My 8-Day Retreat in Jail:
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius During Holy Week
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: www.soaw.org
Sunday, April 4 – Palm Sunday
Today, the first day of Holy Week, is also the first day of my eight-day retreat.
Imagine this scenario. The newly elected pope, who will take the name John XXIV, is due to arrive at 11 a.m. in St. Peter's basilica for his first solemn Mass as pontiff. At 8 a.m. he and several friends are having breakfast with a family in a modest home in a Roman neighborhood. John XXIV then takes a walk through the neighborhood, shaking hands with the folks and exchanging blessings with them, taking the names of some beggars so he can arrange shelter for them later.
At 10 a.m. he walks over the bridge, through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds who are weeping for joy, and up to the basilica for the celebration.
Five years later he ordains María Gomez of Nicaragua to the priesthood and thanks her as he kneels before her for her priestly blessing.
When María celebrates her first Mass in her squatters' settlement in Managua, the former president of the country arrives by public transportation and, without her usual bodyguards, walks the remaining two blocks to the cinder-block church.
Imagine how these scenes of humble service on the part of leaders would thrill the people, especially the poor, the outcast, the unemployed, and all victims of discrimination.
Today we celebrate Jesus' grand entrance into Jerusalem: the people were acclaiming him joyfully and praising God, but he was riding on a mere donkey rather than a proud and strong stallion. To underline the significance, Matthew (21:5) quotes Zechariah (9:9): “Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Shortly before, Jesus had told his disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28).
This was in response to the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who had knelt before Jesus to make her request for positions of privilege and power for her sons; she, an oppressed woman, had interiorized the social patterns of domination.
Like her, some early Christians were slow to understand the radical equality which was to be a mark of Jesus' kind of community: “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:1-7)
Just after his message about the greatness of service, Jesus, “moved with compassion,” healed two blind men who were sitting by the roadside (20:29-34) and proceeded toward Jerusalem.
It was at the Mount of Olives that Jesus told two disciples to go to find the donkey and colt (Mt 21:1-2); and at the foot of the Mount of Olives, in Gethsemane, Jesus would soon experience his agony in the garden (Mt 26:36-46), exposing his complete humanness and humble servanthood.
After entering Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the temple, showing that humble servanthood did not preclude but actually required prophetic acts of love. Luke records that Jesus wept over Jerusalem before proceeding to his prophetic deed, perhaps suggesting that Jesus wanted to give one more sign of truth to help the people recognize “the things that make for peace” (Lk 19:42). The true prophet, even while denouncing sin and injustice, is moved by love and compassion for the people and by a desire to help them to change in order to be saved from the coming calamity.
The second reading in today's liturgy (Philippians 2:6-11) puts Jesus'life and especially the events of this week in their grand theological perspective. By "emptying himself" to become fully human, even to the point of crucifixion, Jesus is the antithesis of the sinful person, understanding sin to be that self-glorification which expresses itself in pride, arrogance, and selfishness.
Paul describes the attitude required for living in community: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...." (2:3-5). Then he presents Jesus' example of selflessness as the model of this kind of communitarian mindset: "though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And ... he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross."
Having this mind or attitude that was in Christ Jesus, his disciples can live together, sharing materially and spiritually in such a way that they “shine like stars in the world” (2:15) even “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”
Sin, on the other hand, is an unfettered, selfish liberty which has no concept of connectedness and no recognition of filial or social responsibility. Paul cautioned against this distorted kind of freedom in Galatians 5:13-15: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
Sin, at its origin in Genesis, is twofold: self-idolization (“you will not die.... You will be like God” – 3:4-5) leading immediately to the rending of the social fabric (“Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?’” -- 4:8-9).
A blind, irresponsible liberty will necessarily trample upon the human rights of others.
Examples abound of such insensitivity on both the personal and collective level. As for the latter, super-nationalism, racism, male chauvinism, and human arrogance toward the environment are forms of selfishness “writ large.” With typical American arrogance of power, the Carter administration did not heed Archbishop Romero's request for an end of military aid to the murderous Salvadoran army. Similarly, the Reagan administration brushed off the World Court's ruling to cease interfering by force and violence in the affairs of Sandinista Nicaragua.
And this very day, as the Marines “seal off” Fallujah and hostilities in Iraq increase in ferocity, the Bush administration manifests a more and more blatant (and seemingly self-defeating) arrogance in its occupation of a land whose recorded civilization goes back several millennia. Will top U.S. administrator Paul Bremer soon say: “We had to destroy Fallujah in order to save it?”
According to an AP article in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (April 3, 2004), Muslim clerics condemned the mutilation of the bodies of the four U.S. civilians – but not their slayings. “While the condemnation of the mutilation was helpful, that is only a partial answer,” declared Brig.Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of U.S. military operations in Iraq. “Murder of innocents should be condemned.”
Here it is evident that truth, as usual, has been a serious casualty of war. Innocents? These civilians were heavily armed, highly trained private bodyguards protecting other foreign occupiers of Iraq.
“Islam bans what was done to the bodies, but the Americans are as brutal as the youths who burned and mutilated the bodies,” said a retired school principal. “They have done so much to us and they have humiliated us so often,” he added, expressing particular outrage at U.S. soldiers barging into private homes.
Michelle Naar-Obed, after working in Iraq in January of this year as part of the Christian Peacemakers Team, reported: “People told us that whereas they once had one dictator, they now are dealing with 100,000 dictators who can't even get basic necessities up and running” (Loaves & Fishes Catholic Worker newsletter, Spring, 2004).
The repetitious proclamation of our goal – to create a democracy with free elections, etc. -- is sounding more hollow every day. To impose “democracy,” to force people whose political and religious culture is worlds apart from ours to accept our version of freedom – are glaring self-contradictions. And to continue to insist that the new Iraq must follow (democratically, of course) our economic model of free-market capitalism, with doors wide open to foreign ownership of the country's resources, is our prescription for neo-colonial plunder.
