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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted.  From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
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NIneteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 11, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Pax Christi USA National Assembly 2002
July 26-28 at University of Detroit-Mercy

“Living Nonviolence in Today’s Reality”
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Founding president of Pax Christi USA  (1972-1991)


[Editor's Note:  In place of the homily for August 11, we are making available this week the keynote address Bishop Gumbleton delivered at the Pax Christi USA National Assembly.]

Last night Joan Chittister, OSB took us up on the mountain and it was a great place to be. I know we all experienced something marvelous and extraordinary on that journey with Joan to the mountain-top: learned a lot, laughed a lot. But at the end she brought us down; and she said, “Now we’re back where the demons are. And that’s where we have to work.”

     And so this morning I’m to address the topic, “Living Nonviolence in Today’s Reality.”

     When we were in Afghanistan, Dave (Robinson) was kidding me about this talk, and he said, “You’ve got the gloom and doom talk, don’t you?”  And I said, “Well, I guess we could call it that, ‘the gloom and doom talk.’” And because of that — it probably will leave us with a sense of doom, or it could, or some sense of gloom — I thought I might start this morning by reminding us of one of the main reasons for our constant hope, why we won’t give in to gloom or doom.

     It’s something we do every so often at the parish, St. Leo’s, where I am, when things seem down, perhaps sometimes at a funeral liturgy. Everybody cries out in response to my words; when I say, “God is good.” Everyone says, “All the time.” So I want to do that this morning.

GOD IS GOOD! (Audience responds: “All the time!’)
GOD IS GOOD! (Audience: “ALL THE TIME!”)
GOD IS GOOD! (Audience: “ALL THE TIME!”)

     And that’s true. That’s what really is the foundation of our hope. God is good. God is with us. God is guiding us. God will take us where we have to go.

     To start my presentation I refer to words of Pope John Paul the Second, words that he spoke on the Mount of the Beatitudes, another mount in the Holy Land. When John Paul was there — on a very significant day in fact — it was March 24th in the year 2000, 20th anniversary of the death of Oscar Romero. And John Paul preached  that day about the Gospel of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the  gentle; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake; blessed are the peacemakers, etc.” We know the Gospel so very well.

     And after he preached, he reflected, and said, “Jesus’ call has always demanded a choice — a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts. Even now on this hill.” Or we could say this morning: Even now in this church, Jesus’ call is a choice between the two voices competing for our hearts. Even now in this church. The choice between good and evil. The choice between life and death.

     And then as often, John Paul was especially aware of young people. He’s at the World Youth Day right now in Toronto where he really seems to be energized when he’s with young people — his concerns about them, what they will become. And so he asks the question, ‘Which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow?’

     A very important question. We come out of a century which was the most violent in all of human history. A new century, a new millennium is upon us; and which voice will the young people follow during this century? To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no matter how strange it may seem — and choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem. Choosing to reject the claims of evil no matter how sensible and attractive — and often they can seem to be sensible, reasonable, attractive — for the way of Jesus, which might seem foolish, utopian, idealistic, all the words that people use about the Gospel. Which choice will I make? Which choice will you make? And to identify those choices clearly in the world in which we live -- the reality of the world where we are right now.

I have a conviction that it’s a choice between what we’d like to call pax Americana, or the other choice, pax Christi.
On October 7, when President Bush announced the war strikes on the Taliban in al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, he said, “We are a peaceful nation!” Then a few days later while speaking at the FBI headquarters, he declared, “This is the calling of United States — the most free nation in the world, a nation built on fundamental values that reject hate, reject violence, reject murderers, and rejects evil. He says we are a peaceful nation, and that’s what we stand for. He would call it, I’m sure, “peace America, or pax Americana.”

