conflict is with Man.”

2. All biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition (Catholic Bible Press, 1993).

Friday, 20 April 2007

Love for Enemies: Militant Nonviolence

Love for Enemies: Militant Nonviolence
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.

The following is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information about School of the Americas Watch:

The classic texts presenting Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation and love for enemies are Mt 5:38-48 and Lk 6:27-36. (In these as in other important passages – e.g., the infancy narratives, the beatitudes, the Our Father, the passion – there are some interesting differences from one evangelist to another.)
Let us begin with Lk 6:27-29a: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also....”

Jesus as Nonviolent Resister

The best example of how to do this is Jesus’ own illustration in action as found in John 18:19-23. (How could anyone try to interpret this passage without seeing it in the context of Jesus’ own behavior?) When the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching, the prisoner answered: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together.... Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”
At this point a policeman hit Jesus in the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Jesus did not strike back in violence, but neither did he hang his head, lower his eyes, or apologize for his statement. Rather than becoming mute, he challenged his aggressor, putting him on the spot by asking him to explain his action.
Later Jesus would keep silent in an eloquent response to Pilate’s question: “Where are you from?” (Jn 19:9). Pilate was driven to exasperation by this simple denial of his power: “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” To this Jesus did respond, but in a way that relativized Pilate’s power, situating it as being under God’s authority: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (19:11).

This firm, almost defiant, attitude characterized the Suffering Servant in Isaiah: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.... Who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up” (Is 50:6-9).

In the case of a conflict between the community and an offensive member, Jesus counseled the community to confront the person: “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender” (Lk 17:3). Hopefully this will lead to repentance and change: “If there is repentance, you must forgive.”
Matthew describes the process in greater detail (18:15-17): “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” But if necessary witnesses are brought in, the community becomes involved, and ultimately disciplinary action may be required: “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Thus “turning the other cheek” is very different from lowering one’s head, eyes, and shoulder before the aggressor, not daring to look him in the eyes or speak. That subservient posture is typical of the slave, the poor, the oppressed, the outcast who has internalized the system’s characterization of him or her as an inferior being. But Christians know that they are loved by God and by the community and thus have a strong sense of their own dignity and a healthy self-respect and self-image; with this inner power they can stand up to the aggressor, who is only another child of God. And they can find human alternatives to violence rather than degrading themselves and betraying their nonviolent principles by “returning evil for evil,” which after all means doing evil.

Luke seems to have made a conscious choice to place the golden rule – “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (6:31) – in the midst of Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies. In Matthew this verse is found at a considerable distance (7:12) from Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies. By placing the golden rule here, Luke seems to be suggesting that love for enemies is meant to touch their hearts and change their behavior toward Christ’s disciple.

Nonviolence in Practice

Jesus exemplified the attitude of “turning the other cheek” in a challenging way not only during his passion but consistently throughout his public ministry. On those occasions when he was threatened with death, he courageously returned to the turf of his persecutors and continued his ministry of loving care and prophetic denunciation. The one who turns the cheek is saying: “I have done nothing wrong; you are wrong to hit me. Knowing that, if you insist on hitting me again, go ahead. I’m not afraid.” By returning to dangerous places and situations, Jesus was conveying a similar message to those who were trying to assassinate him.
In the same way the apostles proved to be recidivists in proclaiming the message of Jesus and of his resurrection in defiance of the authorities, knowing they would be arrested every time. They did not silence themselves (Acts 4:18-20, 29-31; 5:27-31).

Beatings, arrests, and incarceration did not stop Gandhi and King and their associates from always coming back to the confrontation, collectively offering “the other cheek” time after time. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who struggled for peace and reconciliation among his brethren, offered his breast, his body to his opponents who were his brothers:
“Dearest brother, I know it is you who will shoot me tonight,
piercing our mother’s heart with a wound
that can never heal....
Here is my breast! Aim your gun at it, brother, shoot!
I offer my body, the body our mother bore and nurtured.
Destroy it if you wish.
Destroy it in the name of your dream --
that dream in whose name you kill....
Come back, dear brother, and kneel at your mother’s knee” (Love in Action – Writings on Nonviolent Social Change, Berkeley, Cal., Parallax Press, 1993).

