by Jack Gilroy
Harry Bury is a Catholic priest who knows peacemaking is not passive. When John Lennon and Yoko Ono were writing “Imagine,” the visionary song that swept the world in 1971, Fr. Bury was chaining himself to the United States Embassy fence in Saigon. At that time, Vietnamese people and villages were being destroyed by American search and destroy missions and ripped apart by gun fire, houses torched, bodies burned by napalm as American Air Force Generals bragged that our planes were bombing North Vietnam back to the Stone Age.
Bury, like fellow Catholic priests, Phil and Dan Berrigan, helped give vision to Catholics and other Christians who were subjected to either clergy silence or outright support for the American killing machine. In fact, the most visible Catholic leader, Francis Cardinal Spellman, made trips to Vietnam not as protest but in praise for our actions as he shook holy water on guns, planes and troops.
In his book, An Invitation to Think and Feel Differently in the New Millennium, Bury lays out four assumptions for people to consider on the path to a better world: 1) We assume we are in the process of learning the truth but never do. Since we don’t have an absolute certainty about anything, nobody is right and nobody is wrong. 2) We visualize what we want. Nobody wants problems, so we can create a world full of meaning and free of problems. 3) We are one if we picture ourselves as one. 4) We consciously assume we are good and intend to do good. Consequently, there are no bad-intentioned people in the world.
Some might say Fr. Bury is naive. Readers can think and feel this about his seemingly utopian thesis but he gives specifics for the reader to contemplate. Fr. Bury truly is a contemplative soul and his spirituality is exciting. Bury does not confine his thinking to geographic borders, religions, or ethnicity but to one human race.
Throughout the years, Bury’s vision of justice was not blurred by strict obedience to Church hierarchy. The Archdiocese of Minneapolis worked to get Fr. Bury to turn his energies to academia. Bury took up the offer, studied and obtained a Ph.D in Organizational Behavior. Bury’s greatest legacy may be the college students he taught and sent out in to the world over the years with his ideas about getting people to think and feel differently about a more just world.
Each chapter of the New Millennium engages the reader with challenges. Bury’s book would make an excellent guide for college or high school students. He emphasizes there are no correct or wrong answers and challenges readers to research, think, discuss, debate and then come together in a “common good” consensus.
Six chapters outline how world culture is evolving from Pre-Modern to Modern (our culture in transition) to the New Millennium. He negates the emphasis Modern Culture gives to competition. To Bury, cooperation is the name of the game. He explains that goals are best arrived at without bitterness and hostility. That seems like a message to our divided nation and world.
Fr. Bury gets contemplative when he envisions change in the transition from Modern to New Millennium culture. He believes God is reappearing after being smothered by science. Bury loves science but finds it no longer alone on a throne but sharing the space with spirituality, ethics and diversity. He believes bringing in all of these aspects will help people understand that everyone is acting in their perceived best interests. Although evil does occur, no one sets out to do evil. He says the more we learn to love ourselves, the more we are able to love others and realize that we are all one. God may want us to connect but we can’t do it ourselves; we need to connect to community.
Fr. Bury has no secret remedy to bring justice to the world but he gives away his Christ-centered focus with the very last sentence of his book: “We devote our very lives to contemplation and action, which are the essence of spirituality in the New Millennium Story.”
Jack Gilroy is a playwright and author and member of Pax Christi Upstate New York.