Nancy Small

Nancy Small, Ambassador of Peace and former national coordinator, offered the following reflection during the September 22 online Pax Mass, which focused on the Bread Not Stones campaign.

As we gather this evening in the light and love of this beloved community, I begin with a question that Jesus posed long ago. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” The answer to Jesus’ question seems obvious. When a child asks for bread, who would be so cruel and callous as to give the child a stone? 

The answer? Us. The U.S., that is, and its misguided national budget priorities. The cruel and callous behavior Jesus pointed out comes at the hands of a national budget that pours hundreds of billions of dollars into stones in the form of an immoral and insane national military budget. And because so much is given to military power, a myriad of social needs are left unfunded or underfunded.

Over 20 years ago, Pax Christi USA decided to put the words of Jesus into action as it embarked upon its first Bread Not Stones campaign to educate and advocate for national priorities that redirect military spending to fund pressing human needs. Throughout the nation Pax Christi members rose up with a powerful message about choosing bread for the crying and compelling needs of our nation over stones of military might. 

At that time, the defense budget approved by Congress was $272 billion for fiscal year 1999. We believed it was morally indefensible for our government to spend that much money on the military while ignoring a wide array of human needs. Since then, U.S. military spending has skyrocketed to unimaginable levels. In April 2022, Congress approved a defense budget of over $800 billion, $37 billion more than President Biden requested. 

U.S. military spending is now greater than the defense spending of the next nine nations combined. Today we face monumental social challenges, highlighted by a worldwide pandemic, racial oppression, economic injustice, and the climate crisis. It is abundantly clear that investing in militarism neither keeps us safe nor promises the peace our communities long for.

Earlier this year Pax Christi embarked upon a new Bread Not Stones campaign, amplifying the cry of Jesus to choose the bread of life and liberation over stones of war, violence and oppression. In this week of action Pax Christi members are highlighting this message in their hometowns and in halls of power through campaigns of education and advocacy, by meeting with elected officials, writing letters to the editor and taking to the streets. Pax Christi members are challenging a nation of military might by changing our nation’s narrative about its national spending priorities. 

As we do, we are putting into action prophetic words spoken by Catholic leaders like Pope Paul VI who said, “Countless millions are starving, countless families are destitute…countless people need schools, hospitals, and homes worthy of the name. In such circumstances, we cannot tolerate public and private expenditures of a wasteful nature; we cannot approve a debilitating arms race. It is our solemn duty to speak out against them.”

We are lifting up the cry of Pope Francis, who said, “It is high time that governments develop economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry. The pursuit of a genuine process of international disarmament can only prove beneficial for the development of peoples and nations, freeing up financial resources better used for health care, schools, infrastructure, care of the land, and so forth….”

Through our Bread Not Stones campaign, we are answering the prophetic call of the U.S. Catholic bishops who wrote in their peace pastoral nearly 40 years ago, “We see with increasing clarity the political folly of a system. [where] billions [are] readily spent for destructive instruments while pitched battles are waged daily in our legislatures over much smaller amounts for the homeless, the hungry, and the helpless here and abroad.”

As we gather tonight, we bring our longing for a life-enhancing understanding of security that nurtures empathetic and sustainable communities where:

  • Healthcare, housing, and food are fundamental human rights.
  • A living wage is guaranteed to all people.
  • Restorative justice practices, a process for reparations, and other means to dismantle systemic racism are funded.
  • The human dignity of all people is protected – especially those who are in any way excluded, marginalized, or oppressed.
  • Effective education is free for all regardless of their zip code.
  • Care for the earth’s many ecosystems becomes central to our economic model.

As we gather tonight, we bring our longing for foreign policy based on just and environmentally sustainable strategies, a fairer distribution of wealth between all people, peacebuilding instead of warmongering, the protection of the human dignity of all and the planetary dignity of Mother Earth.

The money is there. According to the National Priorities Project, if we chose to redirect military spending we could supply over two billion households with solar electricity. We could provide over 16 million jobs that pay more than $15/hour plus benefits. We could create over four million clean energy jobs. We could provide more than 100 million people with healthcare. We could provide affordable housing for more than 87 million people. 

The choice is ours to make if we as a nation have the moral and political will to make it. So as we gather tonight let’s bring our lament that our nation fails to recognize that true security lies in improving the lives of all people, especially those considered the least among us. Let’s bring our longing that our national priorities be converted away from weapons to the well-being of people in need and that our nation’s heart of stone become a heart of flesh that feels the longings of the least among us and beats with compassion for the common good.

We come to this liturgy tonight bringing bread, not stones, bread that will be broken as the body of Christ. When we go forth from this liturgy tonight, let us be the Body of Christ, breaking our nation’s obsession with military might, as we choose bread, not stones and challenge others to do the same. 

3 thoughts on “Nancy Small’s reflection on Bread Not Stones

  1. Such an exact commentary on our obscene military budget! And to think that our own Catholic president specifically requested 60 billion for updated nuclear killing machines.
    David Ross Gerling, PhD

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