Friday, November 1, 2013

Kill for Peace?

23 Sunday C  #129

Wis 9, 13-18
Ps 90
Phlm 9-10. 12-17
Lk 14, 25-33
Peter Maurin Farm, Marlboro, N.Y. September 8, 2013

Deacon Tom Cornell
                        In his last two Sunday Angelus messages, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that is tearing that country apart.  That riled Mark Phillips of CBS News.  He criticized the Holy Father for “siding with (Russian President) Putin.”  Then The New York Times censored Pope Francis.  The so-called “journal of record” ran an article on Syria in the morning edition that, among other things, quoted the Holy Father’s words on violence.  A later edition deleted those words and any reference to the Pope.  Are the mass media joining the rush to war just as they did in the run-up to Iraq? 
          Last week, Pope Francis called for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and to forestall any attack on that country.   The Pope urged all Christians, all believers and all men and women of goodwill to join him in a day of fasting and prayer for peace.  The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, leader of the Orthodox Church, asked all Orthodox Christians to join Pope Francis and Catholics the world over in prayer and fasting to hold back the hand of violence.  It is rare that clergy, consecrated sisters and brother and lay people as well are called to join in prayer and fasting for peace, and even more rare that the Orthodox faithful should join with the Pope in the same.  But there you have it.  When Pope Bergoglio chose his name, Francis, he had a purpose in mind.
          Yesterday Pope Francis led a Prayer Vigil for Peace in St. Peter’s Square with 100,000 people in attendance, streamed live by Vatican TV, from 6:50 p.m. until 11 p.m. Rome time, over four hours.  Francis spent most of the vigil in silent prayer, but during his sermon he issued a heartfelt plea for peace, denouncing those who are "captivated by the idols of dominion and power" to destroy God's creation through war.  "This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace.  May the noise of weapons cease!" he said. "War is always a defeat for humanity."
         Three days ago, our Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan, as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of its Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to the President and every member of the U.S. Congress to say that a military attack “will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.”
          President Obama has decried the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well he should.  “Their use should not go unpunished,” he asserts.  Has he or this country the legal or moral authority to punish those who employ chemical weapons?  Does he include the use of Agent Orange by the U.S. in Viet Nam?  That’s a chemical weapon!  During the Viet Nam War, the U.S. military dropped tons of chemical weapons, including Agent Orange, on the forests and farmlands of Indo-China, destroying food supplies and ravaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  An estimated 400,000 people were killed or maimed, half a million babies born with birth defects, and the cancer rate has soared.  The Red Cross estimates that one million people in Viet Nam have serious health problems related to Agent Orange.  And American soldiers suffered as well, from “blow-back,” as it is called.  A friend of mine, the father of two sons, was just released from z month in the hospital.  He has an auto-immune deficiency.  The cause?  Some forty years ago, his father, a U.S. soldier in Viet Nam, ingested Agent Orange.  How long will we, and the Vietnamese, pay the price?
          Or white phosphorous?  That’s a chemical weapon!  White phosphorous burns through and flesh and bone it touches with inextinguishable fire until all flesh and bone is destroyed.  The U.S. used white phosphorous in Fallujah, Iraq!  Will that be punished?  Iraq attacked its own Kurds and Iran with poison gas during the 1980s war.  But Saddam Hussein was our ally then; we armed him.  Was that punished?  And what of depleted uranium?  Is that not indiscriminate in its effects?  And napalm?  That’s a chemical weapon.  The U.S. poured tons of napalm on a wooden city, Tokyo, in 1942 and killed more civilians than even in Hiroshima.  No other nation has come close to U.S. use of napalm.  The Monroe Doctrine established the Western Hemisphere as a U.S. zone of influence.  The Bush-Obama Doctrine would establish the globe as a U.S. zone of influence.     
            The U.S. President does not have the legal, much less the moral authority to attack Syria, though he claims otherwise.  Our Church teaches that recourse to war is justifiable only in the event of a direct military attack, declared and carried out by competent authority, observing civilian immunity and only as a last resort after all alternatives have been tried and failed. A military attack upon Syria would violate every principle of just war theory.  A military strike on Syria would be an act of war, unjust war.  Killing in unjust war is murder.  Failure to speak out when you know an act of war in unjust is to be an accomplice to murder. 
                        Now let us join the Holy Father and our American bishops in a prayer the bishops have offered for this crisis:
                      Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion, the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.  Hear the cries of the people of Syria; bring healing to those suffering from the violence and comfort to those mourning the dead.  Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors in their care and welcome for refugees. Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
          Oh God of hope and Father of mercy, your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.  Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies.  Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria, and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.  We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