     But to show you how wrong it is to think of this peaceful nation as following the way of pax Christi, I call to your attention to an article that appeared on the website by Arundhati Roy. And she pointed out that since World War II, since 1945, this peaceful nation has in fact been at war and bombed China, 1945 to ‘46, 1950 to 1953; Korea, 1950, 1953; Guatemala, 1954 — and for four decades we supported a cruel, low-intensity warfare there, killing 200,000 people; Indonesia, 1958; Cuba, 1959 and ‘60; Zaire, 1964; Peru, 1965; Laos, 1964 up  to 1973; Vietnam, 1961 to 1973; Cambodia, 1969 to 1970;  Granada, 1983; Libya, 1986; El Salvador, during all of the 1980s, again low intensity warfare killing tens-of-thousands of people; Nicaragua, the 1980s; Panama, 1989; Iraq, 1991, and still going on; Bosnia, 1995; Sudan, 1998; Yugoslavia, 1999. And now she says, we can add Afghanistan to that list.

     Pax Americana: bombing, killing, wherever we decide. As Madeline Albright put it, “We are America. We are the indispensable nation. If we have to use force, it’s because we see further than anybody else.”

     But pax Americana gets even worse when we begin to look at what is happening in the reality of the world in which we live; when we look at it even more closely. Many of us probably think that our present foreign policy — the war in Afghanistan, the war against the al-Qaeda, and the unending war that the President says we’re involved in — that this foreign policy is a result of September 11.

     However, in a New Yorker article — in the April lst issue of New Yorker magazine, Nicholas Lehman wrote an article which he entitled, “The New World Order.” And that article suggests that our foreign policy, the foreign policy that we’re following, did not begin on September 11, or evolve out of September 11. In 1992 Richard Cheney, now our vice president, and Paul Wolfowitz, now the Deputy Secretary of Defense — both of whom exercise enormous power in the current administration — wrote a position paper for George Bush, Sr, charting out U.S. foreign policy after the fall of Communism: What we had to do now that the Soviet Union is gone from the scene. (That happened in 1989, very suddenly, very dramatically.)

     And the heart of it, according to Mr. Cheney and Mr. Wolfowitz in this report, will be, and listen to these words carefully: “to maintain the United States’ position as the world’s only super power and to allow no other super powers to emerge.”

     The aim, simply put, was to establish unilateral control of the world. Such an aim would involve — and these are the kinds of words they use in the report — smashing all possible enemy threats — even before those threats become real. You may have heard we now have a pre-emptive military policy. We will attack another country whenever we decide that they are about to attack us, whether we have any proof or not, but we have a pre-emptive defense policy.

     It’s ironic, or anomalous, to say it’s a defense policy when it’s preemptive. But that’s what they say: We will smash all possible foreign enemy threats, even before those threats become real; and go on to suggest that we must control the world’s resources, especially oil; and drop out of existing treaties that might limit U.S. supremacy.

     That was written in 1992. And yet it is exactly what is happening at this time. We have dropped out of the ABM Treaty. We have refused to ratify the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  We have refused to go along with the Kyoto Accords. We have said no to the World Court. We have refused to sign on to a land mines elimination treaty. We are backing out of one treaty after another because we are the super power. We don’t need the other nations any longer.
And based on this idea that we are Number One, that we are the indispensable nation, we go on to develop kinds of military that we feel we will need to wage pax Americana.

     One of the most threatening parts of this defense policy is contained in the Nuclear Posture Review which was leaked earlier this year. In an article about this — this is the posture that we will maintain as an nuclear armed nation into the indefinite future. In an article about this new nuclear posture review, Robert McNamara, the former secretary of defense and one who had so supported so strongly for so many years our nuclear armaments, wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times in which he says, “Now the Bush administration has moved to a new nuclear doctrine described by one commentator as “unilateral assured destruction.” “Unilateral assured destruction.”

     When the recently leaked Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, becomes official policy, we can expect nuclear weapons to spread around the world. We will live in a far more dangerous world, and the United States will be much less secure. The NPR explicitly lists seven countries we are prepared to attack with nuclear weapons: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, as potential targets for US. nuclear arms. That’s in addition to Russia and China, which we already target.

