Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Apocalyptic times

Charlottesville VA, August 2017
"There is no need to insist that in a world where another Hitler is very possible the mere existence of nuclear weapons constitutes the most tragic and serious problem that the human race has ever had to contend with. Indeed, the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion and tension in which we all live is precisely what is needed to produce Hitlers.

"It is not exaggeration to say that our times are Apocalyptic, in the sense that we seem to have come to a point at which all the hidden, mysterious dynamism of the "history of salvation" revealed in the Bible has flowered into final and decisive crisis.

"The term "end of the world" may or may not be one that we are capable of understanding. But at any rate we seem to be assisting in the unwrapping of the mysteriously vivid symbols of the last book of the New Testament. In their nakedness, they reveal to us our own selves as the men whose lot it is to live in the time of possible ultimate decision."

-Thomas Merton, "Nuclear War and Christian Responsibility", from "Passion for Peace", p. 39

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acrobat's Song (Feast of the Assumption)

On this Feast of the Assumption of Mary

"Acrobat's Song" from Robert Lax’s The Circus of the Sun

Who is it for whom we now perform,
Cavorting on wire:
For whom does the boy
Climbing the ladder
Balance and whirl–
For whom,
Seen or unseen
In a shield of light?

Seen or unseen
In a shield of light,
At the tent top
Where rays stream in
Watching the pin-wheel
Turns of the players
In light:

We are Thy acrobats;
Walking on wire,
Dancing on air,
Swinging on the high trapeze:
We are Thy children,
Flying in the air
Of that smile:
Rejoicing in light.

We perform before Thee,
Walking a joyous discipline,
A thin thread of courage,
A slim high wire of dependence
Over abysses.
What do we know
Of the way of our walking?
Only this step,
This movement,
Gone as we name it.

At the thin
Rim of the world
We turn for Our Lady,
Who holds us lightly:
We leave the wire,
Leave the line,
Into light."

The Political Dimension of Christian Love (Oscar Romero)

Blessed Oscar Romero
Today is the 100th birthday of Blessed Oscar Romero, born August 15, 1917, in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. The following is from a 1982 article in Commonweal Magazine - "The Political Dimension of Christian Love". Read the whole thing HERE.

I COME from the smallest country in faraway Latin America. I will not try to speak, and you cannot expect me to speak, the way an expert in politics might.

Nor will I even speculate, as someone might who was an expert, on the theoretical relationship between the faith and politics. No, I am going to speak simply, as a pastor, as one who, together with his people, has been learning the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it, that the church is not a fortress set apart from the city but is a follower of that Jesus who lived, worked, battled, and died in the midst of a city, in a ''polis.'' It is in this sense that I would like to talk about the political dimension of the Christian faith: in the precise sense of the repercussions of the faith for the world and also of the repercussions that insertion in the world has for the faith.

Read the rest HERE.

- Blessed Oscar Romero 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The White Man

Unite the Right Rally, Charlottesville VA, August 11, 2017
"The purpose of non-violent protest, in its deepest and most spiritual dimensions, is then to awaken the conscience of the white man to the awful reality of his injustice and of his sin, so that he will be able to see that the Negro problem is really a WHITE problem: that the cancer of injustice and hate which is eating white society and is only partly manifested in racial segregation with all its consequences, IS ROOTED IN THE HEART OF THE WHITE MAN HIMSELF.

"Only if the white man sees this will he be able to gradually understand the real nature of the problem and take steps to save himself and his society from complete ruin. As the Negro sees it, the Cold War and its fatal insanities are to a great extent generated within the pur-blind guilt ridden, self-deceiving, self-tormenting and self-destructive psyche of the white man."

-Thomas Merton, from the essay "The Black Revolution" in the William Shannon collection of Merton essays, "Passion for Peace", p. 175

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Hot Summer of Twenty Seventeen

Charlottesville VA, August 12, 2017
"I for one remain FOR the Negro, I trust him. I recognize the overwhelming justice of his complaint, I confess I have no right whatever to get in his way, and that as a Christian I owe him support, not in his ranks but in my own, among the whites who refuse to trust him or hear him, and who want to destroy him."  - Thomas Merton, from his essay, "From Non-Violence to Black Power"

The problem as I see it is no longer merely political or economic or legal or what have you (it was never merely that).
It is a spiritual and psychological problem of a society which has developed too fast and too far for the psychic capacities of its members, who can no longer cope with their inner hostilities and destructiveness. They can no longer really manage their lives in a fully reasonable and human way - only by resort to extreme and possibly destructive maneuvers.