In another oil-rich country, under the banner of promoting democracy, the National Endowment for Democracy, funded by the U.S. Congress, is pumping in $1 million a year to support the opposition against Venezuela's democratically-elected president, Hugo Chavez, just as it contributed millions in the 1980s to help remove the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. (Footnote One)
The Venezuelan people reaffirmed their support for Pres. Chavez in a referendum on August 15, 2004 declared to be valid and legitimate by the Organization of American States, the Carter Center, and other international observers.
During this retreat I have started reading Thirty Days – On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius, by Paul Mariani (New York: Penguin Compass, 2003). In addition to providing a clear introduction to St. Ignatius and the Society of Jesus, Paul Mariani shares beautifully his experience of making a thirty-day retreat.
Reflecting on sin, he mentions many of its structural or institutional manifestations, including “the atrocities committed by soldiers trained by the U.S.'s School of the Americas” (p. 49). Among such atrocities he speaks of the killing of “the six Jesuits in 1989 in San Salvador, along with their housekeeper and her fifteen-year-old daughter. All awakened in the middle of the night by soldiers, several trained at our School of the Americas.”
The author, an award-winning poet, critic, essayist, and biographer who teaches English at Boston College, is brutally honest and very incisive in telling how personal sin has been part of his life. “Sitting here in Mary Chapel, I was meditating on my own sinfulness, as Ignatius instructs us to do, asking ‘for a growing and intense sorrow, and tears, for my sins’ and calling ‘to memory all the sins of my life’”(p. 68).
Mariani describes some incidents, beginning in childhood, where he hurt others physically and emotionally and was also on the receiving end of violence and rejection. He quotes Robert Lowell: “My eyes have seen what my hand did.” And the author reflects on his own life: “My own sentiments exactly. Regardless of how I was sinned against, I see now more clearly than ever just how deeply I have sinned against those I love” (p. 76).
He ponders Ignatius's question, “What am I, really, compared with all other human beings?” And he answers: “a man of modest achievements, a man who has hurt others.... How many have I hurt? Rejected? Snubbed? Used over a lifetime? Too many” (pp. 78-79).
Meditating on the prophet Nathan's challenge to David concerning his treatment of Uriah, Mariani asks: “How often, in our greed, have we snatched after what did not belong to us? By deliberately sinning, have I not set myself up as a two-bit god, snatching at what was not mine?” (p. 80) He sees his greed and selfishness as flowing from his petty self-idolization.
In my own life I consider it a gift of the Holy Spirit that at times I have been struck by a clear realization of my own participation in sin and that this has led to “a growing and intense sorrow for my sins.” I hope it has also produced some real fruits of amendment!
Monday of Holy Week
In his ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, receiving the joyful acclamation of the people, and in his attitude of self-emptying, not clinging to equality with God, Jesus radiates a strongly attractive power. Todaýs liturgy invites us to open our hearts to the presence of Jesus as our close friend and to seek a more personal, affective relationship with him.
The psalm speaks of living with God and seeing his beauty up close; the gospel passage is about a special, intimate friendship which two sisters and their brother enjoy with the Lord, and he with them.
“One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble....
And I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord” (Ps 27).
We remember that, when Jesus saw two of John's disciples following him, “he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see’” (Jn 1:38-39). They stayed with him in the same house, beholding the beauty of his personality and inquiring of him about many things. They offered the joyful sacrifice of their hearts and perhaps had a little sing-along and exchanged jokes with him!
Today's psalm continues:
“‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.”
“Come and see,” Jesus said. Let us seek his face: his forehead, at times furrowed with care; his eyes, sometimes sparkling with hope and enthusiasm, sometimes tearful out of compassion; his smile, his speech, his heart; his hands which touched the sick, the outcasts, the “impure,” his friends, the scriptures, the tables of the money-changers, the bread and wine, the cross, the nails, the disciples nearly incredulous with joy to see and touch him again.
Today's gospel passsage presents Jesus arriving at Bethany, the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary -- some of his best friends. “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair” (Jn 12:3). There is no hint that Jesus shied away from this close physical contact with his good friend. Luke told how Mary had sat at the Lord's feet to listen (Lk 10:39) and how Jesus affirmed her as his disciple.
Jesus' love for this family (Jn 11:3,5,36) had led him to risk his life to help them. His disciples had warned him that his enemies in Judea “were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” (Jn 11:8) Deep friendship also moved Thomas to want to share Jesus' suffering: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16).
Deeply moved by Mary's grief, Jesus himself began to weep (vv 33-35). His compassion moved him to bring Lazarus back to life. But then, after his sister Mary anointed Jesus' feet, it was Lazarus's turn to be in life-threatening solidarity with his wanted friend. A great crowd came “to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus” (12:9-11).
In Spanish the word for “society,” as in Society of Jesus, is compañía, based on the image of sharing bread together. All Christians can be compañeros of Jesus as members of communities, sharing the bread and roses of daily life and recognizing him in the Eucharistic “breaking of the bread”: the two disciples told the apostles what had happened on the road to Emmaus, “and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35).
In the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius suggests that we ask for this special fruit of our meditations on the gospel: “an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love him more and follow him more closely.” To the extent that we grow in real friendship with Christ, to that extent will we be healed of the arrogant and destructive self-centeredness which is the root of sin. (To continue our exercises in etymology, we might also note, as Paul Tillich did, that the English word sin has to do with “putting asunder” or tearing the fabric of unity.)
Tuesday of Holy Week
1. Yesterday's Columbus Ledger-Enquirer arrived today, featuring extremely unusual front-page coverage of two Central Americans. An AP picture showed a child in the Palm Sunday procession at the cathedral of Managua.