            Now let me hear AMEN!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's the Point?

20 Sunday C  #120  2013

Jer 38, 4-6. 8-10
Ps 40
Heb 12, 1-4
Lk 12, 49-53

Deacon Tom Cornell
Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.

August 18, 2013

                   “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze!  …Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”  How are we to understand these words?  He, the Prince of Peace, also said, “My own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give.”  (Jn 14, 27).

                   How often does the word “peace” appear in our Mass?  When a bishop presides, his first words after the Sign of the Cross are “Peace be with you.”  After the penitential rite we sing the Gloria, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill.”  At Communion the priest addresses the congregation with the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  The deacon then says, “Let us exchange the sign of peace.”  Then we recite, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.  At the dismissal the deacon says, “Go in peace.”   

                   The fire that Jesus would cast upon the earth is his own word to set ablaze the hearts of believers, those who love God, and God is Mercy, Truth and Goodness and Love, to set them ablaze.  That word of justice, peace and love can, and does, divide some times, very painfully, sets fathers against sons and sons against fathers.  I know.  I couldn’t go home for three years because of my protest against the Viet Nam war.  And Jeremiah knew.  It was said that he too demoralized the troops.  Jeremiah didn’t want to be a prophet.  Anyone who does should have his head examined.  A prophet speaks the word of God to those who do not want to hear it.  That is never convenient.  It landed him in a cistern and many others in jail and prison cells, even in our own day and our own country. 

                   Pope Francis’ words on this day in Rome were: 
          “… Jesus says, ‘I came to bring division’; not that Jesus wishes to divide men against each other.  On the contrary, Jesus is our peace, he is our reconciliation! But this peace is not the peace of the grave, it is not neutrality.  … This peace is not a compromise at all costs.  Following Jesus means rejecting evil, egoism, and choosing the good, truth, justice, even when that requires sacrifice and renunciation of our own interests. And, yes, this divides; we know that it divides us even from the closest bonds.  But remember: it is not Jesus who divides!  He posits the criterion: living for ourselves or living for God and for others; be served or serve; obey ourselves or obey God. This is the way that Jesus is a ‘sign of contradiction’ ” (Luke2:34(August 18, 2013, Angelus, Vatican City). 
          His predecessor had words to say on the subject too:
          “ ‘To love your enemies’ (Luke 6:27; Mt 5:44) was something of a manifesto presented to everyone, which Christ asked his disciples to accept, thus proposing to them in radical terms a model for their lives. …Why does Jesus ask us to love our very enemies, that is, ask a love that exceeds human capacities? What is certain is that Christ’s proposal is realistic...This page of the Gospel is rightly considered the Magna Carta of Christian nonviolence; it does not consist in surrendering to evil—as claims a false interpretation of ‘turn the other cheek’ (Luke 6:29)—but in responding to evil with good (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice. It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God’s love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution,’ a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. God does not oppose violence with a stronger violence. He opposes violence precisely with the contrary: with love to the end, His Cross. This is a way of conquering that seems very slow to us, but it is the true way of overcoming evil, of overcoming violence, and we must trust this divine way of overcoming” (Feb. 19, 2007 Angelus, Vatican City).

