by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
It would be a glaring oversight not to mention Santa Fe’s Archbishop, John Wester, and his remarkable Pastoral Letter “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament”. At the same time there is little one can add to what has already been said about it. Therefore, just a warm thank you to Archbishop Wester for your prophetic words spoken as a true pastor. This is the kind of leadership all Catholics expect of our hierarchy.
Last week’s Washington Post highlighted an interview with Father Pat Conroy, who retired as Chaplain to the House of Representatives after ten years in that ministry. Coincidentally, Fr. Conroy left the chaplaincy on January 3, 2021 – three days before the violent attack on Congress.
He has had ample time to reflect on that horrendous event and expressed several important thoughts about the changes that led up to it as well as the state of the Congress and nation today. Conroy used the phrase “apocalyptic thought” to describe what has been happening – strong language that implies total destruction. He sees this kind of “end time” thinking being poured into public discourse and the fear it engenders. He goes on to say: “There are a lot of people banking on Americans continuing to be filled with fears. Politically they’re banking on it, economically they’re banking on it, it sells newspapers, it gets viewers – they’re all negative energy and they don’t build toward a positive future…This dark spirit would have us live in fear.”
Serious observations at this moment in our nation’s history – indeed in the history of humankind. We know how devastating it is for persons to allow themselves to be driven by fear. It paralyzes and easily turns to violent words and actions when a person in its grip imagines a threat to personal security. It blocks the possibility of rational dialogue. It brings about hardened positions that are virtually impossible to penetrate.
How much more dangerous, then, is apocalyptic fear when it grips large segments of a nation. Yet it is apparent that its influence is present in the places pointed to by Father Conroy: media (with its sensationalist 24/7 new cycles); politics, where rival parties and candidates demonize each other; economics, where personal security overrides rational debate.
In the past few years, the U.S. has lived through a tragic example of generalized fear. A candidate for the presidency stirred up irrational fears that “our way of life” was seriously endangered – and won. One consequence of this lie was the January 6th attack on Congress. The stark pictures of thousands of U.S. citizens attempting by excessive violence to thwart the results of a fair national election were vivid examples of the lengths to which fear will drive people.
Christians have a vital role to play in tamping down this “culture of fear”. We follow an ethic that holds “fear is useless”. We are disciples of Him who urged those around him, “do not fear”. One could even say that Christ’s underlying message was a constant call to overcome fear and trust in God.
Clearly what Jesus insisted on is not easy. Every human being has fears – rational and irrational. Overcoming them so that they don’t become toxic demands solid faith and a strong will. In God’s Providence, despite the apocalyptic climate in our country, there are healthy movements endeavoring to push back this dark spirit: anti-racism efforts, LGBTQ efforts for equality, immigration reforms, nonviolent solutions to conflict and efforts to save our common home. And there is Pax Christi!
Returning to Archbishop Wester’s pastoral letter: large sectors of U.S. society will reject the idea of ending reliance on nuclear weapons. Yet in his calm pastoral way, the Archbishop is calling on the United States to overcome its fear, eliminate these diabolical weapons and lead the way to a nuclear-free world.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.