Immediately to the right of the picture was an AP article reporting that a Salvadoran soldier was killed along with eight U.S. troops and 22 Iraqis in anti-American “rioting” in Iraq. The Salvadoran was killed near Najaf when supporters of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr “opened fire on the Spanish garrison during a street protest that drew about 5,000 people” (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, April 5, 2004).
The statement about our protest last November against SOA/WHINSEC included a message concerning the Salvadorans and other Central American troops in Iraq: “One of our main reasons for demanding that the U.S. government close SOA/WHINSEC has to do with the recruitment of Latin American troops into the military strategies and operations of the U.S. government. SOA/WHINSEC is a symbol and instrument of this, as its very name indicates. Other countries of the hemisphere have been pressured into sending token forces (about two hundred from each of several nations) to cooperate in a military occupation which the Bush administration has defined as necessary for U.S. security. Do the people of Latin America need to participate in this kind of ‘security cooperation’?”
One of the soldiers now in training at SOA/WHINSEC may be the next Central American to be killed for supporting the U.S. imperial venture in Iraq. If he is another Salvadoran, he will have given his life for a nation which, for all practical purposes, had occupied his country in the 1980s.
2. Today's mail also brought a letter from Fr. Jerry Zawada, a Franciscan priest who is reporting today to federal prison to begin the six-month sentence he received for his participation with us in the action last November at Ft. Benning. Jerry, a “recidivist” at SOA/WHINSEC, has also been involved in solidarity visits in Iraq and actions of civil disobedience against nuclear weapons. For one of the latter protests, Jerry was sentenced on March 29 to one month in prison, to be served in addition to the six-month term he begins today.
In his court statement on March 29, Jerry spoke of both issues, Iraq and nuclear weapons: “Several of us here in this courtroom have personally witnessed the effects of what our weapons and warfare have done to the children and other innocent people in Iraq. At night in my sleep I can hear the screams of six-year-old Mahmoud as he begs to be relieved of the awful pain of cancer in his joints as a result of depleted uranium and the inability to receive relief medication.....
“Do we not want a future for our children? We want children to live in safety, free from the violence of the nuclear threat. Our nation should be the first to dismantle, since we were the first and only ones to use such weapons upon innocent civilians.”
3. A week ago, as April 4 approached, I remembered my visit in 2002 to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Center in Atlanta. There I was deeply moved by seeing the videos of Dr. King marching and by hearing his voice again. His 1967 speech on Vietnam had influenced my own understanding of the war, and his history of non-violent civil disobedience had inspired me to engage in the destruction of draft files in 1969. So, on this Palm Sunday, April 4, I celebrated this great contemporary prophet, assassinated 36 years ago.
The need to continue the civil-rights struggle is obvious in many places. In Columbus, Ga., the NAACP held a demonstration Sunday which focused on police violence against African-Americans. “Resting on the Government Centeŕs steps were pictures of Dr. King and Kenneth Walker, fatally shot by a Muscogee County sheriff́s deputy on December 10" (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, April 5, 2004). The district attorney of another county is reportedly studying the possibility of prosecuting the deputy who killed Walker. No firearm or drugs were found on Walker's body or in his car. He had been shot twice in the head with the deputy's tactical submachine gun.
As a recording of Dr. King's 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was played on loudspeakers, a petition was circulated to recall Sheriff Ralph Johnson. “We must remember we have come a long way since 1968, but we still have miles to go,” said John Vodika of the Georgia Prison Advocate for Inmates. “If Dr. King were alive today, he would think the criminal justice practices and penal systems in this country are genocidal. The criminal justice system is fueled by fear and racism.”
Reginald Pugh, Columbus Metro Urban League president, asked: “Have we really made any progress? A little, but we are still on shaky ground.” He said people need to stop waiting for the next leader and become empowered. “Everybody needs to be engaged to bring change about,” Pugh said. “We will get nothing done until we get with it and get real.”
4. To be able to speak out for peace and justice like Dr. King, let each of us ask that the Lord, who formed us in the womb, make “my mouth like a sharp sword and make me a polished arrow” (Isaiah 49:2), as the prophet prays in today's first reading.
And as Jesus tells us in today's gospel, let us love one another as he has loved us (Jn 13:34), lovingly proclaiming the prophetic swords and arrows of the Good News. Thus everyone will know that we are his disciples.
Wednesday of Holy Week
Examination of Conscience as Tax Day Approaches
By declaring war on Iraq in the absence of a workable plan for peace, the Bush administration sowed seeds of utter chaos whose death and destruction have engulfed hundreds of Americans and other "coalition" forces, thousands of Iraqi fighters and civilians, and 200 Madrid subway commuters. President Bush and his cabinet should be tried for their responsibility for these deaths and for recklessly imperiling the lives of hundreds of thousands of others in Iraq and in our own homeland.
Every death, every wound in Iraq, Palestine, Madrid and other theaters where the deadly results of U.S. arrogance can be viewed sharpens my personal sense of sinfulness and guilt as an American citizen.
As April 15 approaches, the deadline for filing income-tax returns presents a crisis of conscience for many Americans. What responsibility does a citizen have for our government́s use of tax money in relation to the war in Iraq, the development of nuclear weapons, and other issues of civic and moral concern? Paying for the bombs is only one step removed from dropping them.
Some of my friends have concluded that in conscience they cannot support many of the destructive acts and policies of our own government. Some choose to live below the taxable income level, thus avoiding the possession of wealth which police and military force protects. Others withhold a percentage of their taxes corresponding to the portion of the federal budget allocated to the Pentagon or specifically to the war in Iraq, perhaps donating this amount instead to charity or to efforts for peace. They recognize that their property or wages may be attached or that they may even be prosectued for following their conscience in this way. Some refuse to pay any taxes to Washington.
Some of these conscientious citizens make their refusal public, hoping to influence others and contribute to changing U.S. policy. For others, quietly maintaining their personal integrity is enough.
