Monday, August 27, 2012

Joshua Casteel, R.I.P.


Tom Cornell
posted on America Magazine blog
and Independent Catholic News, London 
August 27, 2012


Joshua Casteel died, August 25, in New York City, after a long, brave and painful battle with cancer, another victim of the war in Iraq, at age 32.    

If ever there was an “all-American boy!”  A photo of Josh as president of the Young Republicans in his high school is charmingly na├»ve.   Tall and handsome, blue-eyed and blond-haired, of Norwegian stock, he must have looked quite at home as a cadet at West Point Military Academy.  But he couldn’t take the mindless chauvinism, he told me.  No critical thinking!  “I could take orders, but I can’t give them in an outfit like that,” he said.  He thought it only right to fulfill the commitment he made when he signed his enlistment contract, so he asked not for release but for reassignment as a common soldier.  He was sent to language school, in California, where he learned Arabic well enough to be assigned to Abu Graib Prison in Baghdad as an interrogator.  He arrived there just after the prisoner abuse scandal broke in 2004.  He had over one hundred interrogation sessions with prisoners, 90% of whom, he determined, were guilty of nothing but being Arab.  General Janis Karpinski, in charge of the prison at that time, disagreed, maybe 80%.  One was 14 years old, another nine!

Joshua was brought up in a fervently Evangelical family.  But Josh’s Christian faith began to falter.  He read Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity.  That not only revived but strengthened his faith.  He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church.  An admitted jihadi prisoner challenged Josh’s commitment to the New Testament ethic of nonviolence.  The jihadi had the better of the argument, Joshua decided.  He came to the conclusion that he was in fact a conscientious objector to war and to military service.  He applied for early discharge as a conscientious objector.  His commanding officer recognized the sincerity and validity of his claim.  Joshua was released with an honorable discharge and returned home to study and to write plays and stories based upon his experience. 

Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, retired, of Galveston-Houston, arranged for Michael Griffin, theology professor at Holy Cross College in South Bend and editor of the Catholic Peace Fellowship The Sign of Peace and me to present Joshua to Pope Benedict in Rome, March 2007 at an outdoor Mass.  The Holy Father was obviously impressed with Josh’s story.  As he was led away, Mike Griffin told the Holy Father the purpose of our trip to Rome, to spur further development of ministry to conscientious objectors, support and encouragement.  “You mean men like him?” said the Pope, pointing to Joshua. “Yes, Holy Father, men like him!”

Having earned an MFA at the University of Iowa, Joshua started advanced studies at the University of Chicago when he suddenly took sick.  It was lung cancer, 4th stage, metastasized.  The disease progressed rapidly.  He was soon in excruciating pain and dependent upon strong opioids.  Treatment seemed at times hopeful.  He was admitted to an experimental therapy program at a secret location in Lower Manhattan.  He responded very well.  Then a sudden downturn, due to pancreatitis.  In little more than a week, attended by his mother, Joshua slipped away. 

 A victim of the war?  Yes, probably, but there is no proof.  Joshua believed that his cancer was caused by living at Abu Graib near an open burn-pit operated by the US military.  All manner of refuse including plastics was dumped into open-air pits to be incinerated.  The fumes are toxic. 

Let Joshua have the last word, or words he spoke to Aaron Glantz, in a radio interview on Pacifica Radio KPFA, San Francisco, on our trip to Rome:  “We were seeking pastoral guidance from the Holy See as to how to best address the issue in America, which at the core is an issue of spiritual formation and catechesis, that people don’t know the history of Catholic conscientious objectors….  And this is where the issue of nationalism is front and center….  In this country, Catholic Christians often don’t act as if their Catholic identity is their primary identity – that somehow it’s ok to closet your Christianity when the State tells you to.  That’s not the history that Christianity hails from; it’s simply not the case.”

Pray for us, Josh, that God will grant us even a small share of your faith and courage, and consolation to your bereft mother Kristi and sisters Naomi and Rebekah.    

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bread of Life


20 Sunday B  #119

Pvb 9, 1-6
Ps 34
Eph 5, 15-20
Jn 6, 51-58

Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.
August 19, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

          Our first reading from the Book of Proverbs speaks of the Temple of Wisdom built upon seven columns, or pillars.  But it doesn’t tell us what those seven pillars are.  Let’s say they are the seven virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, courage, and faith, hope and charity

          Or they might be what scholars of religion call the pillars of all major religions:  the contemplation of God, the ultimate mystery;  then where do we come from  and where are we going and why;  the destiny of the universe itself;  salvation, redemption, from what and for what;  and what other planes of existence there might be.  Christians will deal with these questions from our understanding of Hebrew and Christian Scripture and our own and our common experience, Sacred Tradition, and ultimately, through the person of Jesus Christ.  Wisdom, Sophia, Logos was with God and danced at the Creation, to become man in Jesus Christ.

            For the past three weeks, now four, we have been hearing “The Bread of Life Discourse” from the 6th Chapter of the Gospel according to John.  Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life, his own flesh and blood as food for eternal life.  Many of the Jews who heard these words found them intolerable; they couldn’t bear to hear them. They walked away; they would listen to him no more. 

          The bread of life come down from heaven will be offered to you in minutes.  This is the whole purpose of the priesthood.  Jesus would leave this earth, go back to the Father, sit at his right hand until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.  But until that time, Jesus remains with us.  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.”  Jesus is present in the poor the sick and the suffering. “When you did these things for the least of these my brethren, you did them for me.”  Jesus is also truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity in every particle of the bread and wine consecrated by a valid priest at the altar.  He remains with us in sacramental sign because, no matter how badly we go astray, no matter how foolish we become, he wants to be with us, to nourish and guide us even despite ourselves.  Such is the infinite mercy of God.  

         God the Father did not directly will that his only begotten son should die, mocked and scourged, upon a felon’s cross.  But it was inevitable.  It was God’s will that Jesus submit and resist not the evil of men.  This would be the ultimate sacrifice which we commemorate at every Mass. 

          If the Incarnation had been postponed for two thousand years and Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, Connecticut or Marlboro, New York instead of Bethlehem in Juda, the outcome would have been the same.  We would have killed him.  One way or another we would have killed him.  That’s what we do to the lambs of God. 

          And Jesus would forgive, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” just as he did at Golgotha.  And we would be forgiven, saved.  Saved from the consequences of our own blind stupidity, willfulness, pride, greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth and anger, saved from the isolation we put ourselves into when we hide from each other’s pain and want and need. 

          The bread of life!  Communion!  The word means oneness with God and oneness with each other.  So we must bear one another’s burdens, live as brothers and sisters, not judging, but sharing, just as God has shared with us, shared his own very self!  Such a gift we have been given!  How can we not share with others then?  Our hearts should be so full of gratitude that they open and pour out whatever we have, even foolishly.  God will not be outdone in generosity.  His eye is on the sparrow.  I know he watches you and me!   W