     One thing  — perhaps the only thing that these five states have in common, however, the five excluding Russia and China — is that all of them are non-nuclear nations and are parties to the non-proliferation treaty. Obviously, what will happen as we target them, prepare to use our weapons against them, the whole non-proliferation treaty, the whole program of non-proliferation, will disappear. Nation after nation will struggle to become nuclear-armed nations.

     For 30 years, Mr. McNamara says, that treaty has kept nuclear weapons from spreading all over the world, a development that would be devastating to U.S. security. But now these weapons will spread. Our new nuclear posture calls upon us to target new nations, even non-nuclear nations. And of course we continue with that nuclear posture, to maintain our commitment to use nuclear weapons first.

     Pax Americana is a dangerous kind of so-called peace.

     It includes a new treaty which President Bush signed with President Putin on May 24th of this year with great fanfare — a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons in the world. And many people are fooled by this, perhaps some of us, because that treaty says that we’ll reduce our strategic warheads from about 6,000 to between 2,200 and 1,100. And so also will the Soviet Union. On the surface these cuts do seem to be historic. We never eliminated that many weapons before. Leaving aside the fact that even 2,200 or 1,700 such weapons are a gross obscenity — a matter of extreme evil, the treaty is not for real.

     The reductions are not to be realized until 2012. Both nations have until then to rid themselves of these weapons. But there’s no schedule upon which they are to do this, no verified schedule for reduction. And since the agreement also permits either side to withdraw from the treaty within three months notice, the United States or Russia could simply legally carry out few or no reductions for the whole decade and then before it ends, abrogate the treaty and continue with all the weapons that we  have. So the treaty is a lie. It’s made to make us feel like we’re making progress in getting rid of nuclear weapons. But it’s a sham. It’s a lie. We intend to keep those weapons, and we intend to use them whenever we think it’s necessary.

     You have also heard about the nuclear missile defense. Supposedly this is a defensive system, and President Bush is pushing very hard to make this part of our defense strategy. And we’re beginning now once more to prepare to develop such a defense. Well, here too, we have to see through the falsehood, the lies, the sham. This is not a defensive strategy. It’s really part of a first-strike capability. We don’t need those weapons to ward off missiles from so-called rogue nations. They would not have to fire missiles against us if they really want to bring about a nuclear attack. We know suitcase bombs are feasible. Nuclear weapons could be brought into our country and exploded within our country without missiles.

     No, why we want to have the nuclear missile defense is so that when we choose to use a first-strike capability against another nation — and probably most of all, China. A first strike means that you attack the weapons of the other side so that they are unable to fire back. But obviously, no strike is going to be perfect. And so when we attack those missiles on the other side, some will not be destroyed, and that’s where our nuclear missile defense system comes into play. Then we could use it to guarantee that none of those weapons that might still be left will be able to be used against us. This is another part, a very important part of our pax Americana.

     One other very frightening aspect of this as we try to become the only super power:

     During the presidential campaign George W. Bush called for the creation of what he calls the 21st Century military capability. And he was speaking about new weapon systems, like the space-based nuclear laser. He has asked Congress for eight billion dollars in 2002 for research and development to bring these systems into reality. And the Space Command’s planning document, which perhaps you’ve seen — one of the most frightening documents I think that we have, it’s called Space Vision 2020 (he holds up a copy to the audience).

     We are trying to prepare to have this space military capability deployed by 2020. It’s all spelled out in this document. And it calls for us to have control and domination of space. It calls upon us to develop weapons that will deny other countries access to the universe around us.

     The Bush administration and it’s aero-space corporation allies understand that they cannot say publicly what they call for on paper  — that the U.S. will control and dominate space. By selling the new star wars program as missile defense Bush hopes to disguise U.S. intentions to move the arms race to the heavens. Isn’t that the most frightening thing you could imagine as we begin to deploy weapons in space, begin to try to control not only this planet but all of space? Pax Americana is a frightening evil reality.

