cornellby Tom Cornell

[NOTE: The following was delivered as the homily at Pax Christi Hudson Valley’s Mass for Peace at St. Augustine Church in Highland, N.Y. on March 16. The readings for the day were Is 2, 1-5, Ps 72, Jas 3, 1-2. 4, 18.}

Thank you, Fr. Tom (Lutz), thank you for hosting this Pax Christi Mass for Peace here at Saint Augustine’s, our grandchildren’s parish.  It’s a special pleasure for me to be with Fr. Tom again at the altar.  You may not know that Fr. Lutz took over at St. Mary’s in Marlboro when Msgr. Dugan was dying, and walked into a hornets’ nest.  The hornets were after me.  Fr. Tom stood up to them.  And thank you, Madeleine Labriola and all Pax Christi members who make this Mass for Peace happen every year.

The readings today are so familiar I hardly need dwell upon them, Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Era when swords will be turned into ploughshares and all the nations will climb Zion’s holy mountain to learn the ways of peace and justice, and they shall study war no more.  This vision is an essential of our Faith.  We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth….”  It will not be fulfilled by anyone other than Jesus himself when he comes again on the Last Day.  But we have a part to play.  We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and we are baptized into his mission as well. The Kingdom of God is then and there, but it is also here and now, because he said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17, 21). The Greek (entos uymon) can also be translated, “The kingdom is in your midst.”

We saw an in-breaking of the Kingdom last Wednesday when tens of thousands of people crammed into St. Peter’s Square on a cold rainy night.  The whole world was watching, and that in itself is proof that the moral leader of the Christian world is the Bishop of Rome.  Even non-believers look to Rome and hope for a word that will lead us out of the morass we are in, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the spread of fanaticism, a hardening of hearts against the most vulnerable, the poor, the aged and the sick and the yet-to-be-born.  And on top of that, the threat to the biosphere itself.

There is a sense, all over the world, that a page in the book of history is turning.  A new Pope, a new day, we pray, a new burst of faith and hope.  God is good.  God is love.  God has care of us.  It is fifty years since the Council that was supposed to renew the Church.  Fifty years and we are still waiting.  It takes time.  I have the feeling that this is the time.  Things are changing.  Fifty years ago the Council Fathers urged us to look upon war and peace with a totally new attitude, a totally new attitude.  You here today, you of Pax Christi, are proof that it’s happening.  We are called a little closer to Christ.  If the New Testament teaches us anything about Jesus of Nazareth it is that he was nonviolent, a man of peace.  

We fail in so many ways.  But especially at this season of Lent we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start over again, because we have the freedom to turn away from God in sin. There will be a reckoning.  We condemn ourselves when we turn away.  Let this time of penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving heal and cleanse us to receive the Risen Lord at Easter!

Dorothy DaySomething else is in the news these days, and it too points the way out of the mess we are in, and that is the Cause of our own Dorothy Day for canonization as a saint!  Cardinal Dolan asked the assembly of all our bishops in Baltimore last January to approve her Cause so that it can move forward in the Vatican.  He got it, unanimous endorsement!  St. Dorothy of New York!  Imagine!  She was our match-maker, Monica’s and mine.  We have spent our lives in her Catholic Worker movement, and we now manage the Catholic Worker Farm behind the cemetery on Lattintown Road.  Her message was peace, simplicity, poverty and community, like Pope Francis’.  A template for survival, I dare say.

Monica and I were on a lecture tour in Rome in 1998 when we were told that Cardinal Stafford wanted to see us.  He was the highest ranking American in Rome at that time, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.  Of course we were glad to oblige.  We had no idea what was on his mind, why he wanted to see us.  The Cardinal asked us about the current state of the Catholic Worker movement.  We were happy to tell the Cardinal that the Catholic Worker is in good shape, authentically Catholic.  We traded stories in a very relaxed and friendly, informal way.  We didn’t know that Cardinal Stafford had to approve Dorothy’s Cause before it could go forward, and then Cardinal Ratzinger too!  

Cardinal Dolan told the bishops, as had Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Egan before him, that Dorothy Day should be held up as an example of authentic Christian discipleship for our time and place.  That’s what canonization is for; it’s not to honor a person: a model of authentic Christian discipleship for our time and place.  Then, last Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict himself spoke of Dorothy and her devotion to the service of the poor in his sermon.  But there is more to Dorothy Day than that.  Lots of saints have served the poor.  Dorothy was different, different in a way that speaks to our time and our country.  She was not content to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless.  She asked:  Why are they hungry?  Why are they homeless?  Why in a country that prides itself on its wealth are there so many poor and why are they so poor and for so long, over generations?  And why are the poor cannon-fodder?  Is there a connection between an unsustainable life-style and the wars that we have been in almost without ceasing since 1950?  Is there a connection?  Pope Benedict seems to think so.  In his World Peace Day he condemned the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for usury, yes!  Usury!  He cited unregulated capitalism as a threat to world peace and a cause of war, as did Dorothy Day all her life long. 

Dorothy Day was arrested and jailed seven times for peace and for workers’ rights in nonviolent civil disobedience against war and preparation for war, the last time when she was 75 years old, for the United Farm Workers, in California, in support of a strikers’ picket line.  She served then two weeks in the county jail, a vacation, she said.  A jail-bird held up as a model of authentic Christian discipleship for our time and place?  Yes!  In past times the Church had to teach rude, uneducated barbarians how to live together in obedience to lawful authority.  Today we have to learn and teach when and how to disobey illegitimate authority in conscientious objection, non-cooperation and active nonviolent resistance. To obey God rather than men.  Dorothy Day will be the patron saint of all that!

The Gospel calls us to practice the works of mercy.  Dorothy pointed out, over and over again, that the works of war are the exact opposite of the works of mercy, both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty?  No!  Poison their fields and their wells!  Shelter the homeless?  No!  Bomb their cities!  Visit the prisoner?  No!  Put non-conformists in jail.  (J. Edgar Hoover asked Franklin Roosevelt to put Dorothy Day in prison three times!  He didn’t!) 

And how about the spiritual works of mercy?  Again, the exact opposite of the works of war.  Instruct the ignorant?  No!  Lie to them.  The truth is always the first casualty of war.  Counsel the doubtful?  No!  Threaten them with prison!  Draft them!  Console the mourning?  No!  Give them more to mourn about!  Forgive injuries?  No!  Make them pay ten times over!

Dorothy Day of New York, our own saint, if she is canonized, and it looks better and better, Saint Dorothy Day of New York.  Learn more about her, you young people especially.  Read the new biography of Dorothy by Jim Forest, All Is Grace.  Cardinal Dolan bought 155 copies, and he gave one to Pope Benedict!    Or just ask Monica or me. 

Tom Cornell is a former editor of the Catholic Worker and a deacon. 

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