A nuclear arms race.

A race to get on the moon.

A stupid war in Asia that cannot be won by either side.

An affluent economy depending on built-in obsolescence and the ever increasing consumption of more goodies than anyone can comfortably consume.

A bored, ambivalent over-stimulation of violence and sex.

We are living in a society which for all its unquestionable advantages and all its fantastic ingenuity just does not seem to be able to provide people with lives that are fully human and fully real.

There are wonderful people in it, and it is a marvel we are not ten times crazier than we already are, but we have to fact the fact that we live in a pretty sick culture. Now if in this sick society, where there are a lot of very scared, very upset, very unrealistic people who feel themselves more and more violently threatened, everyone starts buying guns and preparing to shoot each other up (remember the fuss about the gun in the fallout shelter in 1962), we are going to have an unparalleled mess. The result may eventually be that people will decide that the only way to maintain some semblance of order will be the creation of a semifascist state with storm troopers and, yes, concentration camps.

-Thomas Merton, from an essay, "The Hot Summer of Sixty-Seven", in a collection of Merton essays by William Shannon, "Passion for Peace". pp. 293-294

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Nagasaki - "The winner is war itself"

The weapon dropped over Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945, weighed five tons and was known as the Fat Man.
Photograph courtesy National Archives and Records Administration
Today is the 72nd anniversary of destruction of Nagasaki with a nuclear weapon.

The following is extracted from Jim Forest's book, "The Root of War is Fear".

“Target Equals City,” an essay written [by Merton] in February 1962 and slated for publication in The Catholic Worker, was refused approval by his order’s censors, the first of Merton’s war-related writings to suffer that fate. In it he argued that a major ethical border had been crossed during the Second World War. On the Allies’ side, it was a war that that had begun with “a just cause if ever there was one.” There was no doubt that Hitler was the aggressor in Europe and that Japan was in Asia. But by the war’s end in 1945, not only Germany but the Allies had moved from bombing military targets to targeting whole cities. Those theologians who took Church teaching on war seriously were forced to consider the question “whether the old [just war] doctrine [still] had any meaning.”

"The obliteration bombing of cities on both sides, culminating in the total destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by one plane with one bomb for each, had completely changed the nature of war. Traditional standards no longer applied because … there was no longer any distinction made between civilian and combatant…. [In fact] the slaughter of civilians was explicitly intended as a means of 'breaking enemy morale' and thus breaking the 'will to resist.' This was pure terrorism, and the traditional doctrine of war excluded such immoral methods…. These methods were practiced by the enemy [at the war’s start, but by the time] the war ended they were bequeathed to the western nations."

Merton recalled how, early in the war, Britain had declared that it would not imitate Germany’s savage blitz-bombing tactics but instead would limit its bombing raids to military objectives. But in 1942 Britain abandoned its early restraint and began to target whole cities. “There are no lengths in violence to which we will not go,” Churchill declared. To quiet troubled consciences, the argument was put forward that city destruction, in the long run, “will save lives and end the war sooner.” In one notorious case, a thousand British and US bombers dropped so many bombs on the German city of Dresden that a firestorm was created that gutted the heart of the city. An estimated 25,000 people were killed, including many refugees and Allied prisoners of war. Far more died or were injured in the saturation bombing of Tokyo — the Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded.

Merton noted that while one can understand how those who suffered the Blitz would accept similar combat strategies against their enemy, no one could any longer claim that the standards of the just war doctrine, requiring not only a just cause but just methods that shelter non-combatant lives, were being respected.

The development of nuclear weapons and rockets for their delivery to distant targets, many of which were cities, meant that city destruction had become an integral element of future war planning. While the policy is called deterrence, the effectiveness of deterrence depends on the demonstrated readiness to commit the gravest war crime ever contemplated.