     What’s the other choice, that John Paul the Second offers to us? He points to pax Christi, the peace of Christ.
I’m sure many of you heard me quote this before; but it’s such a powerful quote that I carry it with me all the time — in my mind, in my consciousness — what John McKenzie wrote about Jesus in the book called The New Testament without Illusion: “If Jesus did not reject violence for any reason whatsoever, we know nothing about Jesus.”

     In other words it’s so clear when you look at the Gospels; you listen to what Jesus says, you watch how He acts; you follow His life. If Jesus didn’t reject violence, then John McKenzie says, you may as well say you know nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. He rejected violence for any reason, any reason whatsoever.

     And then the next sentence in that book, it’s so challenging. “Jesus taught us how to die, not now to kill.”  Look anywhere in the gospels and you will not find Jesus teaching us to kill.  He taught us how to die.

     Look at the crucifix.  Jesus died powerless. Jesus died loving, and forgiving, those who were putting him to death. Jesus died to reveal his overwhelming love for us.

     “I, when I am lifted up,” he said, “I will draw all people to myself. When I am lifted up on the cross, with only love I will draw all people to myself. I will transform, change the world, change the hearts of people.”

      It’s the only way, the way of love. And that’s the way of Jesus. He spoke it very clearly, and we know these words so well, but we have to take them in more deeply and make them really part of us, our everyday lives.

     "You have heard that it was said of old, thou shalt not kill." It could not be any plainer:  "Thou shalt not kill." But for Jesus, even that was not enough. “I say to you, do not even have anger, hatred, resentment, vengeance in your heart for a brother or sister.”

     Not just, “Don’t kill.”

     “Change your heart. Even if you’re coming to the altar and there want to offer your gift, and remember your brother or sister has something against you: leave your gift; go first and be reconciled.”  Nothing is more important than love, reconciliation between brother and sister.

     "You have heard it said of old, love your neighbor, hate your enemy. I say, love your enemy. Do good to the one who hurts you. Return good for evil."

     “You heard it said of old, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. I say to you:

     “If someone strikes you on the one cheek, turn the other; someone wants you to go one mile, go two; someone wants to take your coat, give him your cloak also.”

     No limit on how we love. And respond to whatever is done against us, in love. That’s pax Christi and only that is pax Christi. And that is what we are called to — the way of Jesus.

     And in our church, even though there’s no way we could begin to even pretend that we are a so-called peace church: If we look at what is happening within the tradition, taking us back to the original tradition, how the first Christians understood the message of Jesus and lived it for about 300 years, we find that in our tradition, we’re moving back, although many of us in the Church ignore this.

     But you go back to 1963. Pope John XXIII made one of the most extraordinary statements, I think, about non-violence and the rejection of war, that we find anywhere in Catholic teaching. He wrote that encyclical Pacem in Terris. It will be the 40th anniversary of this most important encyclical next year. And in that encyclical, which is really a pattern of how to  build peace in the world, a real pax Christi, he makes the statement:

     “In our atomic era it is irrational any longer to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights”

     In this era of total war, which includes nuclear weapons, it’s irrational, immoral, goes against our humanness, goes against God, even to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights. The just war theology disappears with that one sentence. We need to listen to that.

     Pope Paul VI 1976 Peace Day statement deplored what had happened at Hiroshima August 6, 1945. For the first time the most clear statement about what an evil that was. He called it a butchery of untold magnitude. And he went on to say, who is the model for our times, this time in which we live? When the reality is so grim, who is the model? He says the poor, weak man, Gandhi, the Hindu who understood better than most of us Christians what Jesus really taught, pax Christi. He justified us. That’s the model for our time.