The testimony that Jesus had forbidden people to pay taxes to the emperor (Lk 23:2) was evidently false and inaccurate. He had not clearly forbidden it, but neither had he affirmed any obligation to pay. Rather, he left the matter as an open question of conscience for people to decide: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Lk 20:25). Jesus knew the question had been posed to him as a trap, and so he avoided a complete, direct answer. But in doing so he provided grist for his accuserś later charge against him.
What Jesus clearly did affirm is the important distinction between the authority of the emperor and the authority of God – a difference which is blurred when governments seek to make false gods of themselves and thus to demand from their subjects unconditional obedience.
And so throughout the ages Jesus' distinction between the supreme and the lesser authorities has provoked healthy crises of conscience in his followers. Peter and the other apostles, confronted with the order to stop teaching about Jesus, came down firmly and boldly on the side of God́s authority: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).
In addition to the question of taxes, every new day of war brings a crisis of conscience to many American soldiers -- both those in Iraq and those who may be ordered to go there. One soldier who served in Iraq was morally repulsed by the killing of civilians and by the blood-for-oil purpose of the U.S. intervention; having refused to return and having applied for conscientious objector status, Camilo Mejía is now confined to a U.S. military base in Georgia and awaits court-martial.
Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, told the soldiers of his country that they had no obligation to follow unjust orders -- a principle recognized at least in theory by American and other military forces.
Soldiers and civilians today, especially in a democracy, have the moral duty to analyze government policies and to decide whether in conscience they can help to implement such policies. Members of the military may wish to consider the option (perfectly legitimate) of applying for conscientious objector status. Civilian taxpayers who are morally opposed to their government's militaristic priorities may choose to consider various forms of non-cooperation. At the very least the advent of April 15 should put the violence in Iraq, nuclear weapons, and other U. S. policies on the moral agenda for serious discernment by all conscientious citizens. Those who continue to pay taxes which finance policies they do not support could redouble their political efforts to change those policies.
The fact that obedience to conscience may have serious consequences should come as no surprise to those millions who have seen "The Passion of the Christ" and to those who may be considering the ethical dimension of taxpaying during the week before April 15 -- this year, Holy Week. Unfortunately, many Christians do not perceive in the suffering Jesus a courageous prophet whose agony is a consequence of his denunciation of injustice and of his anouncement of good news to the poor.
President Bush continues to repeat the most nonsensical “explanations” of U.S. purposes in Iraq. “There are terrorists there who would rather kill innocent people than allow for the advance of freedom,” he said yesterday. “That's what you're seeing going on: these people hate freedom, and we love freedom, and that's where the clash occurs” (AP article, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, April 7, 2004).
Are the thousands of people who are demonstrating angrily against their U.S. conquerors and rising up in violent wrath all “terrorists”? Are they clashing with foreign troops out of a hatred of our freedom? The reality is that they reject the U.S. government's forceful imposition of its notion of freedom – license for U.S. corporations to freely dominate the globe in their passion for profits. As Noam Chomsky has said succinctly: “The U.S. occupying forces have imposed on Iraq an economic program that no sovereign country would ever accept: it virtually guarantees that the Iraqi economy will be taken over by Western (mostly U.S.) multinational corporations and banks” (interview by Hawzheen O. Kareem).
Chomsky further explained the severely limited kind of “freedom” to be granted to Iraq: “U.S. planners surely intend to establish a client state in Iraq, with democratic forms if that is possible, if only for propaganda purposes.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu suggests a connection between the high number of executions carried out in Texas under George W. Bush and his “belligerent militarist policies.” At the University of London in February 2004 the archbishop, in a lecture critical of the death penalty, said: “It does appear as if the death penalty makes very little difference to the crime statistics. What it seems to be doing is to brutalise society.
“President Bush was governor of Texas, a state which is notorious for the high number of executions it carries out. It may not be fanciful to see a connection between this and the belligerent militarist policies that have produced a novel and dangerous principle, that of pre-emption on the basis of intelligence reports which in one particular instance have been shown to be dangerously flawed and yet were the basis for the U.S. going to war.
“It dragged with it a Britain that declared that intelligence reports showed Iraq to have the capacity to launch its weapons of mass destruction in a matter of minutes. An immoral war was thus waged, and the world is a great deal less safe than before. There are many more who resent the powerful who can throw their weight about so callously and with so much impunity. We see here on a global scale the same illusion that force and brutality can produce security as we note at national and communal levels where harsh sentences and being tough on crime will necessarily make our neighbourhoods safer” (The Tablet, 21 February 2004).
What the archbishop considers the force and brutality of an immoral war is the “awesome power of almighty God” in the estimation of U.S. Marine chaplain Lieut. Carey H. Cash. The author of A Table in the Presence: The Dramatic Account of How a U.S. Marine Battalion Experienced God's Presence Amidst the Chaos of the War in Iraq (W. Publishing Group, 2004), interviewed today by Pat Robertson on the 700 Club TV show, told of his battalion's abundant experiences of God's favor and protection in Iraq. Rockets heading straight at them were “miraculously” diverted from their course. Perhaps their visual acuity was enhanced by the power of suggestion of Ps 91, v. 5: “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day.”
Robertson and the chaplain called this “the soldier's psalm,” which indeed affirms a remarkable divine favoritism: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right side, but it will not come near you” (v. 7). And these thousands are all “bad guys,” as our top civilian and military leaders tirelessly dub our Iraqi opponents: “You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked” (v. 8).
Cash and his host also referred fervently to the book of Joshua. Soldiers would be fortified to hear, for instance: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9).
Would they also be inspired by vv. 24-28 of Chapter 8? Here we learn that “when Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand – all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai, and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day.”
Mark Twain caught this fervor (deliberately exaggerated to make his point)in his War Prayer:
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.