Archbishop Romero considered the conversion of the oppressor the “vengeance of the Christian”: “Let us be firm in defending our rights, but with great love in our hearts, because to defend our rights in this way we are also seeking the conversion of sinners. This is the vengeance of the Christian” (June 19, 1977 homily, Mons. Oscar A. Romero: Su pensamiento, San Salvador, Imprenta Criterio, 1980-89).

The conversion of the enemy is perhaps what Paul means when he speaks of “heaping burning coals on their heads”: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).
Gordon Bennett calls this “moral jujitsu.” Friends had sent me, through the mail, a few pages from The Other Side (March-April, 2004); the entire magazine would not have gotten past the mail room here, but the clipped pages along with a letter did. In his article, “The Jujitsu of Jesus,” Bennett cites an interpretation of the “burning coals” by Daniel Buttry: “The burning coals are not the fires of hell; rather, they indicate the burning of shame and remorse.” Buttry, Bennett notes, “points out that Middle Eastern people, including the Hebrews, often expressed remorse by putting ashes on their heads, symbolizing the breaking of the cycle of vengeance by means of repentance and reconciliation. Literally, the ‘burning coals’ might be ashes. And the suggestion to pour them over another is a bit of jujitsu wisdom: Draw out your adversaries’ weaknesses by calling attention to and shaming their practice of hate and malice – that which they think to be their greatest asset.”
Bennett also cites Michael Nagler (Is There No Other Way? The Search for a Nonviolent Future), who “recounts one story of a white civil-rights activist, David Hartsough, during his second day of a lunch-counter sit-in in Virginia.
“While peacefully reciting to himself the twenty-third psalm as he sat on the stool in the tension-filled cafeteria, David was yanked from his seat and threatened with a knife. ‘You got one minute to get out of here,’ said his persecutor, ‘or I’m running this through your heart.’ After a brief pause, David slowly shifted his gaze from the bowie knife at his chest to the face of the man who brandished it. In those eyes, he met ‘the worst look of hate I have ever seen in my life.’ David thought to himself, ‘Well, at least I’ve got a minute.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Well, brother, you do what you feel you have to, and I’m going to try to love you all the same.’
“‘For a few frozen seconds,’ Nagler writes, ‘there seemed to be no reaction; then the hand on the knife started shaking. After a few more long seconds it dropped. The man turned and walked out of the lunchroom, surreptitiously wiping a tear from his cheek.’”

In the nonviolent actions at Ft. Benning to close the School of the Americas, one member of the community (body) follows the other in crossing the line – presenting one’s body, cheek and all, to the armed opponent. And some members have turned the other cheek in this militant non-violence two or more times, with the penalty being increased each time.
This is not passive acceptance of humiliation. Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, giving your shirt as well, and giving to beggars and thieves are ways that “the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that” (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992, p. 182). The oppressed “have suddenly ... taken back the power of choice.”

A striking example of the oppressed asserting their human dignity is found in the latter period of the Old Testament. When the pagan emperor arrested seven brothers and their mother and compelled them, “under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh” (2 Maccabees 7), they resisted valiantly. One of the sons, when it was demanded, “quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, ‘I got these from heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.’ As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.”

Howard Zinn described the interior “power” of the nonviolent resister in these terms: “You ask how I manage to stay involved and remain seemingly happy and adjusted to this awful world where the efforts of caring people pale in comparison to those who have power. It’s easy. First, don’t let ‘those who have power’ intimidate you. No matter how much power they have, they cannot prevent you from living your life, speaking your mind, thinking independently, having relationships with people as you like....
“And note that throughout history people have felt powerless before authority, but that at certain times these powerless people, by organizing, acting, risking and persisting, have created enough power to change the world around them, even if a little.... Remember that those who have power, and who seem invulnerable, are in fact quite vulnerable, that their power depends on the obedience of others, and when those others begin withholding that obedience, begin defying authority, that power at the top turns out to be very fragile” (“On Getting Along,” Z Magazine, March 7, 1999).

Luke’s Composition: Love for Enemies between Beatitudes and “Do Not Judge”

In Matthew the Beatitudes are at the start of Ch. 5 (vv.1-11), and Love for Enemies begins much further along, at v. 38. But Luke puts the Beatitudes (6:20-26) immediately before Love for Enemies. Why?
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Lk 6:22-23). If the disciples are blessed, happy, when they are hated and reviled, and if they are to leap for joy on that day, then they should expect to receive the treatment – being hated, cursed, and abused -- which Jesus speaks about in vv. 27-28, even though it is undeserved and unjust. In the light of the Beatitudes, they should not feel any desire to hate or hurt their enemies – or, if they feel such desire, they are equipped to control it.
By controlling their anger and doing good to their persecutors, they will set an example to be emulated: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31).

