LENT 2015: Reflection for the third Sunday of Lent, March 8

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by Joe Nangle, ofm

Exodus 20:1-17 | 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 | John 2:13-25

800px-Valentin_de_Boulogne_Expulsion_of_the_Money-Changers_from_the_TempleIt’s a scene that makes us uneasy — Jesus causing conflict. The modern view makes him out to be a consoler, a comfortable presence, just a nice guy. He is there to make us feel good about ourselves, not rocking our boats.

Yet in the Gospel today he’s on a rampage, throwing the idolaters of money out of the temple’s sacred space, then confronting those who challenge his right to this consuming zeal for God’s house.

An angry Jesus, a Jesus who gets into disputes and shows himself disagreeable, throws us off. As products of our culture, we avoid confrontation. We like to be liked and likable. Yet here we have the Teacher being anything but likable–he’s downright obnoxious as he drives the money-makers out of the Temple, knocking over their tables and spilling their coveted coins all over the place in the process.

The lesson for us is clear, a Lenten meditation. If our discipleship is authentic, we cannot avoid conflict any more than Jesus could. In fact, as the daily Lenten readings begin to remind us, a constant reality of Jesus’s ministry was confrontation. As his public life unfolded and his agenda became known to the power structure of that time, he found himself in serious disagreement on a daily basis with those who had most to lose as a result of what he was saying.

We really have no choice but to learn the lesson of conflict as a hallmark of discipleship, given the world of anti-Gospel values we inhabit. To be part of today’s American society as followers of Jesus means being out of place, misfits, round pegs in square holes. Like Jesus in his time, our lot is to be confrontational, subversive, disruptive of so much that surrounds us. Look at some examples of our national life.

The weakest in our society–especially single mothers, their children, and the elderly–see the little they have being taken from them in what astute economists describe as a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Our national policy discriminates against the strangers among us, those whose homelands have become unlivable. Even immigrants who are here legally have their social and economic needs denied.

We place no restrictions on late-term abortions, despite all the evidence that these procedures border on outright infanticide and inflict gruesome pain on their little victims.

We kill people convicted of capital crimes, the only country in the industrialized world which continues this barbaric practice.

We rank first in the production and sale of weapons to the countries of the world, even to poor countries, where better schools, health care and security for the neediest, not guns, are urgently wanted.

The examples go on and on.

The Gospel fairly shouts for people of faith to break our national consensus around these and so many other idolatries. Surely our imitation of Jesus and this Lenten walk with him must include a protest against out national sins. Even if our natural bent is not to speak out, not to object, not to disagree, this time of renewal is our opportunity. We have, fortunately, many brothers and sisters in the household of faith who have confronted the powers and principalities of this world. We only have to join one of these communities of resistance to find courage and companionship in continuing Jesus’s struggle with the demons of his time and ours.

* This reflection appeared in Lent 1997: Following Jesus on the Way to Calvary, published by Pax Christi USA.

OBITUARY: Farewell to Bix – Fr. Bill Bichsel, SJ, d. February 28, 2015

Nick Meleby Nick Mele, Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

[NOTE: Many in Pax Christi USA have been inspired by Fr. Bill Bichsel’s witness. We invite you to share stories or memories of Bix in the comments section of this story.]

A few months ago,  Fr. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ, traveled to a village on the island of Jeju in South Korea to stand in solidarity with villagers who have been resisting construction of a naval base there; base construction has already destroyed a unique ecological and geological area and has disrupted relationships throughout the village.  This past weekend, he died, several years later than a doctor had predicted. Bix never let his health stand in the way of his call to accompany oppressed people, minister to marginalized people and discomfort comfortable people.

Pax Christi Pacific Northwest icon Fr. Bill Bichsel protests at Jeju Island.

Fr. Bill Bichsel, SJ, center, protests at Jeju Island.

He is being eulogized across the Pacific Northwest and in the U.S. peace and justice community as a prophet, and he was a strong and powerful voice for peace and justice. Bix was also a sociable, funny, gentle soul and a friend to many. He led retreats for young people and ministered to homeless people on the streets of Tacoma in addition to his peace activism.  Bix encountered many people during his long, active life. He took part in protests, retreats, workshops and actions in many places and with various groups, including the the Catholic Worker Movement, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and Pax Christi.

