REFLECTION: Humanity deserves dark skies and starry nights

Joan Chittister, osbby Joan Chittister, osb
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here’s one for you. Who said it?

“Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”

Copy-of-ED-w-Banner-lg-with-2014No, this was not said by some enthusiastic young activist on a foray into the world of contemporary ecology. On the contrary, it was said by Teddy Roosevelt, the great conservation president, in 1901.

The subject clearly is not a new one; however, we have ignored it over the years.

Roosevelt, a genuine outdoorsman himself, was in the process of setting aside over 2 million acres of land to preserve the forests and natural value of this country in an era easily as rapacious as ours…

Click here to read the entire article.

NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT: Pax Christi USA signs onto letter to the President asking for increase in non-proliferation programs


Pax Christi USA has signed onto a letter that was delivered to the White House last Friday asking for an increase of programs for non-proliferation. The letter was circulated by the Council for a Livable World. Here is the letter:

Dear President Obama,

We write to express our serious concern about the FY 2015 budget request for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs. These cuts are difficult to understand since the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists remains high.

In your closing remarks last month at that the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, you rightly stated that despite the progress made over the past four years, “it is important for us not to relax, but rather accelerate our efforts…[and] sustain momentum.” The FY 2015 budget request is out of sync with these objectives.

We urge you to work with Congress to significantly increase funding for core nuclear security activities during the FY 2015 authorization and appropriations process.

We applaud your leadership in spearheading an accelerated international effort to enhance the security of nuclear and radiological materials. Significant progress has been made safeguarding nuclear materials and through the nuclear security summit process. Thirteen countries eliminated all the highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium on their soil. All of the locations in non-nuclear-weapon states where there was enough high-quality HEU for the simplest type of terrorist nuclear bomb were either eliminated or had significant security improvements.

Despite these noteworthy achievements, significant work remains to be done. There are still hundreds of sites spread across 30 countries that have weapons-usable nuclear material. Over 120 research and isotope production reactors around the world still use HEU for fuel or targets. Many of these locations have very modest or insufficient security measures.

The FY 2015 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reduces funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Materials Protection Program (IMPC) by 25% and 27%, respectively. This is the third year in a row of budget cuts to these core nonproliferation programs. The fiscal 2015 request is nearly $1 billion less for GTRI and the IMPC programs than the funding level projected by your administration three years ago. In addition, the request for the Pentagon slashes funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR) by 27%.

Reducing funding for these programs increases the amount of time it will take to secure or eliminate dangerous materials that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear explosive device or a dirty bomb.

For example, the NNSA request delays the goal of converting or shutting down a total of 200 research reactors that still use HEU by an additional five years to 2035. The previous end date to secure 8,500 buildings with radioactive material has already been delayed to 2044 and now may be further postponed. The construction of fixed site radiation detectors under the second line of defense program will be reduced from 25 to 15 and work in the Middle East and Africa is not moving forward. Programs to improve the nuclear accounting, control, and security culture in Russia are reduced “to fund other NNSA priorities.” Other previously planned work in the removal of nuclear and radiological material will be “deferred to future years.”

In testimony before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee in April, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz expressed his “disappointment” with the cuts to nonproliferation and attributed them to the tough budget environment and the decision to prioritize NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs.

We understand that the budget environment is difficult. We also understand that some major projects funded in previous years have been completed. Moreover, Moscow’s unwillingness to renew the old CTR umbrella agreement has reduced the amount of work we can do in Russia.

However, the FY 2015 budget request signals a major retreat in the effort to secure nuclear and radiological materials. Nonproliferation programs must be a top priority and their work is too important to be a bill payer for other activities.

We encourage you to work with Congress to ensure that these programs have the resources they need to secure nuclear and radiological materials as quickly as possible.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Easter Sunday

by Joan Chittister, osb

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Colossians 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

The Women at the Tomb, by Sr. Mary Stephens CRSS

The Women at the Tomb, by Sr. Mary Stephens CRSS,

Interesting. The day starts and ends at the tomb. No flash of light. No announcement. Simply the awareness that what has been is gone. Mary Magdalene, in the dark, notes that the stone has been moved. John, at the door, notes that the wrappings have been left behind. Peter, in the burial place, pronounces it empty of the Christ whose burial clothes have been left behind. And they are left to tell the others.