Luke’s insertion here, just after Love for Enemies, of the passage against judging others (which, in Mt, does not occur until Ch. 7) also makes eminent sense: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.... The measure you give will be the measure you get back” (6:37-38). Hating our enemies, hurting those who hurt us, cursing those who curse us, and doing violence to those who strike us are behaviors based on judgment and condemnation of the other person and on our failure to forgive.
And these hard attitudes are in turn made possible by the moral blindness about ourselves which Jesus describes in the verses immediately following: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? ... Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (6:39-42).

“Do not resist an evildoer”

Let us return now to the beginning of the passage on retaliation and love for enemies, according to Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” (5:38-39a). (Luke does not include this verse.)
Walter Wink notes that the meaning of antistenai in Mt 5:39a is a difficult problem. “It is translated ‘resist’ in almost all versions...., but its use in this passage is insupportable. Purely on logical grounds, ‘resist not’ does not fit the aggressive nonviolent actions described in the three following examples. Since in these three instances Jesus provides strategies for resisting oppression, it is altogether inconsistent for him to counsel people in almost the same breath not to resist it.
“Matthew 5:39a also seems to suggest false alternatives: one either resists evil, or resists not. Fight or flight.” If Jesus urges us not to resist, then he is telling us to be passive and complicit in our own oppression. The will of God seems to be that we submit to evil. “And this is precisely the way most Christians have interpreted the passage. ... What the translators have not noted, however, is how frequently anthistemi is used as a military term. Resistance implies ‘counteractive aggression,’ a response to hostilities initiated by someone else.” Wink cites several examples of the use of the word in this sense.
“In short,” he concludes, “antistenai means more than simply to ‘stand against’ or ‘resist.’ It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an insurrection.” Thus the text urges Christians not to be supine and complicit in their own oppression but on the other hand not to react violently to it either. “Rather, find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, neither flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation, even now, before the revolution.”

Wink notes that there is good reason to suspect “that the original form of this saying about resistance is best preserved in the New Testament epistles,” especially in Romans 12 and particularly in 12:17 and 12:21: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That is, try to “overcome” evil, but do not become its mirror image. “The examples that follow in Matthew 5:39b-41 in fact presuppose some such sense. Could this ancient catechetical tradition have originally stood, then, in Matthew’s translation? If ‘do not repay evil for evil’ and ‘do not forcibly resist evil’ have equivalent meanings, could they simply be different versions of the same tradition?
“We can now, for the first time, answer a cautious yes to that question.” Wink cites George Howard who has recently discovered “what he regards as an early Hebrew text of the Gospel of Matthew, which reads at 5:39a: ‘But I say to you, do not repay evil for evil.’ ...Even if this text is not as early as Howard thinks,” Wink observes, “its very existence, from any period, proves that at least one Hebrew version regarded ‘Do not repay evil for evil’ as the proper way to read Matt. 5:39a.... The logic of Jesus’ examples in Mt 5:39b-42 goes beyond both inaction and overreaction, capitulation and murderous counterviolence, to a new response, fired in the crucible of love, that promises to liberate the oppressed from evil and the oppressor from sin” (Wink, pp. 184-6).
We might also note that, if “do not resist an evildoer” is equivalent to “do not repay evil for evil,” this helps us to appreciate it in counterpoint to the observation which immediately precedes it (Mt 5:38): “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you....” An “eye for an eye....” is clearly an expression of retribution for an evil act already committed; Jesus’ message fits this context: do not retaliate with evil.