“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
“We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”
At Robertson's invitation the Marine chaplain closed the interview with a prayer, asking that the “awesome power of almighty God” would continue to manifest itself in protecting our troops in Iraq and that America would be a nation of “prayer warriors” in support of our soldiers. The basic message was clear: God is with us, and against them. How unfortunate, and how symptomatic of the military's manipulation of the gospel, is the use of the name “Emmanuel,” which was applied to the non-violent Jesus (Mt 1:23).
Finally, tonight's NBC-TV news included a statement by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld which must have driven his public-relations handler to desperation, if they consdider most viewers to possess at least average ability in simple logic. After annoucing that Iranians are entering Iraq, Rumsfeld actually said: “It is unhelpful to have neighboring countries meddling in Iraq.”
P.S. I wish to thank all the wonderful people who have written to me in jail expressing their prayers and support.
I am starting Holy Thursday by watching Dr. Condoleezza Rice's televised testimony before the 9/11 commission. I doubt that she will reveal anything new or significant, and I can't imagine the commission members catching her in any glaring inconsistencies – or, if they do, making her squirm.
Whether the Bush team took sufficient precautions to prevent the disasters of 9/11 seems very difficult to resolve one way or the other. The terrorist attacks conveniently served administration purposes, but whether officials had deliberately relaxed security measures in order to allow a major terrorist attack to be carried out, as some critics have suggested, remains to be seen.
But it is extremely important to highlight the revelations by Paul ÓConnor (Treasury) and Richard Clarke (former top anti-terrorism coordinator) to the effect that the Bush team immediately seized on the events of 9/11 to justify and gain popular support for an invasion of Iraq. And the idea of such an attack was not a sudden brainstorm. Officials of the Bush I administration longed to go all the way in 1991 to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime, and these same people and others kept their desire alive and advocated their plan during the Clinton years. The Project for the New American Century makes this very clear.
The Project and related geopolitical plans proposed an aggressive projection of U.S. power around the world. Purpose? To control crucial economic resources and to “open up” regions of the world to “free market” penetration by U.S. capital. Iraq was a major site of unhidden treasure.
Thus we do not have to wait for a smoking gun but rather for the public to realize, with all its implications, that officials of the incoming administration in early 2001 brought their gun to Washington and kept it aimed at Iraq as it had been for some years, ready to smoke as soon as a sufficiently horrific terrorist act (a “Pearl Harbor”) could be blamed, correctly or not, on Iraq.
It is in this world, now dominated by the American empire, that Jesus becomes incarnate today. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (Jn 1:1-3).
The Word (“logos”) is the Logic, Pattern, Blueprint of human society and of all creation, akin to Wisdom in the Old Testament. Through him/her all things came into being: gender, race, nationality, language, culture, and government as a way of ordering communal life. As Walter Wink emphasizes, all of these are good, though fallen (precisely when they raise themselves to become gods of domination), but always capable of being redeemed (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992).
When Jesus redeems, he restores persons and things to their true selves, since he is the Plan according to which everything was created. As Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint is to be yourself” – your true self, before you were programmed to be fearful, self-centered, dominating, and violent.
The Word is the light of all people because we exist in his/her likeness and pattern. In the light of the Word the true being of everything is illuminated..
St. Paul speaks of the risen Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation ... in whom all things hold together” and have their true being (Col 1:15-17). Since Christ is the perfect image of God, and we are created in God́s image and likeness, we attain our true identity by being incorporated into Christ.
And yet the world, even his own, did not accept him: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11).
Creation had become twisted, distorted from its divine model, and so the creature did not know its true nature. John presents Jesus' explanation of this: “The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (3:19-21).
In a similar vein Paul explains that evil suppresses the truth: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).
The battle between light and darkness is part of the war between good and evil. While some choose evil, others receive the Word and are transformed into what they truly are, children of God: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).
St. Ignatius of Loyola imagined this vast cosmic drama from the viewpoint of God in his meditation on the incarnation, where he asks the retreatant to see the people on the earth in all their diversity: “some are white, some black; some at peace, and some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world, some dying; etc.” (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, by Louis J. Puhl, S.J. -- Westminster, Md., The Newman Press, 1957, p. 50.).
The Trinity, beholding “all nations in great blindness, going down to death and descending into hell,” decides to work the redemption of the human race.
After considering what the persons on the face of the earth do, “for example, wound, kill, and go down to hell,” the retreatant then contemplates the Incarnation and begs for the grace to join in this mission of the Lord. It is not a trivial task, but rather an attempt to change history and human persons.
In his retreat journal Paul Mariani gave some striking examples of the modern “structural sin” which characterizes our conflictual world and which cries out for the prophetic and transforming power of the incarnate Jesus today: “Swiss banks collaborating with the Nazis to steal the property of Jewish victims, their lives apparently not enough. American tobacco companies creating killer cigarettes, then lying about it year after year, as the death toll from cancer mounts, my own mother among the statistics. The injustice of it all and of how we cover over these injustices. I thought of the Jews' deep passion for justice – Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalmist – refusing to let these things be swept away by a kind of selective amnesia. I thought of Jesus, one more Jew from the provinces, beaten half to death, then led out to die.
“God Himself crying out against the sheer weight of the injustices against the poor, the defenseless, those who cannot afford adequate counsel. The lies, the false claims and counterclaims, legal systems opposing true justice…. Black slaves and Native Americans, long dead, whose basic human rights were abrogated time and time again” (pp. 97-98).
The Word made flesh is “Emmanuel,” which, Matthew explains, means “God with us” (Mt 1:23). Since Jesus is the True Person, some wise men from the East, searching for truth, come to him in Bethlehem: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (2:11).
To whom did they kneel to give homage? Not to a domineering ecclesiastical chief who would have demanded that they reject their cultural and religious heritage as “pagan” or perhaps even diabolical, but to an infant in a modest dwelling. The baby Jesus did not require their total submission; the family gratefully accepted the visitorś gifts and wished them well on their journey.