That’s about all the sight of Resurrection that anyone ever really gets, come to think of it. Darkness and an empty tomb. The notion that what has been taken is clearly alive. A burning memory and an unfinished truth. Even today, then, the Easter message to all of us is still the same as it was to Mary Magdalene and to Peter and to John. If the glory of God is to be revealed, then it is up to us to say so and to prove it by our beliefs.

The world is still in darkness and the wrapping clothes have been left behind for us to sort and show in our own lives the powerful presence of His. We must all, at the end of this Lent, live our lives now so that God is not put to the test, so that all the communities of he earth can find blessing in us, so that the expectation of the in-breaking of the spirit of Jesus is possible, so that Jesus can heal us of our own blindness, so that the dead of this world can be brought back to life, so that the Truth is made disarmingly clear in us, that the glory of God is revealed today. Alleluia.

This reflection was written by Joan Chittister, osb in the Lenten reflection booklet for 1987, The Glory of God Revealed: A Lenten Journal for Peacemakers.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Holy Saturday

by Jean Stokan and Scott Wright

Click here for the readings at the Easter Vigil

We could imagine that, for the disciples, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion must have been one of excruciating grief, overwhelming fear, and utter confusion about what lay ahead. For us, however, Holy Saturday is a time of quiet anticipation, for we know that the stone is about to crack. We know that Christ rose and hope returned. We know that death did not have the last word!


Our reflections this Lent have been about living as resurrected beings in the midst of the world’s crosses. Our relationship to the crucified of our day — those carrying crosses of illness or exclusion or those living under the crushing impact of poverty, violence, racism or war — has been one of positioning ourselves at the foot of the cross. Not unlike when we genuflect to venerate the cross on Good Friday and kiss the caked blood on Jesus’ wounds, something happens when we draw close to the pain of others. Our hearts break. Our tears fall. They fall, however, into the chalice that Jesus holds out to catch the blood and tears of all who suffer. In that mingling, and with the kiss of his love on our human suffering, something in our hearts is transformed. At the foot of the cross, gestures of love may be all we have left to share. Maybe it’s everything.

Before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote of her time in Westerbork, preparing people to board the trains for the death camps. While looking into the eyes of mothers whose children were being ripped from their arms and witnessing daily encounters with horror, she resigned herself to live through her moment of history with courage, relying on prayer and love:

From four to nine I dragged screaming children around and carried luggage for exhausted women. It was heart-rending. … The morning transport is ready … large empty cattle cars. … An old woman asked me helplessly, “Could you tell me, please could you tell me, why we Jews have to suffer so much?” I couldn’t answer. … In a few hours you can accumulate enough gloom here to last a lifetime. There are babies with pneumonia lying in the freight cars. … This morning I had a brief talk with a woman who had told me her latest experiences in three minutes. How much can you really tell in a few minutes? When we came to a door and I wasn’t allowed to go any farther, she embraced me and said, “Thank you for being such a help.”

Etty sought to “love everyone with all the tenderness possible.” She sustained herself by reading poetry and searching for slivers of nature amidst the crosses. She literally fell to her knees if she encountered a patch of flowers. She did everything she could to bring cheer to another on the cross, to love up until the end. Before getting on the transit for her own trip to the death camp, she gave her diary to a friend. Later, a letter dropped from a slit in the wooden planks of the train. Found by a farmer, her epilogue told people that “we left the camp singing.”

On Holy Saturday, our position changes. Instead of weeping alone at the foot of the cross, we turn to sit in front of the stone, together as community, facing the stone expectantly. The sliver is about to crack

This reflection was written by Jean Stokan and Scott Wright in the Lenten reflection booklet for 2010, Living as Resurrected Beings in the Midst of the World’s Crosses: Reflections for Lent 2010.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Good Friday

by M. Shawn Copeland

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 | Hebrews 4:14-16 | John 18:1-19:42

Let us kneel in love and thanksgiving … for the wondrous love of God

Today, the suffering, violence and brutality that we human beings inflict on one another are caught up in the memorial of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. God in human flesh embraces his fate and takes up the cross for love of us.

Enslaved Africans in the United States knew in their flesh what it meant to suffer. They never mitigated the horror, but they recognized their own suffering in Jesus’ torture and death. Forbidden by law and custom to learn to read and write, these humble women and men listened with open hearts and keen ears to the sermons that treated the passion and death of Jesus. Their oppression gave them an epistemological privilege — they understood his vulnerability and pain, they grasped his love. They took comfort from his loving solidarity and, in return, sought to comfort him. They poured out their love in songs and moans that transcended the boundaries of time and space. As Jesus stood with them in their sufferings, they would stand with Jesus in his.