Bix’s last journey to Korea was one of many. Some were short, perhaps over to Bangor, WA, to take part in civil resistance to nuclear weapons or to Joint Base Lewis-McChord just south of Tacoma for peace vigils. Others were long, to Japan, Korea, Fort Benning, Georgia. I first worked with Bix when he was planning a peace walk from Tacoma to the 2006 World Peace Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia. The walkers needed a place to spend the night in, a our town, the last stop before the US-Canadian border, and my wife was able to arrange for the walkers to spend the night on the grounds of our parish church. Bix was funny, energetic and altogether amazing in his commitment to nonviolence and to those suffering from injustice of any kind. He seemed indestructible.

 

BixA few years later, partly with Bix’s example in mind, a group of Pax Christi and JustFaith members organized a walk to Tacoma, a pilgrimage of about 140 miles to pray for justice for immigrants. Bix met us at the conclusion of our walk, at a Mass and dinner at St. Leo’s Church in Tacoma. Again, he was funny, supportive and knowledgeable—we talked, among other things, about nuclear abolition and his recent trip to Japan to apologize to the Japanese people for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before his trip to Korea last fall, Bix and I corresponded about what he would find there; in the course of our correspondence, I disagreed with him at one point. We could have both been unyielding, but instead we agreed our difference was insignificant beside the human tragedy that has been unfolding on Jeju and noted we were both working toward the same goal, the end of base construction and some justice for the villagers. It was my last encounter with Bix, and it was typical. He never lost sight of his goal, and he never used any tools but humor, humanity and nonviolence to achieve his goals.

To read Bix’s obituary in NCR, click here.

NEWS: Pax Christi USA endorses Spring Rising actions

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Pax Christi USA has endorsed Spring Rising: An Antiwar Intervention in D.C. March 18-21. Spring Rising is four days of creative resistance; theater, teach-ins; rallies and marches marking the anniversary of the United States’ “shock and awe” attack on Iraq and its invasion and occupation in a completely illegitimate, immoral war.  Together we will use this time to oppose the plans and calls for growing military intervention.

Click here for more information.

PAX CHRISTI INTERNATIONAL: March 2015 newsletter now online with info on the Peace Award recipient

pcibethThe March 2015 Pax Christi International Newsletter is now out and available! Included in the newsletter is information on the recipient of this year’s Peace Award. And don’t forget about the Pax Christi International 70th Anniversary World Assembly, “Pilgrims on the Path to Peace.” All are invited to attend the celebrations, taking place in Bethlehem, on 13 – 17 May 2015. Bethlehem was chosen as a symbol of Pax Christi’s commitment to peace and reconciliation. The event is open to all Pax Christi members, partner organisations, local and international peacemakers, as well as interested individuals sympathetic with the Pax Christi movement.

Click here for more from the Pax Christi International newsletter.

LENT 2015: Lent isn’t just about fast and abstinence and penance

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

I’m sure that all of us are aware that since last Wednesday, we have begun a new season in the church’s year. We had been celebrating what we call the ordinary Sundays of the year, and had completed six weeks. But now there’s this break, and we have a new season beginning, and most of us think of it as the 40 days of Lent. But actually, it’s 90 days, this season, not just 40.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos AiresBut it isn’t all [about] fast and abstinence and penance. In fact, the most important part is what happens after the 40 days, at Easter, when Jesus is raised from the dead and then shares with us his new life. And then it goes on for seven weeks as we prepare for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And so really, this season now is the season of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

And so as we enter into the season, I think it’s very important not just to think of it as this time of penance. That’s very important, but that’s only a means to an end. See, what’s really important, and what we’re preparing for, is a renewal of our baptism. Maybe some of you noticed when you came into church and dipped your hand in the baptismal font in the back, there’s no water there; it’s dry. See, we’re preparing now to bless new water at Easter, the new water that gives us the life of Christ….

To read this entire article, click here.

REFLECTION: The Front Page Rule

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

After a week here in FMC Lexington Satellite camp, a federal prison in Kentucky, I started catching up on national and international news via back issues of USA Today available in the prison library, and an “In Brief” item, on p. 2A of the Jan. 30 weekend edition, caught my eye. It briefly described a protest in Washington, D.C., in which members of the antiwar group “Code Pink” interrupted a U.S. Senate Armed Services budget hearing chaired by Senator John McCain. The protesters approached a witness table where Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and George Schulz were seated. One of their signs called Henry Kissinger a war criminal. “McCain,” the article continued, “blurted out, ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum.'”

At mail call, a week ago, I received Richard Clarke’s novel, The Sting of the Drone, (May 2014, St. Martin’s Press), about characters involved in developing and launching drone attacks. I’m in prison for protesting drone warfare, so a kind friend ordered it for me. The author, a former “National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism,” worked for 30 years inside the U.S. government but seems to have greater respect than some within government for concerned people outside of it. He seems also to feel some respect for people outside our borders.