If the religions of the world could receive each otheŕs gifts in mutual appreciation and gratitude, the kingdom of the one God would come closer. This prospect is not helped by Marines from a “Christian nation” attacking and calling in air strikes on a mosque, thus killing scores of Muslims, as happened yesterday in Iraq.
The holy family became refugees in Egypt to avoid the jealous wrath of King Herod, who took out his anger by killing “all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men” (2:16)
Later, other jealous religious authorities and the representative of the Roman emperor would succeed in executing Jesus. And down through the ages, kings, emperors, and presidents have beaten down with overwhelming violence most “uppity” types – whether prophets of God́s kingdom or would-be political rivals, or even simply independent leaders who refuse to genuflect at the imperial throne.
The narrative of Jesus' public ministry began outside the temple, indeed outside the city – in the wilderness with a bizarre-looking man who had no official status or credentials. John the Baptist appeared “in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (3:1-2).
He demanded true repentance which manifests itself in deeds as worthy fruit: “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor;’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’” (3:7-10).
In the Church let us not rest on our laurels as having been baptized as infants into the family of Jesus and the saints and martyrs. In the Society of Jesus, may he keep us from resting on the holiness and fame of our great missionaries and martyrs of the past.
In Luke's version of the Baptist's preaching we find something of the specific content of his message – a strong call to social justice: “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and then asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages’” (Lk 3:10-14).
All are urged to share the resources of life; government officials and soldiers are told to avoid fraudulent and extortionate methods. What would the Baptist ask us U.S. Christians to do today in relation to, or in resistance to, the policies of our government and corporations? Rather than sharing resources, are we not monopolizing them for own own selfish consumption? Are our government officials and military officers not levying taxes on other countries – e.g., payment of their usurious foreign debt, while they must abandon their just demands on our corporations in compliance with the new rules of world trade? Are we not extorting other countries to conform to our designs for exploitation under the guise of “free-trade” agreements?
Christian corporate captains ignore all the Baptist’s injunctions except the last one, which they preach to their employees: “Be satisfied with your wages,” as if this meant that soldiers, police, and other workers did not have a right to struggle for a just wage.
Jesus will not only proclaim the need for repentance and for the appropriate fruits of conversion, but he will “baptize in the Holy Spirit” (Mt 3:11), i.e., he will share his own Spirit of Love to transform the hearts of those who receive his spoken word.
In the baptism of Jesus, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17).
Thus affirmed, Jesus begins to look toward his own mission and the means he should choose to implement it. Fasting forty days and nights in the desert, he is first confronted by the temptation to appeal to people by offering them bread: “But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (4:4).
Next he is tempted to win them over by dazzling them with spectacular tricks and finally to coerce them with the political and military power of the kingdoms of the world. But to wield this kind of power, Jesus would have to worship the evil one, the principle of violence and domination: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (4:10).
Jesus does not want his free followers to be bread or rice Christians, or circus fans, or coerced crowds.
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee…. From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (4:12,17). Jesus picked up the torch from the jailed Baptist and proclaimed the very same message, undoubtedly recognizing that he was risking the same fate as the one he had chosen as his baptizer.
The fishermen responded “immediately” to Jesus’ invitation to make them fishers of people (4:18-22). Such figures of speech are not to be analyzed literally: in this case, the fish who are brought into the bark of Peter, far from suffocating, find fullness and joy in community and in a meaningful mission. Nor are people to be tricked by bait or caught in a net (coerced) to follow Jesus.
Now with four disciples, Jesus “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (4:23).
Later, after much teaching and healing, Jesus continues “teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (9:35). And he commissioned the Twelve to be heralds of his own message: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’” (10:7).
In Luke's version, Jesus began to proclaim the good news of the kingdom by reading from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).
We can catch a glimmer of the excitement as well as the meaning of Jesus' announcement of the “good news of the kingdom of God” by hearing one of the key Old Testament references to “good news” or good tidings: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings…. See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…. He will feed his flock like a shepherd….” (Is 40:9-11)
That good news was that God was then showing his royal power to liberate his people from their captivity in Babylon. More generally, the kingdom of God is where God rules, where his will is done on earth by people who accept and live by God’s values. This is Jesus' news report.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12). In Luke's version (6:20-26), these are fewer and more stark, more material; and they are followed by their corresponding “woes.” There is no need to project these reversals of fortune entirely into a heavenly after-life as if they had no application within history.
All of the Beatitudes are, of course, admirably exemplified by Jesus himself. I also find it helpful and inspiring to reflect on saints (both canonized and not) and “blessed” who by their lives have shown us the meaning and challenge of each Beatitude.
How the disciples on that mountain must have thrilled, and wondered, when the Master called them “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). Salt is infinitesimal when compared to the earth; light is often weak and regularly fades completely. But the little flock is called to remain faithful to its crucial mission for the sake of the earth and the world. Later, Jesus would liken the Kingdom of God to a small mustard seed (13:31-32) and to a little measure of yeast (13:33).
Jesus urges his followers to proclaim the Good News of God́s love through “good works”: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16). The Lord remembered how the Baptist had stressed the need to “bear fruit” rather than just to recite formulas of faith.
The gross manipulation of the English language continues.
Even with tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis of various Muslim groups rising up, in demonstrations or in arms, against the foreign occupiers, American leaders (from sergeants on the battlefield to the commander-in-chief) are still labeling our opponents the “bad guys.” As the number of evil ones grows exponentially, will there be a commensurate increase in U.S. killings of civilians? Will we soon be told that all 25 million Iraqis are “extremists” because they have an extremely hostile attitude toward the invading armies?