The “victory” of the nonviolent resister

By raising Jesus from the dead, God revealed, to the eyes of faith, that the victory goes to the condemned and executed Victim and that this good man had suffered unjustly.
But Jesus’ victory over his executioners and over the system of law and religion they represented began during his passion itself. First of all, that system was deprived of its myth of legitimacy: its priests and lawyers could not defeat Jesus in open argument about the truth, and so they abandoned that effort and used trumped-up charges and then crowd pressure to get the brute force and violence of the pagan empire to destroy him physically. The debate turned into a brawl, and in that the system lost an important rampart of its support – its legitimacy and authority in the minds of many. It was seen to have force but not authority.
A similar dynamic has been at work throughout history whenever a religious or political establishment eliminates a martyr (a witness against it) by sheer force – sometimes through subterfuge and false charges, sometimes openly. When Augusto Cesar Sandino, the Nicaraguan fighter for independence and for the peasants, was “disappeared” by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934, the Somoza dynasty was deprived at its inception of an important pillar of legitimacy; and when Anastasio Somoza García’s son presided over the assassination of the respected journalist and human-rights champion Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in 1978, the regime’s legitimacy was reduced to zero and fell to the Sandinista-led people’s movement the next year.
The assassination of deeply loved and highly respected religious figures in El Salvador had a similar effect on the people’s attitude toward the regime. Although it prevailed, it was seen to do so by naked and brute force.

Secondly, the weakness of the system was revealed by its inability to deter Jesus, through intimidation, from his chosen course in faithfulness to his cause. “The cross also exposes the Powers as unable to make Jesus become what they wanted him to be, or to stop being who he was.... Because they could not kill what was alive in him, the cross also revealed the impotence of death..., the Powers’ final sanction” (Wink, p. 141).
Jesus’ brutal persecutors could not force him to become violent or even to hate them and to pray for vengeance upon them.
Jesus controlled his fear of torture and death and thus was able to break the spiral of violence.
His nonviolent response mirrors the very nature of God: “Had God not manifested divine love toward us in an act of abject weakness, one which we experience as totally noncoercive and nonmanipulative, the truth of our own being would have been forced on us rather than being something we freely choose” (Wink, p. 142).


Similarities Between Jesus’ Non-violent Resistance and Our Own

1. The confrontation with injustice flows from a life of service to the needy and is considered a necessary response to the structural causes of their pain.
A. Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry, but he also proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of justice to the oppressed and engaged in “divine disobedience” to challenge the religious and political system which oppressed the people. His recognition of and esteem for the poor widow who deposited her “mite” in the temple treasury (Lk 21:1-4) is preceded immediately by his denunciation of the scribes “who devour widows’ houses” (20: 45-47) and is followed by his foretelling of the destruction of the beautifully adorned temple (21:5-6).
B. Many people in the movement to close SOA/WHINSEC and in other non-violent campaigns live lives of service to the poor in Catholic Worker and other communities or as volunteers in community service organizations.

2. Civil disobedience is the result of a careful, prayerful period of discernment.
A. Jesus spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying, wrestling with the question of the proper means he would use to accomplish his mission, before launching his public campaign; and he frequently spent time in prayer apart from the apostles. Just before his passion he meditated and prayed at great length (Jn 13-17).
B. Gandhi, King, Cesar Chavez, Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, and the people I have known in the peace movement and in various campaigns of Third World solidarity are deeply reflective persons who carefully discern God’s will for them in relation to their analysis of the signs of the times. Some may take part in weekend retreats in preparation for action; afterwards, gatherings are held to process the experience, to celebrate, and to draw insights for the future.
Before the “Chicago 15" action (destruction of draft files as a protest against the war in Vietnam) in 1969, we had several weekend and all-day retreats in which Phil and Dan Berrigan and others would share their experience and help us to discern.
In the movement to close SOA/WHINSEC, I was first moved and attracted by the deep spiritual dimension I found in the November 2002 mobilization in Georgia, especially in the Mass with over 2,000 participants in the “Ignatian tent.” In 2003 I took part in an “affinity group,” as did all who would participate in civil disobedience, to discern spiritually, pray together, and plan the specifics of the action of “crossing the line.”

3. The action is done in a spirit of peace and non-violence – speaking truth to power forcefully but always with respect for our “opponents” in the hope that they may learn from our message and join in the process of change.
A. In this way Jesus practiced the “love for enemies” he preached, perhaps in the “cleansing of the temple” touching the limits of non-violence and giving us reason to believe that we could go that far in the draft-board “raids” and in other similar protests (e.g., the Plowshares actions involving minor, mainly symbolic damage to nuclear weapons). He never shut the door on the possibility of the conversion of his opponents and indeed did win the hearts of some.
B. In our actions we do not locate in the government workers facing us all the responsibility for the violence or injustice we are denouncing; we speak respectfully and clearly to them, inviting them to see their work in a broader light and to follow their conscience.
At the gates of Ft. Benning some of us directed a special appeal to the U.S. and Latin American troops, asking them to analyze the war and consider applying for conscientious objector recognition. Over the years some military officers have become critics of U.S. military policies and of the foreign policy the military serves.

