Monday, August 30, 2021

we do not know the things that are for our peace


Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

        We live in crisis, and perhaps we find it interesting to do so.

Yet we also feel guilty about it, as if we ought not to be in crisis.

As if we were so wise, so able, so kind, so reasonable, that crisis ought at all times to be unthinkable. It is doubtless this “ought,” this “should” that makes our era so interesting that it cannot possibly be a time of wisdom, or even of reason.

We think we know what we ought to be doing, and we see ourselves move, with inexorable deliberation of a machine that has gone wrong, to do the the opposite. A most absorbing phenomenon which we cannot stop watching, measuring, discussing, analyzing,  and perhaps deploring!

But it goes on.
And, as Christ said over Jerusalem, we do not know the things that are for our peace.

-Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 66

a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

"a crisis point of history"

synonyms:critical pointturning pointcrossroadswatershedhead, moment of truth, zero hour, point of no return.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Our Grief is not a Cry for War


Kathy Kelly holds a child at the Chamin-E-Babrak refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2014, a few days after the child had been saved from a burning tent, during a fire that destroyed much of the camp. (Abdulhai Darya)

"I think in the U.S. people had the impression that somehow the United States was helping in terms of humanitarian issues in Afghanistan. But that’s not really true. There wasn’t a marked improvement in the basics of health care, or in terms of nutrition. Education has not been available to the majority of the people, although it did get better for young girls in in the cities.

"The people who really are the “winners” in all of this — and in the history of U.S. occupation and invasion — are the military contractors, the ones who manufacture the war planes and the bombs and the drones, and the Hellfire missiles and the Apache helicopters and the material for building bases and equipping soldiers. Those are the people who win in these situations.

"I think it’s good to study everything that Pope Francis has said about war and weapons. He has called war-making futile and has asked us to lay aside our weapons. He was so blunt and clear when he spoke to the U.S. Congress, asking why anyone would give weapons to people waging wars. The answer, he said, is simple: It’s money, and the money is drenched in blood.

"But parishes are not necessarily hearing this message of peacemaking from the pulpit. I wish every parish could consider a Pax Christi chapter, would hold study groups to read more about issues of peacemaking. Another thing people can do is welcome refugees into their community, and learn from the refugees."

— Kathy Kelly

From the National Catholic Reporter, August 26, 2021, Q & A with activist Kathy Kelly on Afghanistan, US withdrawal and what’s next

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The total abolition of war

Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

What are we to do?

The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and  intelligence,
with his faith, his hope in Christ,
and love for God and man,
to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today.

That task is to work for the total abolition of war.

There can be no question that unless war is abolished
the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which,
because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons,
the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probable
at every moment everywhere. 

Unless we set ourselves immediately to this task, 
both as individuals and in our political and religious groups,
we tend by our very passivity and fatalism
to cooperate with the destructive forces that are leading inexorably to war. 

It is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude,
for which the Church itself is not fully able to see clear and decisive solutions.
Yet she must lead the way on the road to the nonviolent settlement
of difficulties and toward the gradual abolition of war
as the way of settling international or civil disputes. 

Christians must become active in every possible way, mobilizing all their resources for the fight against war.

-Thomas Merton

from Jim Forest's essay, "An Army that Sheds No Blood; Thomas Merton's Response to War"

War is our enemy


Credit...Mujib Mashal/The New York Times

“So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another (p. 114).”

“War is our enemy (p. 115).”

“The beatitudes are simply aspects of love. They refuse to despair of the world and abandon it to a supposedly evil fate which it has brought upon itself. Instead, like Christ himself, the Christian takes upon his own shoulders the yoke of the Savior, meek and humble of heart. This yoke is the burden of the world’s sin with all its confusions, and all its problems. These sins, confusions and problems are our very own. We do not disown them (p. 134).”

-Thomas Merton, From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Friday, August 27, 2021

the fiction called "the enemy"


Victor J. Blue at the New York TImes

“I have learned that an age in which politicians talk about peace is an age in which everybody expects war: the great men of the earth would not talk of peace so much if they did not secretly believe it possible, with one more war, to annihilate their enemies forever. Always, ‘after just one more war’ it will dawn, the new era of love: but first everybody who is hated must be eliminated. For hate, you see, is the mother of their kind of love.