Photo credit: C-Span

Photo credit: C-Span

He develops, I think, a fair-minded approach toward evaluating drone warfare given his acceptance that wars and assassinations are sometimes necessary. (I don’t share that premise). Several characters in the novel, including members of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticize drone warfare, noting that in spite of high level, expensive reconnaissance, drone attacks still kill civilians, alienating people the U.S. ostensibly wants to turn away from terrorism.

Elsewhere in the plot, U.S. citizens face acute questions after they themselves witness remote control attacks on colleagues. Standing outside a Las Vegas home engulfed in flames, and frustrated by his inability to protect or save a colleague and his family, one main character ruefully identifies with people experiencing the same rage and grief, in faraway lands like Afghanistan and Pakistan, when they are struck by Predator drones that he operates every day. U.S. characters courageously grapple with more nuanced answers to questions such as, “Who are the terrorists?” and “Who are the murderers?” As the plot accelerates toward a potential terrorist attack against railway systems in U.S. cities, with growing suspicion that the attacks are planned for Christmas Day, Clarke builds awareness that those who launch cyber-attacks and drone attacks, no matter which side claims their loyalty, passionately believe their attacks will protect people on their own side.

When U.S. media and U.S. government officials ask, “who are the murderers,” the default answer is enemy soldiers. I’m reminded of Senator McCain’s own response to a 2012 prisoner exchange of five Afghan militants, where he was alleged to have exclaimed, “They’re the five biggest murderers in world history! They killed Americans!”

It brings home a core fact about drones: that you can’t surrender to a drone. Enemy soldiers, and people merely suspected of being, or intending to become, enemy soldiers, are killed at home gardening, or eating dinner with their families. At the military base where I was arrested, soldiers drive home every evening from piloting drones in lethal sorties over Afghanistan, Iraq, and presumably a sizable list of other countries less well known to the U.S. public. With no overwhelming zeal to kill civilians, they assist the U.S. in killing many more civilians each year than Al Quaeda and ISIS can collectively dream of doing, in the course of advancing U.S. interests over a whole world region U.S. drones render into one large battlefield. No thinking person would wish that same logic to be visited on these soldiers returning home from daily battle, although Clarke’s novel chillingly imagines the U.S.’ own technology and rules of engagement turned against it. It’s a warning we’re too prone to ignore.

In Clarke’s novel, the U.S. drone operators and intelligence officials are smart, efficient, generally honest, caring and often funny. Romance and occasional flings color their lives. The two masterminds of the enemy plot in contrast, are more mysterious. Readers learn almost nothing about their personal lives, although it’s clear that they don’t expect to live much longer. They, too show remarkable expertise exploring high-tech ways to achieve goals. They, too, are clever and terrifyingly competent; personal loss and deeply felt grievances motivate them; like their counterparts, they’ve moved into high positions with increasing wealth and perks. But, unlike the U.S. characters, they express no remorse or second thoughts about killing their targets and strategizing for a major attack.

The fact remains that if we didn’t see enemy soldiers as “murdering terrorists” lacking the human emotions and rights of our own troops, and enemy civilians as “collateral damage” whose deaths are automatically the fault of all who resist us, then there couldn’t be a drone program. There wouldn’t be a technology for eliminating human threats and human obstacles conveniently, cheaply, and instantly from the skies. We would no longer be killing militants and suspected militants unquestioned, too often at the first hint that they might pose a risk to us.

The “means-ends” question intensifies as both sides demonstrate increasingly high-tech ways to thwart and attack each other. One intelligence officer asks how his superior manages to draw the line between what is acceptable and what would be out of bounds when he issues orders that will “take out” presumed enemies.

“It used to be the ‘Front Page Rule,'” the higher official responds. “Assume it will be on the front page of the Post someday and only do it if you could stand that level of exposure. But it’s amazing what has been on the front page without any real consequences: torture, illegal wiretaps, black sites. No one goes to jail. No one gets fired. So I don’t know anymore.”

When Clarke invokes the “Front Page Rule, it seems to be his acknowledgement that peace protesters like those of Code Pink play a valuable role informing public opinion. Believing that the means you use determines the end you get, they hold out for alternatives to war and killing. Far from being low-life scum, they have distinguished themselves in fields of diplomacy, research, journalism, law and education. More than this, they are distinguishing themselves in service to the victims of war.