4. Jesus and many practitioners of non-violence today also share a common frustration! Our day in court, like that of Jesus, does not usually prove to be an apt occasion for a serious discussion of the deep legal and moral issues involved in the case at hand.
A. If Jesus had been represented by an attorney in his trials, the defendant probably would have been sternly advised not to “take the stand.” But Jesus chose to testify to the truth, and his testimony was used against him.
The verdict was delivered very swiftly in the ecclesiastical trial, thus depriving Jesus of a chance to explain what he meant by “I am” or “you have said so” in his reply to the question whether he was the Son of God or the Messiah. And the larger, more important issues – his healings on the sabbath, his association with “sinners,” his denunciations of the religious leaders as corrupt hypocrites, etc. – were not even mentioned. These were the “offenses” which had infuriated his opponents throughout his public life and had driven them often to try to kill him, but these issues were kept out of the courtroom.
B. Similarly, in the trials of resisters during the Vietnam war, the Plowshares anti-nuclear protesters, and our trials for the actions at Ft. Benning, the fundamental legal and moral issues of international and constitutional law, the Nuremberg and just-war principles, corporate irresponsibility and other important concerns have been ruled irrelevant, preventing any testimony along these lines, especially if a jury is involved as the decision-making body.
Jesus was asked simply: Did you say you are the Son of God? Yes or no? To us the prosecutor’s only question is: Did you “cross the line”? Did you refuse induction, burn draft files, damage a nuclear bomber?

5. Jesus and others who publicly violate the letter of the law do not seek but do accept the penalty as a necessary consequence of their words and deeds. And they consider their experience of being punished an extension of the prophetic action which can also touch hearts and influence minds.
A. Jesus had said: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he” (Jn 8:28). See also Jn 3:14 and 12:32-33: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”
The soldier who pierced the side of Jesus’ corpse was named Longinus by Christian tradition, which believed that he was converted by Jesus’ loving death. His statue is in a prominent place of honor in St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. In connection with the piercing, St. John quotes Zechariah: “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37). In Zechariah this look is accompanied by mourning and conversion.
In the synoptics a soldier at the cross says: “Certainly this man was innocent” (Lk 23:47) or “Truly this man was God’s son” (Mk 15:39 and Mt 27:54). (Perhaps in these accounts the strange natural phenomena at the moment gave an assist to their confession.)
Jesus’ death in love and courage also strengthened Joseph of Arimathea (a secret disciple of Jesus because of fear) and Nicodemus (the Pharisee who had come to Jesus at night – Jn 3:2) to “come out” and ask Pilate for the body and give it proper and respectful burial.
B. Before my incarceration, when some friends would comment “too bad you’re going to have to waste a number of months silenced in jail,” I ventured to say: “Well, maybe just being in jail for the cause is a constant protest.”
And I have found this to be true. Just being here, and fasting, is a strong message which has flown over the jail walls and reached many people – a general public as well as my friends and relatives. Some have been motivated to look more seriously at SOA/WHINSEC and related issues, while others have felt nudged into greater action on these or other matters.
Other practitioners of non-violent action have seen their time in jail, whether fasting or not, bear similar fruits.
And when love draws some to give up not only freedom but life itself for the people, then the energy is immeasurably more powerful. When Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J., and two peasants with him were brutally gunned down in 1977, their martyrdom had a profound impact on the new archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. In turn, the assassination of Romero three years later touched and moved the world. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith” – and hope.

