An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Only Our Broken Hearts Allow Us to Sow the Seeds of Peace




On the back window of Sgt. Mathew Gonzalez' truck is a decal that reads, "Lord please forgive me, I have committed sins for our freedom." The good soldier explains that as a Catholic, he believes that he committed sin by killing Iraqis. One wonders what the sense of sin should be among those of us who sent him there to kill by our active or passive connivance. The only quibble I might have with the sentiment is whether these sins were indeed committed for "freedom" rather than to deepen a slavery of the spirit that grips tighter with every bullet fired.

"This Sunday the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, one of the first saints not to be martyred. In fact, St. Martin was one of many to be beatified who, by today's standards, would be identified as a conscientious objector - an individual verifiably opposed to 'war in any form.' At one time a Roman centurion, Martin came to a 'crystallization' of conscience, laying down his sword and declaring, 'I am a soldier of Christ, it is not permissible for me to fight.' - Logan Laituri, another Christian who laid down his sword for Christ.

The story of St. Martin is one that has guided at least one soldier to salvation, "It was the practice at the time to give money to soldiers before battle, in order to infuse the soldiers with a greater love of their country and desire to fight. When Julian lined up the soldiers in Gaul to give them their bounty, Martin refused to accept the money -- and to fight -- saying, 'Put me in the front of the army, without weapons or armor; but I will not draw sword again. I am become the soldier of Christ.' ... Julian, furious at what he saw as cowardice, told Martin he would grant him his wish and put him right in the middle of battle the next day. Until that happened, he had Martin imprisoned. However, against all predictions and all explanation, the nomads sent word that they wanted to negotiate for peace and the battle was postponed. Martin was released from his prison and from the army."

The story illustrates two key aspects of what it means to be a solder of Christ. First, the goods of the empire must be refused. The reward for killing is not primarily the "freedom" that Sgt. Gonzalez refers to, but the material goods for which wars are fought. The spirit that is free in Christ is not motivated by these goods. Secondly, to be a soldier for Christ means to lay down the sword of violence and fight with new weapons, the weapons of prayer and of self-suffering.

In the same way, Martin Luther King faced the same ideology of violence and responded by seeking for its root, "As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion, while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But, they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government." - The Trumpet of Conscience.

In the same way as St. Martin challenged the ideology of the Roman Empire, Dr. King attempted to dislocate the ideology of power in his time, a far deeper threat to the national security state than gaining equal rights for the sons and daughters of slavery. It is likely that this is exactly what ultimately led to his assassination. He proposed that our government should be nonviolently disrupted and shut down to the extent that it failed to embody the values it professed.

In his own words: "Mass civil disobedience as a new stage of struggle can transmute the deep rage of the ghetto into a constructive and creative force. To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer-lasting, costly to the larger society, but not wantonly destructive. Finally, it is a device of social action that is more difficult for the government to quell by superior force." - The Trumpet of Conscience

This is precisely what governments such as the Nazi state most fear, as we saw last week when considering Franz Jagerstatter's resistance. Christian nonviolence is effective because it does not fight the world on the world's terms, asking for more material goods for itself, but seeks first to awaken the conscience. Then the works of the activated conscience can attain whatever material goals that justice may demand, while reaching a far more crucial aim - for once conscience is awakened in this way, it can never return to permanent sleep. No matter how unequal the forces may appear, or how minuscule the gains, such gains are etched permanently in the conscience of humanity and can never be erased.

In the words of Jim Douglass, "Jesus' cross liberated the early Christians from fear of the empire's cross, whose purpose was to terrify and deter the empire's subjects from rebellion." Today, the empire seeks to terrify us with torments of Abu Ghraib and CIA black sites, but we conquer by absorbing their violence in our own flesh. The empire works its will with shock and awe, but we are not awed by their terror for our Lord has risen triumphant.

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