                   How many of us have ever considered our commitment to Christ and his Church a revolutionary act?  Well, it is, and we are all subversives, or should be subversives when it comes to unjust social structures that deny people their fundamental rights, that impoverish and keep people in poverty, and war, unjust war.  To subvert means, literally in Latin, to turn things over, turn them upside down.  That’s what Jesus did when he said, “Blessed are the poor….”  How to do it in our time and place?  That’s for each one of us to decide for ourselves.  But if Christians are indistinguishable from non-believers in their public lives, then what’s the point?  W

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pax Christi Mass for Peace 2013

Is 2, 1-5
Ps 72
Jas 3, 1-2. 4, 18
Mt 5, 38-48

Saint Augustine Church
Highland, N.Y.
March 16, 2013

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   Thank you, Fr. Tom (Lutz), thank you for hosting this Pax Christi Mass for Peace here at Saint Augustine’s, our grandchildren’s parish.  It’s a special pleasure for me to be with Fr. Tom again at the altar.  You may not know that Fr. Lutz took over at St. Mary’s in Marlboro when Msgr. Dugan was dying, and walked into a hornets’ nest.  The hornets were after me.  Fr. Tom stood up to them.  And thank you, Madeleine Labriola and all Pax Christi members who make this Mass for Peace happen every year.   

          The readings today are so familiar I hardly need dwell upon them, Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Era when swords will be turned into ploughshares and all the nations will climb Zion’s holy mountain to learn the ways of peace and justice, and they shall study war no more.  This vision is an essential of our Faith.  We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth….”  It will not be fulfilled by anyone other than Jesus himself when he comes again on the Last Day.  But we have a part to play.  We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and we are baptized into his mission as well. The Kingdom of God is then and there, but it is also here and now, because he said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17, 21). The Greek (entos uymon) can also be translated, “The kingdom is in your midst.” 

          We saw an in-breaking of the Kingdom last Wednesday when tens of thousands of people crammed into St. Peter’s Square on a cold rainy night.  The whole world was watching, and that in itself is proof that the moral leader of the Christian world is the Bishop of Rome.  Even non-believers look to Rome and hope for a word that will lead us out of the morass we are in, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the spread of fanaticism, a hardening of hearts against the most vulnerable, the poor, the aged and the sick and the yet-to-be-born.  And on top of that, the threat to the biosphere itself. 

          There is a sense, all over the world, that a page in the book of history is turning.  A new Pope, a new day, we pray, a new burst of faith and hope.  God is good!  God is love!  God has care of us!  It is fifty years since the Council that was supposed to renew the Church.  Fifty years and we are still waiting.  It takes time.  I have the feeling that this is the time.  Things are changing.  Fifty years ago the Council Fathers urged us to look upon questions of war and peace with a totally new attitude, a totally new attitude.  You here today, you of Pax Christi, are proof that it’s happening.  We are called a little closer to Christ.  If the New Testament teaches us anything about Jesus of Nazareth it is that he was nonviolent, he was a man of peace.  
          We fail in so many ways.  But especially at this season of Lent we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start over again, because we have the freedom to turn away from God in sin. There will be a reckoning.  We condemn ourselves when we turn away.  Let this time of penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving heal and cleanse us to receive the Risen Lord at Easter!

           Something else is in the news these days, and it too points the way out of the mess we are in, and that is the Cause of our own Dorothy Day for canonization as a saint!  Cardinal Dolan asked the assembly of all our bishops in Baltimore last January to approve her Cause so that it can move forward in the Vatican.  He got it, unanimous endorsement!  St. Dorothy of New York!  Imagine!  She was our match-maker, Monica’s and mine.  We have spent our lives in her Catholic Worker movement, and we now manage the Catholic Worker Farm behind the cemetery on Lattintown Road.  Her message was peace, simplicity, poverty and community, like our new Pope Francis’s.  A template for survival, I dare say.

          Monica and I were on a lecture tour in Rome in 1998 when we were told that Cardinal Stafford wanted to see us.  He was the highest ranking American in Rome at that time, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.  Of course we were glad to oblige.  We had no idea what was on his mind, why he wanted to see us.  The Cardinal asked us about the current state of the Catholic Worker movement.  We were happy to tell him the Catholic Worker is in good shape, authentically Catholic.  We traded stories in a very relaxed and friendly, informal way.  We didn’t know that Dorothy’s Cause had to get his approval before it could go forward, and Cardinal Ratzinger’s too!  