"Unfortunately the love that is to be born out of hate will never be born. Hatred is sterile; it breeds nothing but the image of its own empty fury, its own nothingness. Love cannot come of emptiness. It is full of reality. Hatred destroys the real being of man in fighting the fiction which it calls ‘the enemy.’ For man is concrete and alive, but ‘the enemy’ is a subjective abstraction. A society that kills real men in order to deliver itself from the phantasm of a paranoid delusion is already possessed by the demon of destructiveness because it has made itself incapable of love. It refuses, a priori, to love. It is dedicated not to concrete relations of man with man, but only to abstractions about politics, economics, psychology, and even, sometimes, religion.”
-Thomas Merton

from Seeds
Selected and edited by Robert Inchausti
[Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc, 2002 - page 50]
Originally published in The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
[New York: New Directions, 1977, pages 374-75]
[Note: This posting originally appeared in this blog on October 14, 2009]

Thursday, August 26, 2021

truth & lies

Photograph of Gal Vihara by Thomas Merton

We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all.

Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as "an intelligent being"!)

But actually, what we desire is not "the truth" so much as "to be in the right."

To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature.

What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not "the truth." It is only an argument strong enough to prove us "right."

And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong?

Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned.

We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as "truth."

What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved "right," and our iniquity be vindicated as "just."

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war!

And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us.

Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 78

[Note: This posting first appeared on this blog on June 23, 2017]

Monday, August 16, 2021

How to be a Pharisee in Politics


How to be a pharisee in politics:
At every moment display righteous indignation over the means (whether good or evil) which your opponent has used to attain the same corrupt end which you are trying to attain.

Point to the means he is using as evidence that your own purposes are righteous - even though they are the same as his.

If the means he makes use of are successful, then show that his success itself is proof that he has used corrupt methods.

But in your own case, success is proof of righteousness.

In politics, as in everything else, pharisaism is not self-righteousness only, but the conviction that, in order to be right, it is sufficient to prove someone else is wrong.

As long as there is one sinner left for you to condemn, then you are justified! Once you can point to a wrongdoer, you become justified in doing anything you like, however dishonest, however cruel, however evil!

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 77-78

Note: This post appeared originally in this blog on June 23, 2017

Monday, August 9, 2021



Credit...Yasuo Tomishige/The Asahi Shimbun, via Getty Images

Friday, August 6, 2021

Yoshito Matsushige


Yoshito Matsushige is the only person to capture an immediate, first-hand photographic historical account of the destruction of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Matsushige was 32 years old at the time of the atomic bombing. He was home at the time of the atomic bombing. 

His home was located at Midori-cho, 1.7 miles from ground zero (hypocenter) of the explosion. This was just outside of the 1.5 mile radius of total destruction created by the atomic blast effects. Miraculously, Matsushige was not seriously injured by the explosion and was given one of the most famous photographic opportunities in human history. 

With one camera and two rolls of film (24 possible exposures) he tried to get his newspaper office but flames blocked his way.Matsushige returned to the Miyuki Bridge. He tried to take photographs of the terrible carnage he witnessed at the bridge but could not press the shutter button. After struggling at that location for over thirty minutes, he finally took his first photographs. 

During the next ten hours Matsushige was only able to click the shutter seven times because the sights were so atrocious and heart-breaking to witness. In addition, he was afraid the burned and battered people would be enraged if someone took their pictures. Matsushige could not develop the film right away but eventually did so after twenty days, in the open, at night, using a radioactive stream to rinse the photographs. Only five of the seven photographs were developable.

A few weeks after the atomic bombing, the American military confiscated all of the post-bombing newspaper photographs and/or newsreel footage but failed to confiscate many of the negatives. As a result, photographs from the Hiroshima atomic bombing were not published until the United States occupation of Japan ended in April 1952. 

The magazine Asahi Gurafu initially published Matsushige’s photographs in a special edition on August 6, 1952. This edition was titled: “First Exposè of A-Bomb Damage”. This special edition sold out so quickly that four additional printings were run replacing the original color cover with a black and white one. The total circulation of this special edition was approximately 700,000. The following month, Life Magazine published two of the five Matsushige’s photographs in the September 29, 1952 edition of the magazine in an article titled: “When Atom Bomb Struck – Uncensored”.

Matsushige's photos can be see HERE

His accounting of that day is HERE

Portrait of Yoshito Matsushige:

You must take a stand, speak out and resist. (Psalm 115)


The A Bomb Dome in Hiroshima in 2015. The dome, which was part of the city’s industrial exhibition hall, was directly beneath the atomic bomb dropped Aug. 6, 1945.

