When we completed
our previous Bulletin
in the spring, we had no idea what terror and suffering would intervene in the
On a Tuesday morning in early September, within a matter of hours, much of the
landscape of ordinary life crumbled before the nation's eyes. The attack and
collapse of the Twin Towers, burning people leaping to their deaths, thousands
lost under the fire, ash, and rubble -- the repeated images horrified and
The spread of biological agents designed to kill has heightened the
vulnerability we already were coping with.
Destruction, death, fear, and now war have filled our waking hours -- our
conversation, prayers, and thoughts -- and, at night, our dreams. We sense
that our lives have been changed irreversibly by the calamitous events of
September 11, 2001, and their aftermath; and we wonder, How? What will this
mean for our future, and that of the world?
Nothing justifies the murder of thousands of innocent people. Precisely at
this time, when we grope for direction, we need to remember that our responses
to this crisis, personally and as a nation, are
Our present suffering and anxiety can become an opportunity. Our English word
"crisis" comes from the Greek word
which means "opportunity." To recognize in the signs of these times an
opportunity for a new, humane, and moral response to evil requires the
Yet the rush to aerial bombardment and other means of warfare tragically has
of moral vision and creativity. Counter-violence will never stop terrorism;
it never has. Has the Twentieth Century taught us nothing?
Thomas Merton, in his important essay "Blessed Are the Meek: The Roots of
Christian Nonviolence," observed that "where the powerful believe that only
power is efficacious, the nonviolent resister is persuaded by the superior
efficacy of love, peaceful negotiation, and, above all, of truth. For power
can guarantee the interests of
, but it can never foster the good of all.
Power always protects the good of some at the expense of all the others. Any
claim to build the security of
on force is a manifest imposture."
In order for these times to become an opportunity, we will have to embrace a
difficult, soul-searching work, and not shrink back from asking fundamental
Surrounded by so much violence and counter-violence, it is hard to even imagine
a world without terrorism or war. But, without a vision of such a world, we
can never begin to address the many-layered causes fueling despair.
Nothing ever justifies the murder of the innocent. There are, however, many
open wounds contributing to the hopelessness that leads some to fanatically
commit horrific acts -- the growing disparity between rich and poor;
illiteracy; abuse of human rights; the proliferation of weapons; exploitation
by wealthier nations; the 10 years of sanctions against Iraq, claiming a
million Iraqi lives; disregard for the legitimate rights and aspirations of the
Palestinian people; the illusion that violence "works."
Without vision, we will never be able to ask ourselves, What is this "way of
life" we are defending, when it comes at the cost of the impoverishment and
despair of millions of people?
Lacking a vision of the goal, we aren't able to engage in the constructive
means consistent with, and leading to, that end.
Craig Scott Amundson, 28 years old and the father of two children, was one of
those killed in the attack on the Pentagon. His widow, Amber, wrote the
following in a column in the Chicago Tribune on September 25:
"My family and I take no comfort in words of rage. If you choose to respond to
this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent
human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband. Your
words and imminent acts of revenge only amplify our family's suffering, deny us
the dignity of remembering our loved one in a way that would have made him
proud, and mock his vision of America as a peacemaker in the world."
Looking to make sense of our lives in this world, we hunger for the moral
nobility that Amber Amundson embodies from the depth of her suffering.
Craig Amundson drove to his work in a car bearing the bumper sticker,
"Visualize World Peace."
Visualize world peace: For Christians, our tradition of prayer, at its best,
has been a communal "imagining" of a different world order, one that looks more
like what Jesus called "the Reign of God." When we pray, and particularly
when we celebrate the Eucharist, we enact God's world order (which is meant to
be our world), where peace and justice reign, where food is shared, where the
unlimited mercy of God is available to everyone who seeks. We practice a world
of peace and compassion.
Having been enabled by God's Spirit to enact the vision of God's Reign, having
tasted something of its possibility in the midst of this broken world, we
receive the vocation to become the very thing we pray for.
This is also the special gift that the monastic tradition offers us today.
When we read Benedict's Rule, we nowhere find a separate treatise on prayer.
For him, prayer and the choices of daily living were interwoven -- seeking
the presence of God in every situation, and bringing the values of the Reign of
God to every situation.
Far from being removed from the challenges of life in the world, Benedict saw
the monastery as a community of persons who daily imagine God's new world, and
who work at practicing that vision "out in the open," through a commitment to
nonviolence, service, reconciliation, and just relationships. This is really
the fundamental commitment of every Christian, a commitment meant to critique
and give direction to all our other "belongings," including the nation.
In communion with all people of faith and good will, the followers of Jesus
have a deeply needed gift to bring to the present crisis, in order that it can
indeed become an opportunity. But, as Benedict reminds us, we must be
profoundly serious about our basic Gospel commitments, and not be afraid to
live them "out in the open."
We hold a treasure in our hands, bequeathed to us by the historical and risen
Jesus, through his radically nonviolent life and his fidelity unto death.
As Daniel Berrigan reminds us, "The role of the church is to be able to read
the gospel, to be literate in the gospel, and to be able to explore it out in
the world. Christ says we are not allowed to kill other people. Which gives us
a start for understanding our response to war, to any system that results in
By rejecting the claim that Jesus' life and example are irrelevant to the
present grave circumstances, and by embracing his life as the pattern for ours,
we can help reorient this one human family toward the kind of world that we --
and God -- desperately long for.
Resources to Nourish a Commitment to Nonviolence
The Rule of Benedict
. Chapter 4: The Tools for Good Works.
Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Edited by Walter Wink. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. 2000.
Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.
Minneapolis: Fortress. 1992.
Jack Nelson Pallmeyer.
Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus.
Harrisburg: Trinity Press International. 2001.
Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History.
Edited by Stoughton Lynd and Alice Lynd. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Peace Be With You: Justified Warfare or The Way of Nonviolence.
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. 1999.
Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action.
New York: Doubleday. 2001.
Passion for Peace: The Social Essays.
Edited with and Introduction by William Shannon. New York: Crossroad. 1995.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Strength to Love.
Minneapolis: Fortress. 1981 (1963).
The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance.
Minneapolis: Fortress. 2001.