                     Cardinal Dolan told the bishops, as had Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Egan before him, that Dorothy Day should be held up as an example of authentic Christian discipleship for our time and place.  That’s what canonization is for; it’s not to honor a person.  It’s to hold up a model of authentic Christian discipleship for our time and place.  Pope Benedict himself spoke of Dorothy and her devotion to the service of the poor in his Ash Wednesday sermon.  But there is more to Dorothy Day than that.  Lots of saints have served the poor.  Dorothy was different, different in a way that speaks to our time and our country.  She was not content to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless.  She asked:  Why are they hungry?  Why are they homeless?  Why in a country that prides itself on its wealth are there so many poor and why are they so poor and for so long, over generations?  And why are the poor cannon-fodder?  Is there a connection between an unsustainable life-style and the wars that we have been in almost without ceasing since 1950?  Is there a connection?  Pope Benedict seems to think so.  In his World Peace Day he condemned the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for usury, yes!  Usury!  He cited unregulated capitalism as a threat to world peace and a cause of war, as did Dorothy Day all her life long. 

        Dorothy Day was arrested and jailed seven times, the first for the women’s vote, then for peace and for workers’ rights in nonviolent civil disobedience against war and preparation for war, the last time when she was 75 years old, for the United Farm Workers, in California, in support of a strikers’ picket-line.  She served then two weeks in the county jail, a vacation, she said.  A jail-bird held up as a model of authentic Christian discipleship for our time and place?  Yes!  In past times the Church had to teach rude, uneducated barbarians how to live together in obedience to lawful authority.  Today we have to learn and teach when and how to disobey illegitimate authority in conscientious objection, non-cooperation and active nonviolent resistance, to obey God rather than men, as Saint Peter had it  (Acts 5, 29) .  Dorothy Day will be the patron saint of all that!

          The Gospel calls us to practice the works of mercy.  Dorothy pointed out, over and over again, that the works of war are the exact opposite of the works of mercy, both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty?  No!  Poison their fields and their wells!  Shelter the homeless?  No!  Bomb their cities!  Visit the prisoner?  No!  Put non-conformists in jail.  (J. Edgar Hoover asked Franklin Roosevelt to put Dorothy Day in prison three times!  He didn’t!) 

          And how about the spiritual works of mercy?  Again, the exact opposite of the works of war.  Instruct the ignorant?  No!  Lie to them.  The truth is always the first casualty of wear.  Counsel the doubtful?  No!  Threaten them with prison!  Draft them!  Console the mourning?  No!  Give them more to mourn about!  Forgive injuries?  No!  Make then pay ten times over!

        Dorothy Day of New York, our own saint, if she is canonized, and it looks better and better, Saint Dorothy Day of ,New York.  Learn more about her, you young people especially.  Read the new biography of Dorothy by Jim Forest, All Is Grace.  Cardinal Dolan bought 155 copies, and he gave one to Pope Benedict!    Or just ask Monica or me.  W

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Blind See, the Lame Walk


Is 40, 1-5. 9-11
Ps 104
Ti 2, 11-14, 3, 4-7
Lk 3, 15-16. 21-22

Peter Maurin Farm, Marlboro, N.Y.
January 13, 2013

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   “The Lord will bless his people with peace.”

                   Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of the Christ “upon whom I have put my spirit,” says the Lord.  He will bring justice, a just peace, not just to Israel but to the nations as well.  And he will do it not by raising an army, but quietly, gently.  “A bruised reed he will not break.” He will not take advantage of anyone’s weakness but lift up all, friend and enemy alike.  Then in our second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to Titus, the Lord addresses his Christ and calls him “a light to the nations to open the eyes of the blind, to bring prisoners out of confinement and from the dungeons those who live in darkness.”  This has an eschatological meaning – that’s a fancy word that indicates it’s for the End Time, the Second Coming, the final establishment of His kingdom which will have no end.  But it’s also meant to point to present reality.  The mystery of the kingdom of God is that it is then and there but also here and now.  By that I mean the fulfillment of the kingdom can only come about by God’s own intervention at the end of time, in the new heaven and the new earth foretold in Scripture, but it is also here and now in embryo, if you will, because He said “The kingdom of God is within you, in your midst.”  Here and now, if we will have it. The blind see?  The lame walk?  Yes!