     John Paul II in 1980 in a Peace Day statement urges us: “I invite all Christians to bring to the common task of building peace the specific contribution of the gospel, the specific contribution of Jesus.” And in light of that gospel, he says, “I now repeat, violence is a lie for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Do not believe in violence. Do not support violence. It is not the Christian way. It is not the way of the Catholic Church. Believe in peace, forgiveness and love. For only these are of Christ.”

     It’s hard to be any clearer that our tradition is reaching back to where we started. And we must begin to make that tradition our own once more.

     Again, Pope John Paul II, in 1991 condemned war in the most clear words possible. He wrote, “I, myself, on the occasion of the recent tragic gulf war in the Persian Gulf repeated the cry, ‘Never again war!  No, never again war!’”
And he gives some reasons why the just war theology, any theology that justifies violence is wrong: because it destroys innocent lives. Every war does. And it teaches how to kill, depriving those who kill of their humanness by learning to hate and to kill. And it throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing. And then always, it leaves behind a trail of hatred and resentment, making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war. Our tradition is calling us always to reject war. Pax Christi says no to violence, no to war, no to killing, for any reason whatsoever. (extended applause, 16 seconds)

     Thank you. That’s important, because I’m just getting to the point where I’m going to ask us to do something. (laughter). So I’m glad you agree so far.

     Last November just before the bishops’ meeting when we were going to discuss the U.S. Catholic bishops’ response to 9-11 and to October 7: Just before that meeting I got a letter from a young woman in New York whose brother had been killed in the World Trade Center. It’s a powerful letter.

     She says, “I’m writing to you today to offer support and encouragement for what I hope will be an ongoing discussion among the bishops. My brother, William Kelly, was killed on Sept. 11th at the World Trade Center. There is no scale on which my family can begin to measure our loss. Nor are there any words adequately to express our sorrow. My family is quite clear, however, that we would never want another family, whether Afghani or American, to feel the way we do now.”

     Then she goes on. But further on she says:

     “I adamantly oppose the bombing. I have no other argument than it is not Christ-like. I do not know what Jesus would do in current times, but I am certain he would not advocate the bombing of anyone. The deepest, truest part of our collective heart knows this truth. You and I and my family live in a very human world, however; so how can we reach this true place?”

     She says, “One stumbling block seems to be the lack of choices given the American public concerning our response to September 11th. Our country seems to see no other way, because we have been presented with no other way. So this is my urgent request of the bishops. Can you begin the discussion of the other way — Christ’s way? Could you help provide moral guidance to a majority that is voicing support for a bombing campaign?”

     On her behalf I made that plea to the bishops last November, and it was rejected. We did not present another way. We supported the bombing. The Catholic bishops of the United States supported the bombing, the war. And I’m very sorry to say it continues that way.

     I was utterly appalled on January 29th when President Bush was giving his State of the Union message outlining our plans to attack the “axis of evil” and continue to glorify our response, violent response to September 11th, two Catholic cardinals sitting in the audience jumping up to clap with everyone else.

     Another cardinal after September 11th and after October 7th wrote a letter to President Bush. I won’t take the time to read it, but it’s a letter congratulating him on how well he has responded in this just use of violence.

     Just a couple of weeks ago another cardinal was present with President Bush when some protesters were in the audience, and they were booed down. And President Bush repeated his cry to use violence; and everybody in that audience except those few protesters applauded. The cardinal was sitting there. I don’t know if he applauded or not, but certainly he was endorsing what the President was saying.

     I tell you all of this only because it becomes very clear to me that Colleen Kelly’s request is not going to happen soon, but that the U.S. bishops are not going to show us the alternative way. It’s going to be up to you, and anyone in this country, who really understands pax Christi, who really is ready to reject pax Americana

     So we must be the ones that will begin to show the new way. And so at this point, I ask you, — and I want you to respond:

     Will you reject the claims of evil pax Americana, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem? (Crowd shouts, Yes)

     And will you believe what Jesus says, and follow him, now matter how strange it may seem? (Crowd shouts, Yes).