6. Hope is another characteristic shared by Jesus and other non-violent resisters.
A. Jesus had constantly proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was “at hand” and invited all to be converted to this movement for a New Creation. Even when he knew that the authorities were closing in on him and that his days were numbered, he was confident that the advance of God’s Kingdom could not be stopped and that he had played and would continue to play an essential part in the process.
In the face of death, Jesus had said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.... The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:6, 12).
After promising them the Spirit of truth, he assures them of a share in his risen life: “because I live, you also will live” (14:19). United with him, they will be greatly empowered: “those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (15:5).
As members of his risen Body, they will experience the paradox of peace in the midst of persecution: “I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (16:32-33)
Jesus’ final words in Matthew point similarly to a hope based on his constant accompaniment: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

B. Like Jesus, we recognize that we cannot entertain an optimism which would assure us that all our most precious expectations will be realized in our lifetime, or solely by our effort. But hope is much more profound, and more mysterious: a fruit of God’s own life in us and in all of creation, a spark of energy propelling God’s historical project ahead, even with crooked lines, setbacks, deaths, and resurrections.
Hope is as basic as faith and love. If we believe in God as loving Creator, we cannot doubt the ultimate fruition of her good work; and if we love the universe and all humanity (starting with the present generation and our children and grandchildren), we cannot doubt the ultimate result of God’s love and our love – the fulfillment and happiness of all creation in Christ, whose resurrection is the first fruits of the cosmic harvest.
Meanwhile, hope is nourished along the way by our celebrations of small victories and by our joyful savoring of the values of the Kingdom experienced here and now.
And I believe that action itself strengthens and sustains hope. People who maintain their commitment to active struggle, especially with others in community, find that hope is not lacking (when they take time to think about it!).
By the same token, those who drop out, to devote themselves to purely materialistic private pursuits or to purely spiritualistic private pursuits, find that hope dries up – and then their hopelessness tends to justify their shutting down to the grand issues and struggles of world history.


The Challenge of Nonviolence in My Own Life:
An Ongoing Discussion with Myself and Others

The methods, purpose, and power of militant nonviolence as I have described them in this chapter are very clear, compelling, and meaningful to me; and I have tried to practice this kind of nonviolence in various social and political struggles. I remain committed to it as a Christian. My purpose in this chapter has been to show that the non-violence of the gospel is not a passive acceptance of injustice or a symptom of political apathy but rather a potentially powerful method for changing hearts and nations.
However, I must admit that I do not always and everywhere put every word of Jesus on this topic, especially the examples he gives, into practice in a literal way. Nor have I taken literally the injunction to tear out my right eye or cut off my right hand if they lead to sin (Mt 5:29-30), for they can also be instruments for doing good. My reading of Mk 16:18 has not inspired me to “pick up snakes” or to “drink deadly things.” And whereas Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you” (Mt 5:42), I cannot in good conscience give money to people who are drinking or using drugs.
We do not abandon common sense and the use of our God-given reason in our interpretation and application of the bible; rather, we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in individuals and in the community to help us to make the most loving response in a given, sometimes complex, situation.
I still grapple with this question: how to put Jesus’ teaching and example of non-violence into practice in the most loving, responsible way in complex situations? Some examples:

A. Use of State Violence in Protection of Property

The generosity recommended in Lk 6:29b-30 (“From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again”) seems to have the same positive purpose as blessing and praying for the enemy: to bring about, through an unexpected expression of Christian generosity and through the working of the Spirit, a change of heart and behavior in them.
Upon release from federal prison in 1972 after serving two years for the destruction of draft files (“Chicago 15" action against the Vietnam war), I amazed my fellow community members by saying that I could not in good conscience call the police to report a nonviolent crime like burglary; the police might shoot the fleeing criminal, and if convicted he might receive years in prison – a sentence which I would consider a violent punishment. I was keenly aware of the force society uses to protect property.

While I am still conscious of this reality, my unwillingness to use the police and courts has become less absolute. Over the years, I have called the police to report thefts which I and others have suffered, and (in the very different case of violent state terrorists) I demand the prosecution of human-rights violators who have tortured, killed, and “disappeared” innocent persons. I do not deny the discrepancy between my “practical” behavior and the ideal presented by Jesus. But if it is an ideal (“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” – Mt. 5:48) , then we must constantly hold it before us while doing the most loving and responsible thing in pursuit of justice for all persons involved in a given situation.
Am I guilty here of a kind of pragmatic rationalization? Perhaps, but one needs to consider the complexities of each situation, especially when other people are involved as victims of a theft or robbery. For instance, a few years ago someone broke into my car and stole an envelope full of U.S. passports which belonged to a group of American students who were spending a semester in Managua. Some credit cards and a valuable ring were also among the loot.
I did not hesitate to report the crime to the police, and I think this was the right decision. Not only did we want to get the passports and credit cards back, if possible. (We entertained a slight hope that the thieves might have discarded the passports and that someone might find them and make a police report.) But, in addition, in order to replace their passports, the students had to present to the American embassy a document from the local police showing that the theft had been reported. It would have been unjust for me to make a unilateral decision concerning these important documents of the students. Should I have lied by saying that I had lost them?