Meanwhile the vast majority of Christians were offering no resistance. “The Christian moral sense is being repeatedly eroded,” Merton wrote. When occasional protests occur or questions arise, “soothing answers are provided by policy makers and religious spokesmen are ready to support them with new [moral] adjustments. A new cycle is prepared. Once again there is a ‘just cause’. Few stop to think that what is regarded complacently as ‘justice’ was clearly a crime twenty years ago. How long can Christian morality go on taking this kind of beating?”

Merton finished the essay with these three sentences:

"There is only one winner in war. The winner is not justice, not liberty, not Christian truth. The winner is war itself."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Shadow on the Rock

by Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

At Hiroshima there’s a museum
and outside that museum there’s a rock,
and on that rock there’s a shadow.
That shadow is all that remains
of the human being who stood there on August 6, 1945
when the nuclear age began.
In the most real sense of the word,
that is the choice before us.
We shall either end war and the nuclear arms race now in this generation,
or we will become Shadows On the Rock.

(Image: "Human Shadow Etched in Stone," relocated and preserved at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration

August 6, The Feast of the Transfiguration

The Enola Gay after dropping atomic bomb, "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan - August 6, 1945
The dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, combined with the bombing of Nagasaki, is the only (officially) recorded use of a nuclear bomb against an enemy target.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist who was responsible for the research and design of an atomic bomb. He is often known as the “father of the atomic bomb."

The famous, haunting statement by Oppenheimer, recalling the event compels and haunts in equal measure; probably from a combination of the quote itself and Oppenheimer’s odd delivery.

In 1965, Oppenheimer was asked to repeat the quote again for a television broadcast: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’.

Other Louie entries on Hiroshima and the Transfiguration:
Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave. 
27: At 1:37 A.M. August 6th the weather scout plane took off. It was named the Straight Flush, in reference to the mechanical action of a water closet. There was a picture of one, to make this evident. 
28: At the last minute before taking off Col. Tibbetts changed the secret radio call sign from “Visitor” to “Dimples.” The bombing mission would be a kind of flying smile. 
29: At 2:45 A.M. Enola Gay got off the ground with difficulty. Over Iwo Jima she met her escort, two more B-29’s, one of which was called the Great Artiste. Together they proceeded to Japan. 
30: At 6:40 they climbed to 31,000 feet, the bombing altitude. The sky was clear. It was a perfect morning. 
31: At 3:09 they reached Hiroshima and started the bomb run. The city was full of sun. The fliers could see the green grass in the gardens. No fighters rose up to meet them. There was no flak. No one in the city bothered to take cover. 
32: The bomb exploded within 100 feet of the aiming point. The fireball was 18,000 feet across. The temperature at the center of the fireball was 100,000,000 degrees. The people who were near the center became nothing. The whole city was blown to bits and the ruins all caught fire instantly everywhere, burning briskly. 70,000 people were killed right away or died within a few hours. Those who did not die right away suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers. 
33: The men in the plane perceived that the raid had been successful, but they thought of the people in the city and they were not perfectly happy. Some felt they had done wrong. But in any case they had obeyed orders. “It was war.” 
34: Over the radio went the code message that the bomb had been successful: “Visible effects greater than Trinity … Proceeding to Papacy.” Papacy was the code name for Tinian. 
35: It took a little while for the rest of Japan to find out what had happened to Hiroshima. Papers were forbidden to publish any news of the new bomb. A four line item said that Hiroshima had been hit by incendiary bombs and added: “It seems that some damage was caused to the city and its vicinity.” 
36: Then the military governor of the Prefecture of Hiroshima issued a proclamation full of martial spirit. To all the people without hands, without feet, with their faces falling off, with their intestines hanging out, with their whole bodies full of radiation, he declared: 
“We must not rest a single day in our war effort … We must bear in mind that the annihilation of the stubborn enemy is our road to revenge.” He was a professional soldier." 
"Original Child Bomb", The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, pages 300-301

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

East & West

Photo by Thomas Merton
 "If I can unite in myself the thought and devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russian and the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians.

"From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians.

"If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division upon the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ."

- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", p. 12

saying "Yes" to others, becoming real

From the People Board of Blue Eyed Ennis; Photo by aleshurik (Flickr)

"The more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes’ to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone.

"I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further. So, too, with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc.

"This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot ‘affirm’ and ‘accept,’ but first one must say ‘yes’ where one really can. If I affirm myself as Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it."

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander (NY: Doubleday and Company, 1966), p. 144.


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