                   I saw it happen, yes I did, in Selma, Alabama, almost 47 years ago.  It was Jesus Christ who led the March to Montgomery in the person of Martin Luther King.  Most of the white people of Alabama were and are good Christian people.  But many, very many were blind, blinded by the racist propaganda fed them by those who knowingly profited by setting race against race, worker against worker, by reinforcing negative stereotypes of black people and by propagating scare stories.  Fear is a powerful weapon, and the root of war, as Thomas Merton put it.  It’s still going on, mass media blinding people, making them believe that the poor are their enemies, that Muslims are their enemy, or the Chinese.  Back then, in 1965, the stories they spread about us in the news media made us look like degenerate hippies or Russian Reds, wild.  But as we marched through town and out on Alabama Rt. 80, the frightened people saw us for real, not as we were portrayed, ministers and priests and rabbis, nuns in full habit, and nicely scrubbed young and middle-aged and old men and women, black and white and who knows what, but normal, disciplined people, joined in a great cause for which we were willing to put our lives on the line, and I saw, as they watched us, I saw the scales fall from their eyes as Black people previously lame walked, as young and old Black people imprisoned in the dungeons of segregation walked out into the sun, heads held high.  It was a glorious time.

         We won, and we didn’t fire a shot, killed no one, injured no one, lied to no one, humiliated no one.  And we won, through the power of nonviolence, the ethic of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount put into practice.  The President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, a Southern white man, addressed a joint session of the Senate and the Congress, and the American people, and the world, and demanded the Voters’ Rights Bill of 1965 and he got it, and everything changed.  The legal structures of racial segregation were dismantled.  The sad, tragic irony is that today, more than a generation later, racial segregation is again the order of the day, not just in the South, but in Northern cities where more than ninety percent of some inner city schools are minorities.  God does not show partiality, even if people still do.

                   Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles has Saint Peter come to the realization that God’s saving grace is available to people of all nations, not just the Jews, as he had been thought. The very first Gentile Peter will baptize is a soldier, a Roman soldier, a centurion in charge of one hundred men of the occupation force.  That is startling!  The first recruit among the Gentiles to the cause of the Prince of Peace was a Roman soldier!  Did Cornelius renounce the use of weapons and refuse to kill?  Military converts were required to do just that, even if their superior officers ordered them to do so, but we do not know.  The Roman Army performed many tasks other than war-making, mail-delivery, for instance, and flood-control.  We do know that Cornelius was of good conscience and the grace of God fell upon him.  Many other soldiers, upon baptism or after deeper conversion, refused further military service, among them Saints Achilleus and Nereus, Saint Camillus and Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers who refused to be a soldier.

                   The Gospel reading simply affirms that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the one, the long-awaited Messiah, Christ.  It is he who will usher in the kingdom of justice and peace.  If the evening news does not reflect that truth, whose fault is that? Jesus Christ is our peace.  We are his body in the world.  Let’s show it, let’s prove it!  The nonviolent Civil Rights movement offers a template.  Jesus is the Commander in Chief of the nonviolent army.  Yes, that is an army too, the nonviolent movement.  We used to sing, “We are soldiers in the army; we have to fight; we know we have to die.”  But far fewer die in the nonviolent struggle.  And it ends in reconciliation and healing, not bitterness, resentment and envy. 

                    The Lord will bless his people with peace!  “The Lord has blessed his people with peace!”  That is the Paschal Mystery, the meaning of the birth of Jesus, his ministry, his death and resurrection.  He is our peace.