Here is one of the most famous of these great songs of sorrow:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they pierced Him in the side?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

In this spiritual, the enslaved people comment on each act in the crucifixion of Jesus and name its effects in the natural world (the sun refused to shine), and in the heart and body of the believer (it causes me to tremble). Through the repeated inquiry, “Were you there?”, they invite each of us to stand at Golgotha, to admit our collusion in its evil. John Lovell, the foremost historian of the Negro or African-American spiritual, writes that in these lyrics, the makers of the spiritual show us a grave and “great wrong [being] committed under the eyes of frightened or uncaring people.” The crucifixion of this innocent man is an offense against the whole of humanity. We all share in the guilt, “not so much for what we do, as what we allow to happen.”

On this Good Friday, let us kneel before the broken, crucified body of Jesus. Let us kneel before the disappeared and murdered bodies of thousands of peasants, workers, vowed religious sisters and brothers, ministers and priests in Latin America; the raped and abused bodies of young boys and girls and women who have survived sexual assault by clergy and church workers; the torn bodies of prostitutes forced to trade themselves for survival; the rejected bodies of gays and lesbians; the swollen bodies of children dying in hunger; the scarred and bruised bodies of women, men and children suffering with AIDS; the despised bodies of red and brown and black and yellow women and men. To kneel before these bodies is a first step in grasping our collusion in their suffering and death; it is a first step in grasping the absolute gratuitous love of the crucified Jesus. Let us kneel in love and thanksgiving for the wondrous love of God.

* Quotations from Black Song: The Forge and the Flame – How the Afro-American Spiritual Was Hammered Out, by John Lovell, 1972.

This reflection was written by M. Shawn Copeland for the Pax Christi USA Lenten reflection booklet for 2003, To Live the Passion and Compassion of Jesus: Reflections for Lent 2003.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Holy Thursday

by Dave Robinson

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-15

The readings for today all speak to recognition, to identity at the deepest levels. The identity of Jesus as the Christ, as God among us, renders the foot-washing that much more powerful an image. The Christ kneels before us to wash our feet and calls us to do the same for each other in order that we live out our identity as disciples of Christ.

feetwashingSo too with the Last Supper. Our identity as Christians is proclaimed by Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Knowing who we are is necessarily bound up with knowing what we are called to do. How we are is part and parcel of who we are. “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do.” Jesus’ ministry has been an ongoing succession of teachings and actions that together give us a picture of authentic discipleship. When followed, they lead us to our true identity and away from the lies and false idolatries that distort who we truly are.

  • How do we follow this Christ in our daily lives?
  • Whose feet are we called to wash?
  • In whose service must we humbly place ourselves in order to fully proclaim our identity as disciples of the nonviolent Jesus?
  • Where in your life is God inviting you to let go of your need to control and protect in order to embrace the freedom of the resurrection?

This reflection was written by Dave Robinson in the Lenten reflection booklet for 2005, Into Your Hands: Reflections for Lent 2005.

TAKE ACTION: Call on Congress to support a shared Jerusalem, where the rights of all are respected

from the Third Thursday for Israel/Palestine campaign

Holy Week brings pilgrims from all over the world to Jerusalem, yet Christians who live just next door to the city must get permits to worship there and may be denied entry altogether.  Palestinian Christians are raising awareness about this and other issues through their April 7 “Kairos Palestine Easter Alert,”  which focuses on the deep impact of the Israeli occupation on every aspect of life in Jerusalem.

Besides being a place of pilgrimage, Jerusalem is home to over 800,000 residents, 62% of whom are Jewish, 35% Muslim, and about 2% Christian.    Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, having unilaterally annexed the eastern portions of the city following the 1967 war in a move not recognized by the international community, including the United States.  However, even as the final status of Jerusalem remains officially undetermined–awaiting a negotiated peace agreement– the facts on the ground continue to change in such a way that Palestinians are increasingly deprived of basic human rights.

Take a step for peace today:  Contact your elected officials and ask them to support a shared Jerusalem where the rights of all are respected.  Ask them to insist on a halt to home and property demolitions, an end to settlement expansion, fair residency laws, and freedom of movement for education, worship and all aspects of daily life.

Click here for the entire action alert and backgrounder.