"When we have peace, then we have a chance to save the planet," Nhat Hanh told us last week. "But if we are not united in peace, if we do not practice mindful consumption, we cannot save our planet. We need enlightenment, not just individually but collectively, to save the planet. We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet."
On the Road to Peace
As I ready myself for trial Sept. 6 for trying a year ago to persuade my senator to oppose the Iraq War, I'm happy that a new organization of Catholics opposed to the war has formed. On July 12, Catholics United, a nonpartisan organization, launched "Catholics for an End to the War in Iraq" to encourage U.S. Catholics to advocate for diplomacy, redevelopment and a "responsible withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Last weekend, 125 of us made the annual pilgrimage of repentance up into the mountains of Los Alamos, N.M., birthplace of the bomb, to remember Hiroshima. For the third year in a row, we put on sackcloth and sat in ashes to repent of the sin of war and nuclear weapons in a spirit of prayer and creative nonviolence. A monsoon downpour soaked the mountaintop, but just as we began, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Afterwards, our featured speaker, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the campaign to close the "School of the Americas," urged us to carry on our witness for peace -- that one day Los Alamos will be disarmed.
“War is not inevitable I don’t think we can believe in God and be pessimistic about the future. The world is in God’s hands. So we have to keep going, keep on working for the abolition of war.” So said Bruce Kent, Britain’s long-time peace advocate and leader of the “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”
"We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea's recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a larger failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on earth."
"Enter through the narrow gate," Jesus says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. "For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." (Mt. 7:13-14) Gandhi summed up this verse this way: "There is no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight path of nonviolence."
In Matthew chapter six, the middle section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to pray, give alms, fast, and forgive. He offers these tools to help us on our journey to the God of love and peace, to help us love God and all humanity. But in the middle of these helpful teachings, he makes a shocking statement: "You cannot serve God and money." It's one or the other. "Seek first the reign of God and God's justice," he says, "and all these things will be provided to you as well." I consider this one of the most neglected but crucial commandments in the entire Gospel.
Not long ago, the legendary theologian Walter Wink and his wife June invited me to lunch with friends in Santa Fe. It was a blessing to enjoy their company, but I'm still nervous around my old friend Walter. I consider him one of Christian history's greatest scripture scholars because of his ground-breaking analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:38-42, in his book Engaging the Powers, (Fortress Press, 1992). It's a book that anyone interested in Gospel nonviolence should read. He explained as never before Jesus' teachings on nonviolent resistance: "You have heard, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say, Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil."
"If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what's so unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?" (Matthew 5:46-48)
These questions from the Sermon on the Mount get right to the heart of the spiritual life. Why don't we love everyone everywhere unconditionally? Why not love our enemies, as Jesus said? Why go along with the culture of war and its arrogant, ignorant warmakers? Why not practice "agape" like Jesus and his greatest followers, saints like Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Ita Ford and the Berrigans?
The bad news is so overwhelming these days, it's hard to find any good news. But the Gospel provides it in abundance in the life and teachings of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, his great manifesto of revolutionary nonviolence. Every June, we hear excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, in the daily readings. If I had any say, I would create a "Sermon on the Mount" Sunday and have the entire text read out loud at every Mass. In an effort to promote some good news, I thought I'd offer a kind of summer series on the Sermon on the Mount, as a way to stay focused on the nonviolent Jesus and his vision.