One day, the nations of the world will beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more, the holy prophet Isaiah wrote 2,700 years ago. On Dec. 8, hundreds of politicians and leaders from around the world gathered in Paris to launch the Global Zero campaign, a new call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. As a new year of the perilous nuclear epoch begins, I regard the gathering as a rare sign of hope. The campaign is calling for millions to join their movement and sign their petition. I did and hope you will too.
On the Road to Peace
On the Road to Peace is a column on nonviolence from Jesuit Fr. John Dear, a peace activist and the author of more than 20 books.
God of peace, to begin, a trove of gratitude. Thank you for the nonviolent Jesus, his arrival among us, his exemplary life of love -- a love that risked death, a love that raised him again to new life. It was a life, all told, that bespoke peace. He came to us in peace, for peace, as peace. In him we see peace first hand. And my heart brims. For in Jesus, our North Star, you have marked our way in a trackless world. A world of violence and inhumanity, chaos and distress. Because of Jesus, it lies within our grasp to know better now.
I've been reading the new collection, Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters, (Harper One, 2008) a gathering of his “essential” letters, to mark Dec. 10, the 40th anniversary of Merton’s death. On the tenth of this month, I offered the Dharma talk at Upaya Zen Monastery near Santa Fe, New Mexico. As Buddhist teachers do, I began the lecture by invoking one of my teachers, in this case, Merton, the peacemaking monk. I’m astonished that he continues to inspire and challenge me and so many others.
Last week after speaking in Baltimore, I spent the night at Jonah House, the long time peace community that embodies the Gospel message of love and nonviolence. They live it out constantly in the form of nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear weapons. It was a blessing beyond measure to share stories with my friends there, to pray through the Advent readings, and to experience again their community of hope and peace. Jonah House remains for me one of the brightest beacons of hope in the country.
Advent begins this year in Mark's Gospel with Jesus' command to wake up, stand on guard, be on the look out, and keep watch. It's a strong reminder, perfect for such fearful times as these. As we begin this holy season of preparation, renewal, and prayer, we're urged to awake from the American nightmare, deepen our contemplative roots in Advent nonviolence, reclaim our souls, restart our search for the God of peace, get ready for Jesus and prepare for his Christmas gift of "peace on earth," with all its glorious social, economic and political implications.
Thousands of us gathered this weekend, Nov. 21-23, for the annual funeral procession at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., there to call for the closing of the notorious "School of Assassins," where the United States trains the Latin American death squads that, over the past few decades, have killed thousands. We gather there each year around Nov. 16 -- the anniversary of the massacre of the Jesuits in El Salvador. This year, the sole Jesuit at the University of Central America to have survived the attack, liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, was our guest of honor.
Last Tuesday, the U.S. bishops' conference gathered at the Marriott in Baltimore. There they were invited to a dinner hosted by U.S. military chaplains. This piqued my curiosity, so I called the U.S. bishops' conference in D.C. "Yes," I was told, "that was the annual dinner for the bishops; the military puts it on. If you want more information, call the Pentagon."
This weekend, Barack Obama just freshly elected, I joined 2,500 Catholics at the annual Call to Action conference in Milwaukee. A spirit of hope hovered in the air. And in the air, too, was a general agreement that, the election notwithstanding, our work must continue. We need to keep pushing for an end to the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. We still need to work to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease, corporate greed and environmental destruction. We still need to work for a more just society. Shortly put, we too have to be hopemakers, and carry on the hard work of making our hope -- a world of peace -- come true.
What a boost it was to spend All Saints' Day in Boston, just before the election, with hundreds of Pax Christi friends, all of us reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount. And what a privilege to speak about A Persistent Peace, my recent autobiography, at St Paul's on Harvard Square, to be introduced by one of Harvard's brightest stars, my old friend Dr. Paul Farmer, a doctor who reinvented international healthcare as a call to abolish poverty. Dr. Paul, a living saint.
As the election approaches, economies worsen, wars go on relentlessly, nukes are poised on alert, and hundreds of millions starve and die in poverty, it's clear what's at stake -- the material world is tottering. But there's far more at stake than that, I submit. Peril is rippling through the waters of our spiritual depths. We have long been beset by our own greed and violence. And now our world, our beautiful creation, our very souls are at stake.