As a Japanese hostage was shown on the morning news staring in horror at a sword two inches from his neck, the script running at the bottom of the screen identified the Japanese soldiers in Iraq, who must be removed from the country if the hostages are to be spared, as being on a “humanitarian mission.”
Last year the Nicaraguan government assured its people that its small contingent of troops in Iraq were on a “humanitarian” mission to help disarm land mines. The Iraqis, however, fail to appreciate the humanitarian nature of the collaboration of anyone with the foreigners occupying their country by force and violence.
Local Columbus TV today presented some bad news about Holy Thursday as celebrated in Atlanta. The archbishop had decreed that female feet could not be among those washed in the ceremony commemorating Jesus' washing of the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Demonstrators at the cathedral protested the archbishop's order.
The exclusion of half the human race was a glaring and scandalous contradiction to the beautiful meaning of Jesus' dramatic example of unity and equality in a community of mutual service. Today, in a letter to a friend who works for the archdiocese, what could I do but offer her a simple but heartfelt apology? (In our Christian Base Communities in Nicaragua, not only do women as well as men have their feet washed in this ceremony, but, as the basin and towel are passed around the twelve volunteers, people wash one another’s feet in obedience to the command of Jesus.)
Jesus in Jail
The hectic pace of the last few days has slowed down, and the tension has subsided at least for the night. It was quiet in the jail where Jesus was held.
All his disciples had deserted him and fled at the moment of his arrest. Peter, at least, had been hanging around the high priest's courtyard; but, upon being questioned, he denied knowing Jesus.
Although Jesus' body was sore from the beating he had received from the temple guards, he was filled with a deep inner peace, knowing he had been faithful to his mission and that Abba was with him. At dawn he would be taken before Pilate.
In 1944 a compañero of Jesus, Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., would also find himself on a death row, accused by the Nazis of criticizing and conspiring against the Third Reich. He too experienced a profound interior peace and joy which came from his awareness that he had been steadfast in the life’s mission his Lord had given him. During Advent, even in prison, he felt "true happiness" as a companion to hope "that all the promises hold good": "It does happen, even under these circumstances, that every now and then my whole being is flooded with pulsating life and my heart can scarcely contain the delirious joy there is in it. Suddenly, without any cause that I can perceive, without knowing why or by what right, my spirits soar again and there is not a doubt in my mind that all the promises hold good" (Alfred Delp, S.J. -- Prison Writings, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 27).
Alfred had also made his own Ignatius's “Suscipe” – “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding , and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.”
As a religious Alfred had offered God his liberty when he first pronounced his vow of obedience and, very shortly before his execution by the Nazis, when he made his final vows. In prison he probably felt that he was giving the Lord his liberty, and his life, in a very specific, concrete way.
For more on Fr. Delp, please see my chapter in this Jail Journal –
The Prison Writings of Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. --
A Meditation By a Fellow Jesuit in Jail
For many years now I have tried to be open to Christ's call to join him in working for his Kingdom of justice and peace. In the Jesuit community and in the larger peace community, I have sought to discern God's will for me along this particular road of ministry. Following on this path, I am immensely grateful for the meaningful work I have found and the wonderful pilgrims who have accompanied me in many struggles.
This journey has included four experiences of incarceration for which I have absolutely no regrets: two years in federal prison for participating in the destruction of draft files as an act of resistance against the war in Vietnam; one night in the Washington, D.C., jail after Phil Berrigan and I poured blood on the gateposts of the White House as a protest against the 1989 assassination of the six Jesuits and the two women at the Central American University in San Salvador; a few hours in a Pentagon detention facility for taking part in a “die-in” as a protest against the SOA/WHINSEC; and my current ninety days of incarceration.
In my vow of obedience I too had offered my liberty to Christ, promising to seek and follow his will in the Society of Jesus. Incarceration as a consequence of my ministry has been a small but significant concretization of that oblation of my freedom and a way to accompany Jesus even in his experience of arrest and detention.
In spite of his bruises, Jesus fell asleep on the hard floor, only to awaken shortly when two bandits were thrown in with him. They too had been picked up by the chief priest́s police, who were especially vigilant because of the large crowds who had come to Jerusalem for Passover.
Awakened by their entry, Jesus asked them why they had been arrested.. When he heard that they had been robbing travelers on the outskirts of the city, he remarked that their penalty for such a crime could be severe but would probably not be capital punishment. “You don't understand,” one said, “we are Zealots and we were getting funds for the rebellion.
“The guards told us about you – that the chief priest will accuse you before Pilate of stirring up the people, claiming to be a king, and going against the emperor. But we know you are not one of us Zealots. You must really hate these corrupt and lying priests. You must be praying that fire come down from heaven to consume them and the Romans who will carry out your execution.”
“It would be natural to feel that way,” Jesus smiled, “but I am asking God to forgive them, for they do not really know what they are doing.”
“Sure, sure,” the bandit snorted. “We'll see how you feel tomorrow. Let's make a bet: if you still feel that way when we're hanging on those crosses, I'll ask you to forgive me too and take me with you to your paradise.”
During my Holy Week retreat I have tried to enter into the well-known prayer, “Anima Christi,” which Ignatius included in the book of the Exercises.
“Soul of Christ, sanctify me.”
May the Holy Spirit, Spirit of Love, soften my heart,
helping me to be more sensitive and kinder to others
and to “speak boldly” in defense of the gospel of love and justice
as the early Christians did after Pentecost.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart and kindle in me the fire of thy divine love.”
“Body of Christ, save me.”
– Save me by preventing me from being amputated from your Body, the people.
If I fall alone into the raging waters, may your lifeline bring me back to the Bark.
– May your Eucharistic Body nourish me so that I can be a more vital community member
and enable me to assimilate you as the Word of Life,
as Ezekiel “ate the scroll” of your truth (Ezekiel 3:1-3).