I hope that someday Senator McCain will gain the insight to repent of insulting them, just as one of the witnesses that day, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, may now regret having exalted the “indispensable” U.S. nation’s right to lead in using force, having sinceadmitted, “We have been talking about our exceptionalism during the recent eight years. Now, an average American wants to stay at home – they do not need any overseas adventures. We do not need new enemies.”

Militarists trust in weapon strength. Still, though perennially disregarded, another option is readily available, offering much greater safety and letting us insist without self-deception on the respect for life that we invoke in defense of our nation’s drone strategy and its war on terror. It’s the option of treating other people fairly and justly, of trying to share resources equitably, even that precious resource of safety; of trying to see the humanity of our so-called enemies and of seeing ourselves as we’re seen by them.

Clarke’s story moves toward a suspenseful conclusion at the height of the Christmas season, ironically moving toward a day traditionally set aside to herald a newborn as the Prince of Peace.

As drone warfare proliferates, as the stings of the drone become more lethal and terrifying, the peace activists hold a newsworthy message. I’m glad Code Pink members continually interrupt high level hearings. I hope their essential questioning will plant seeds that germinate, take root and gather underground strength.

This article first appeared on Telesur.  

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (info@vcnv.org), is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.

LENT 2015: Reflection for the second Sunday of Lent, Mar. 1

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by Joyce Hollyday

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 | Romans 8:31-34 | Mark 9:2-10

Transfiguration-icon-englishJesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them… Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three booths:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”. (Mark 9:2, 4-5)

The chapel was quiet, its lights dim. A small wooden altar held a flickering candle and a vial of rose oil. We sat in a circle, close to one another, a the foot of a large crucifix.

Sojourners Community was away on a weekend retreat after a time of brokenness in our life together. That Friday evening last fall, we experienced a time of deep healing. After each of us shared the pain in our hearts, we moved even closer, placing hands on the one who had just spoken, voicing prayers for mercy and comfort, embracing the tears.

A member of the community moved forward after each offering of intercessions, to each of us by turn. Taking our hands into her own, she anointed our palms with oil in the sign of the cross. Voicing our name, she tenderly proclaimed, “We anoint you healer, and healed; one with Christ; together in this community, the body of Christ.”

The sharing went on past midnight, with no signs of fatigue among us. We touched the presence of Christ in that room. And the embrace of the Holy Spirit, the one named Comforter, was palpable.

Unity in community often feels elusive, and that had been particularly true at Sojourners in the month preceding our retreat. The next day some of us expressed only tentative hope that the deep bonds we experienced would hold past the high emotions of the weekend.

Gordon Cosby, pastor of the Church of the Savior and a close friend of the community, listened to us speak to one another. He responded to our fears about our unity lasting: “You have to trust that the same power that produced it will be there for the next moment, and the next moment, and the next.” And he added, “The indwelling of the Spirit is not fragile; human beings are fragile.”

He reminded us of this biblical account of Peter going up to the mountain top with Jesus, where Moses and Elijah appeared. Peter wanted to build three booths, one for each of them, “to hang around for a long time and capture the moment,” according to Gordon. But, of course, Peter’s response missed the point.

We are sometimes just like Peter, wanting to capture the “mountain top experiences,” wanting to cling to the emotional moments, to enshrine and worship Jesus in all his dazzling glory. But Jesus didn’t stay there resplendent on the mountain long.

He went back to the streets, back to the poor and the sick and the lame. And he told us that whatever we do to the ones considered least in the eyes of the world, we do to him. Our very salvation, according to Matthew 25, is at stake in how we respond to the cries of the suffering ones in the world.

In inner-city Washington, D.C., just a mile and a half from the White House, 300 people line up at the Sojourners Neighborhood Center every Saturday morning. And every Saturday morning 66 year-old Mary Glover offers this prayer: “We know, Lord, that you’re coming through this line today, so help us to treat you right.”

Jesus does not ask that we build him a booth to enshrine him. He asks only that we turn our hearts to the poor and treat him right — and love those with whom we share life in the same way that we are loved by him. Then we will indeed dwell in the unity of the Spirit.

For reflection: 

  • What in yourself is broken and needs healing? Imagine yourself sharing that hurt with another person. How can you make this happen?
  • Have you ever been transformed by the poor? When? What effect did it have?
  • Do you fear for the unity in your family, parish, religious community? Write this note to yourself and post it: “The indwelling of the Spirit is not fragile; human beings are fragile.”
  • Imagine three things that would change immediately if your family/community decided on a preferential option for the poor. What would change if the church in the U.S. chose the same option?

* This reflection appeared in Desert Sojourn: Lent 1991, published by Pax Christi USA in 1991.