About ten years ago I had my first experience of serious property theft when my small pick-up truck was stolen from a hospital parking lot. Four years earlier I had purchased the vehicle with funds from the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus, but the title was in the name of the Jesuit university here in Nicaragua. Thus the truck was not “mine” but ours. In this case as in the theft of the passports, it was not entirely up to me to make my moral decision according to my personal (and minoritarian) interpretation of Jesus’ words.
Besides, what if the thieves had hurt someone in a serious accident or used the truck to commit some other crimes?

In a third case, the thieves must have had the “fear of God” put into them when they stole a leather bag from my car, which was parked in front of a church, and then found that the contents were my chalice, paten, hosts, stole, and bible! My decision not to report this to the police was based more on my skepticism about results than on nonviolent principles. Similarly, when my wallet was pickpocketed on a very crowded bus, I did not think seriously of filing a police report.

Robbing the handicapped is an especially repulsive crime. One day in a very poor barrio, a young acquaintance of mine, confined to a wheelchair due to a U.S.-supplied “contra” bullet, was sitting just outside a home I was visiting. As I started to leave the house, a man quickly approached Fabián and ripped his watch off his wrist. I took off in hot pursuit of this particularly shameful robber, who ran around the first corner and then disappeared in someone’s house or backyard. It was fortunate that he outran me, since one or both of us might have done something which we would have seriously regretted. I did take Fabián to the police station to make a report. (The police often lack vehicles or gasoline to make house calls!)

What about crimes of forceful robbery involving physical violence against me or others? When I was mugged by four big guys about three blocks from Union Station in Washington, D.C., I was relieved that all I had lost was my wallet. A few bruises and scrapes were the only marks on me; they were satisfied with my wallet and did not feel compelled to exercise gratuitous violence on me. Going along with the opinion of friends who felt that the police would be ineffective in this kind of situation, I did not report the crime. The next day I actually found nearby some of the items which had been in the wallet.
On the other hand, I reacted differently to the forceful robbery suffered by an American student who was studying and working here as a member of a program with which I am associated. One robber held her at knifepoint at a bus stop as his accomplice ripped her knapsack off her back. Fortunately, the only trauma she suffered was emotional, but this was understandably of a very severe sort.
Since this happened in the neighborhood where she and the other students were living, we felt that the robber might strike the group again – or that he might hit anyone in Managua, which would be equally traumatic and outrageous. Moreover, the young woman felt obliged to report the crime to the police, and the process of doing so seemed to help her emotionally and psychologically. I drove her and others to the police station and gave her moral support as she made her report.

While I have modified my position regarding the use of the police in relation to crime, there is still one “crime” which I would not report to the authorities, especially if I were the only victim: a non-violent taking of a small amount of money or things (food, medicine) to sustain one’s own life or the life of one’s family. Legally a crime, morally it is justified. Jesus recognized that basic human need takes priority over the letter of the law when he recalled that David and his hungry men “entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests” (Mt 12:4). Moreover, in his healings on the sabbath and in his table fellowship with “sinners” Jesus demonstrated that the human person in need is more sacred than any law.

It is interesting to note (even though the moral conclusion to be drawn is not evident!) that Matthew did not consider it essential to present the case of theft or robbery among the offenses calling for a non-violent response. The question of how to respond to thieves is presented in Luke – “From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt, ...and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again” (Lk 6:30) – but not in Matthew. The latter speaks of someone wanting to sue the Christian for her coat (Mt 5:40) or to borrow from her, which is different from stealing, and does not include the reference to someone “taking away” the Christian’s goods.