From Fr. John Dear:
This week, as we remember the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago, the Doomsday Clock of “The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” stands at 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it’s ever been to nuclear war since August 6th, 1945. We are closer to nuclear war right now than we have ever been. Some 14,000 nuclear weapons stand ready to go. Weapons have proliferated, many nations, possibly other terrorist groups, have them, and conflicts around the planet, particularly between India and Pakistan, hold us teetering on the brink of another Hiroshima holocaust.
For forty years, I’ve been speaking out and protesting nuclear weapons. For nearly twenty years now, my friends and I have a led an annual Hiroshima day vigil outside the Los Alamos, New Mexico Nuclear Weapons Labs, birthplace of the bomb. And yet, the Biden Administration has carried on the legacy of the Trump Administration by pouring billions of dollars down the drain of the nuclear industry hellhole, and this sinful waste of money has been met, in this time of divisive alienation, with widespread silence and complicity.
Yes, there are signs of hope—such as the great global organizing of the Nobel Peace Prize winning group, “The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons” (, the Plowshares disarmament movement, and Pope Francis’ extraordinary recent statements condemning every aspect of the development and maintenance of these weapons of mass destruction.
But I wonder why, in the face of our global crises—from environmental destruction, and catastrophic climate change, to the COVID pandemic, to extreme poverty and deepening racism—why so few seem to speak out against this unspeakable, existential threat which we continue to inflict upon ourselves and the whole planet.
Lately, I’ve been thinking back to my friends and teachers, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, the legendary peace activists, and founders of the Plowshares disarmament movement. As I kid, I regularly attended their weekend retreats, and witnessed them open their Bibles and read from the Hebrew scriptures about idolatry. I rarely understood what they were talking about. They would talk for hours about the consequences of our idolatry through our quiet support of nuclear weapons and ever-worsening loss of our humanity. As I get older and our predicament worsens, alas, it all makes sense.
I well remember, for instance, spending a quiet afternoon thirty-five years ago listening to Daniel Berrigan read Psalm 115. I expected sweet reflections on the spiritual life of peace. Instead, I heard sharp denunciations and condemnations of the idols of war. To this day, I’ve never heard anybody else say such things.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see.
They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell.
They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk,
and no sound rises from their throats.
Their makers shall be like them, and all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4-8)
The idols of this world are dead, the psalmist wrote long ago, as are those who worship them. That means, Dan explained, you can’t live in peace and the fullness of life if you spend your years quietly supporting the culture’s idols of death. You must take a stand, speak out and resist.
What is the antidote to idolatry? The Berrigans testified to their faith in the living God of peace, but they insisted that such faith can only grow within the boundaries of nonviolence. Belief in the God of peace, in a culture as sick as ours requires publicly renouncing belief in the culture’s false gods of war and all other instruments of death, according to Psalm 115.



From Jim Forest's biography, “Living With Wisdom”:

Sitting on a cedar log under a tree in February 1952, gazing out at light blue hills in the distance, Merton saw his true self as a kind of sea creature dwelling in a water cavern which knows of the world of dry land only by faint rumor. When he got free of plans and projects — the first level of the sea with its troubled surface — then he lived in the second level, in the deep waters out of reach of storms, where there was “peace, peace, peace.... We pray therein, slightly waving among the fish.... Words, as I think, do not spring from this second level. They are only meant to drown there. The question of socialization does not concern these waters. They are nobody’s property.... No questions whatever perturb their holy botany. Neutral territory. No man’s sea. I think God meant me to write about this second level.”

Still deeper down Merton was aware of a third level,

>> swimming in the rich darkness which is no longer thick like water but pure, like air. Starlight, and you do not know where it is coming from. Moonlight is in this prayer, stillness, waiting for the Redeemer.... Everything is charged with intelligence, though all is night. There is no speculation here. There is vigilance... Everything is spirit. Here God is adored, His coming is recognized, He is received as soon as He is expected and because He is expected He is received, but He has passed by sooner than He arrived, He was gone before He came. He returned forever. He never yet passed by and already He had disappeared for all eternity. He is and He is not. Everything and Nothing. Not light not dark, not high not low, not this side not that side. Forever and forever. In the wind of His passing the angels cry, “The Holy One is gone.” Therefore I lie dead in the air of their wings.... It is a strange awakening to find the sky inside you and beneath you and above you and all around you so that your spirit is one with the sky, and all is positive night.”

– Thomas Merton
Sign of Jonas, pp 138-9

Christ in the Rubble

The Rev. Munther Isaac lighting a candle next to an improvised crèche this month in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Credit... Samar Hazboun...