     Then we have a job before us. There are various ways we can carry this out. One of the first things we can do, and I hope everyone of us will: sign the pledge of resistance. Dave mentioned it last night; it’s being circulated. Sign it. The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 was an unjust war, condemned by Pope John Paul II. Any new war against Iraq will be an unjust war. We must say, No (20 seconds of applause)

     But there’s more. Signing a pledge is one thing. But of course, when you sign that pledge you really are saying, “I am ready to get out in the streets and do civil disobedience if they attack.” (10 seconds of more applause).

     There are about 600 of us here, and if every one of us signs the pledge, that would be very significant. But what would be even better if every one of us goes home and gets 10 more people to sign the pledge, or 20 more people to sign the pledge. We’ll have thousands and thousands; and other groups are doing the same thing. So, we must do this.

     But I also suggest, we need to do something like the School of the Americas Watch does. They have identified a place, Fort Benning, Georgia, where the School of the America takes place. Every November they are getting thousands and thousands of people to come and protest that very evil institution that has trained people to do some of the most gruesome and evil killing that has gone on, especially in Latin America and Central America. And they get these thousands of people because they focus on that one place.

     My hope is that we might determine a place like Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for example — where Dave and I were last summer on August 6th — and that we might begin to invite Pax Christi groups to come there every year around that weekend of August 6th, and that we make a larger and larger presence protesting the development. There’s where they are making the new nuclear weapons that we will be preparing to use. We must go there, have our bodies there, do civil disobedience there, say no to nuclear weapons in a very dramatic way. (15 more seconds of applause)

     And I thought that maybe next summer — it’s too late for this summer, but it gives us a year to prepare — we could start on July 16th. That’s the date when we exploded the first nuclear device: July 16, 1945, in the desert in Nevada.  I don’t know if you’re aware of it — how these people that make these things always give it a code name. They called that one “Trinity.”  That was the code name for the first explosion of a nuclear weapon.

     And another way of looking at the choice that I’m asking us to make today was something that Archbishop (Fulton J.) Sheen said a long time ago in a talk he gave against nuclear weapons. He said it all comes down to a choice: Which
Trinity will you believe in? The Trinity of mass, energy, and velocity? Or the Trinity of a loving God — father and mother, a son who gives his life for us, and a spirit who lives in our midst.

     July 16th I think is an important date. The date in which people make their choice of which Trinity will you put your faith in. So I suggest we might start a fast on July 16th and go until August 6th — 22 days of fasting. Then on August the sixth, try to have a large gathering of Pax Christi people from all over our country to protest, and to demand the end of the development of nuclear weapons.

     I believe that if we really committed ourselves to this kind of action, we could be the ones that would lead our Church and our nation away from pax Americana and to pax Christi, the only peace that really is peace. (15 seconds of applause).

     I thank you for that response, and I leave you now with some very sober words, that will perhaps linger in our consciousness and help to continue to motivate us. The words were written, again by that Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who is leading the way of India protesting against their nuclear weapons development. And at the end of the article which she writes deploring and protesting these weapons, she says this:

     “The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that human kind has ever made.” and then she says, “If you are religious, believe in God, then remember, this is our challenge to God.”  It is worded quite simply: “We, we, God’s creatures, have the power to destroy everything You have created.”

     A very evil challenge that a religious person would make to God. It’s blasphemy:

     “We can destroy everything You, God, have made — the God who made everything out of love, we can destroy out of our hate.”

     But then she goes on to say, "If you’re not religious, then look at it this way: This world of ours is 4,600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon."

     Let that thought: if you are religious, that we do not want to offend God with that blasphemy. Or, if your faith doesn’t move you, the thought that we can destroy our world in an afternoon, let that move us to try with all that we can bring to it to reject pax Americana and to embrace pax Christi. Thank you.

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