B. Use of Force to Defend Oneself and Others

Fortunately I have never had to use force directly to defend myself or another person. I have done this indirectly, however, on one occasion when I took part in a legal process to have a young man in a Detroit parish committed to a psychiatric hospital against his will. He was physically threatening to himself and to his mother, who had asked me to help her to carry out her painful decision.
Could I justify using the minimal amount of force necessary to defend myself from an attacker? Could I do that to defend another person from an attacker? Indeed, would I be obliged to do so – either directly or by calling for police intervention? Would I be nit-picking if I were to justify my action on the grounds that I would not be returning evil for evil but trying to prevent an evil act from being done? If an aggressor hits me on the cheek, I could decline to respond in kind, for that might be simply retaliation which might serve no useful purpose; but could I not attempt to grab his arm to prevent him from hitting me?
What is, after all, the situation Jesus envisioned when he counseled his disciples to “turn the other cheek”? Perhaps the person who is slapped in the face is already tied up and subdued, and thus unable to ward off the blow. Regardless of that, there is no indication that the slap envisioned by Jesus is the first act of a serious physical assault which could result in grave injury or death.
In the latter category, imagine a mass murderer at the start of his rampage. If I had the necessary force at my command to subdue and stop him, or if I had the chance to call the police, would I not be obliged to take those measures in defense of myself and others?

With regard to perpetrators of state terror, such as assassins, torturers, and agents who have “disappeared” innocent people (like my friend Fr. Jim Carney), I do have experience in this area: I have worked for years now to get some of them charged, arrested, and put on trial.
This is not out of a desire for vengeance. Of course, I would not demand the death penalty for them; neither would I want them to rot behind bars for the rest of their lives. A modest sentence, after a clear verdict of guilty, would suffice to serve the purposes of justice and perhaps to defend others from being victimized by these or other perpetrators of gross violations of human rights.

C. Revolutionary Violence

While I recognize the danger, even likelihood, that a revolutionary response to oppression may simply ratchet up the level of violence, I cannot say with certainty that it would always and necessarily have that effect. First of all, revolutionaries do not initiate the violence; it pervades the society, both in the form of police and military repression and in the form of social injustice. Thus, revolutionary violence is understood by some as a form of self-defense against the systemic violence of the status quo. If the Latin American revolutions of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s had been victorious, who can say with assurance that they would not have produced societies less violent in many respects and at many levels?
I believe that was true of Nicaragua in the early years after the revolutionary overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship – until the Reagan administration increased its military support for the Nicaraguan “contras,” thus raising the level of violence and human suffering to the point where the Sandinistas were voted out in 1990.
True, those vanquished in a revolution can be expected to translate their resentment and their desire to return to their former privileged position into a militant and probably military reaction, and they will probably gain the support of the U.S. empire since they are its local managers and enforcers. But still, their counter-revolutionary success is not necessarily guaranteed in every instance.

Because I personally choose militant nonviolence as my way of struggling for change, am I to condemn all the Christians who have taken part in armed struggle and who were convinced that it was their way of working for liberation, justice, and true peace?
The experience of two priest friends of mine brought out the complexity of this question. As members of a peasant farm cooperative in the north of Nicaragua during the 1980s, they participated fully in the life and work of the community, wanting to be considered as equals and true brothers of all in a social organization which represented important progress toward justice. When the cooperative became the object of a military assault by the “contras,” my friends were confronted by a very difficult task of discernment: to take their turns on guard duty, or to decide that as religious that was an unacceptable task for them. It turned out that the “contra” attack happened on a day when the priests, who had not resolved the issue in their conscience, were working elsewhere.


In Lk 10:4, when Jesus, early in his ministry, sent out the seventy two disciples “like lambs in the midst of wolves,” he told them to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” He had sent out the twelve with similar instructions (Lk 9:3; Mt 10:9-10; Mk 6:8). But toward the end of his ministry, he told his apostles (according to Luke alone): “Now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one” (Lk 22:36).
Commentators interpret “buying a sword” in a figurative way: be prepared for opposition. And yet opposition was envisioned also in the earlier sending of the seventy in Lk 10. Is the sword, if it is to be understood literally, to be used for protection against animals on the journey, or against bandits?
When the apostles responded, “Lord, look, here are two swords,” he replied, “It is enough” (Lk 22:38). And shortly thereafter, when Jesus was about to be arrested, one of the apostles “struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘no more of this,’ and he touched his ear and healed him” (Lk 22:50-51). Do Jesus’ two responses now mean that the apostles should not carry swords?

(This journal entry ends here – with questions rather than firm conclusions.)