– And as I break the Eucharistic bread and pass the cup of your blood to the community,
by your mercy speaking your words of self-giving,
help me to be willing to give my body to be broken and my blood to be shed
not just in one special, final moment,
but every day in friendship and service.
“Blood of Christ, inebriate me.”
Gladden my heart.
Cheer me up when I’m down;
and when I'm happy,
prompt me to show it with a smile and sense of humor.
“Water from the side of Christ, wash me.”
Baptize me anew every day to wash away the dust, grime, and air pollution of our culture:
gender and nationalistic chauvinism,
anthropocentric ecological irresponsibility,
individualistic competitiveness of all kinds,
and clericalistic arrogance.
“Passion of Christ, strengthen me.”
May the passion of the Christ –
both the real event and the movie –
fortify me and millions of others
to carry on the struggle for the Kingdom
no matter what may lie ahead.
And may we come to a more complete and more personal understanding
of Jesus and his work in the gospels
as the prelude and provocation of his passion,
that we may love him and his people more deeply
and follow him more perfectly.
“O Good Jesus, hear me.”
Mom used to say, in times of difficulty:
“God is good.”
And Jesus is our good friend who always listens.
May the Spirit help us to listen, too, to him and to one another.
“Within your wounds, hide me.”
It is not for protection from any vengeful anger of a cruel tyrant god
that we need to be hidden within Jesus' wounds,
for such a seedy image is a blasphemous insult to Jesus' and our loving “Abba,”
as Bishop Tom Gumbleton noted in his Palm Sunday sermon (April 4, 2004)
after the reading of the Lord’s passion:
“Over the past few weeks, even months, we have been inundated with talk of the film ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ The emphasis has been on Jesus being brutalized, victimized, and becoming a helpless victim who seems almost totally passive, being crushed with a kind of violence that is almost too much for most people to even watch and absorb.
“Supposedly, according to that kind of theology, this was what God demanded. God demanded that Jesus be so totally destroyed and suffer so terribly to pay for our sin.
“But if we listen really carefully to the scriptures, that's not the message. Jesus was not a helpless victim. What kind of a God would demand that God's only Son be treated that way and demand that kind of payment? We can almost not imagine a crueler image of God. It certainly does not fit into our understanding of who God is. God is love and only love” (“The Peace Pulpit,” National Catholic Reporter).
As the mountains of El Salvador hid the poor in resistance and in flight, may Jesus hide us from repressive governments in the service of the world's oligarchies – so that we may, as he often did, get away to struggle another day, until the hour of death is inevitably upon us.
“Permit me not to be separated from you.”
You always say: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
Help me to stay by your side,
never separated from you or from your Body, the community,
for that would be the only real defeat.
“From the wicked foe defend me.”
Defend me from the enemy within –
pride, which would make me into an idol,
and fear, which would reduce me to a slave.
In relation to opponents outside,
help me to hate the injustice but not the perpetrator,
and to confront opponents resolutely but respectfully,
with the relative truth I have glimpsed.
“At the hour of my death, call me.”
Grateful for my sixty years,
I pray that you continue to pour out your Spirit,
so that younger generations shall still see visions
and that we older men and women shall still dream dreams (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)
until the hour comes when you call us once again:
“Come and see, come follow me.”
“And bid me come to you”
in poverty of spirit
and, finally, in total material poverty as well.
“That with your saints I may praise you, for ever and ever. Amen.”
May our friendship grow in this life,
so that I may look toward an eternal conversation of love and praise
as my perfect joy.
Thomas Merton had a profound sense of the crucifixion of Jesus as an ongoing reality in history and of his personal duty to bring the victims and potential victims down from the cross. In 1961 he wrote to a friend: “I am now perfectly convinced that there is one task for me that takes precedence over everything else: working with such means as I have at my disposal for the abolition of war....
“This is purely and simply the crucifixion over again. Those who think there can be a just cause for measures that risk leading to the destruction of the entire human race are in the most dangerous illusion, and if they are Christian they are purely and simply arming themselves with hammer and nails, without realizing it, to crucify and deny Christ. The extent of our spiritual obtuseness is reaching a frightful scale” (Essential Writings, Orbis Books, 2000).
Jesus is dead, buried, gone.
Some believe he will rise.
Today they wait.
Today around 9 a.m. Mike Walli, my fellow anti-SOA protester and cellmate, came into our cell with the TV remote control in hand to announce with joy that all the other inmates were asleep and so we could watch whatever we wanted in the dayroom. This turned out to be the “Washington Journal” on C-Span, which was focusing on the controversy over the wording of the pledge of allegiance.
According to one caller, the main issue today regarding the pledge is not whether it should include the phrase, “under God,” which was inserted in 1954. Rather, the problem is that the Bush administration and its supporters have, in effect, their own pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the corporations of America, and to the Republicans for whom it stands, one nation, under their God, with liberty and justice for them.”
Little by little the disciples began to share with one another
their growing sense of his living presence and power among them.
And when he sent them his Spirit,
they went out with joy and courage to proclaim his message of truth, justice, and peace,
and to affirm that God had raised up the executed victim.
In a similar way the Salvadoran people sing a popular ballad about their beloved San Romero:
“The blood that you shed was for the cause of a people
who suffer great repression,
on account of the rich and the government....
It is clear to the people that your death was not isolated,
but was the action of imperialism and the armed forces....
Oscar Arnulfo has not died;
he lives in the struggles of his people.
For that reason we will never forget your heroic example”
(cited in Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings, by Marie Dennis, Renny Golden, Scott Wright; Orbis Books, 2000).
The martyrdom of Romero brought a new Pentecost to his people, as a refugee from governmental repression testified: “When they killed Monseñor Romero, we were very sad because we thought everything had ended.. But later we saw that his spirit gave us strength to resist oppression. For that reason we also believe more now in Jesus Christ” (Carta a las Iglesias, San Salvador, UCA Editores, 1981- , No. 89).