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wagers of peace
There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war - Dan Berrigan
I’ve had quite the (half) week in D.C.
I’ve been going through the papers of Thomas Stransky, a Paulist priest who was an organizing member of the Secretariat for Promotion of Christian Unity, which Pope John XXIII initiated in the years leading up to the Second Vatican Council.
His papers have, on the whole, been less specifically helpful to my immediate project than I was hoping, but I am learning a lot about Vatican II from an insider’s perspective. I am overwhelmed by the contingency and the inspiration of the Council moment. Participants in the Council themselves noted how, after the council, the authorship of the proclamations, the sense of these declarations and documents coming from specific persons and minds and being the fruit of discussion and dialogue, was lost. We forget that the council was a synod and that Vatican II itself was a moment of synodality. And the fact that it happened in 1962 (as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded) and ended in 1965 and not 1969 meant that its concerns were of peace and not of sex or women’s participation. And, although it ushered in the laity, it was still a process and a council that was extremely hierarchical and clerical in its constitution. It’s impossible not to be inspired by what are the actions of men (and a few women) but surely are the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
One month before the opening of the council, on September 11, 1962, John XXIII shared this message on the radio:
“The Church wishes to be sought again as she is, in her internal structure—vitality on her own behalf — in the act of presenting anew, above all to her children, the treasures of enlightening faith and of sanctifying grace, which take their inspiration from the final words of Christ [“Go out and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19]…
“The world indeed has need of Christ, and it is the Church who must bring Christ to the world. The world has its problems and it is with anguish at times that it seeks a solution.”
The theory of revolution that the Church offers the world (and her own self) is the Eucharist. If Christ is alive (which the empty tomb and the breaking of the bread say he is) then this—we, our church, our world, our communities, our heart—must change. We see this inspiration of conversion, of a true metanoia, moving through the council.
On Wednesday, I listened to a lecture on just war theory by a professor who quoted Augustine a great deal. But, as his argument when, violence is allowed in our world because we are not yet living in the City of God—the kingdom of God—we are living in the time before the ending of the world, where things are not yet perfect, so sometimes the Christian must resort to violence to be a peace-maker, as called to be on the Sermon on the Mount.
Well, I thought, but didn’t say, (which I should have, I acknowledge), if we’re going to make an argument from the contingency of history, it’s quite obvious that the political state has changed a great deal since Augustine’s time. We are not living in a fading Christian Roman empire with barbarians at the gates. We are living in a global economy where multinational corporations pull the levers of the state, who telos is greed and ever-increasing wealth for the oligarchs who benefit from the instability and misery of the workers, the homeless, and unemployed migrants. If that is what our state is, an engine of commerce and de-personalized bureaucracy of nameless forms, do we really think Augustine would argue that such a state has the authority to wage war? I would not insult Augustine so much to assume so!
Do we really think Augustine would endorse capital punishment in a state whose prison industrial complex is a $400 million industry oppressing two million people—many of them Black, most of them poor—a year? Do we really think a capitalist society that cannot function—it will not reap a profit—without inequality and unjust wages and whose law is competition really has the right to murder criminals who never received from said state the dignity, education, and stability that they have the right to as children of God?
If we are arguing that, well, unfortunately, we live in history, not in the apocalypse, so we have to do things that aren’t pretty, can we really believe that history has not changed the nation-state to the point that state violence is no longer permissible?
I wondered, as I sat in this chapel-cum-lecture hall, who this professor says that Christ is. And I looked at the beautifully painted Station Number Nine, and, yes, Jesus falls again and again and again.
The point of the City of God is that the Christian lives in it already. The end has been revealed in Christ, the in-breaking of God into human history. We participate in the world that is-not-yet-here-but-is-already-now in the Eucharist day after day after day. Do we really believe in Christ so little that we can argue for war in front of the image of the tortured and executed man we claim to worship?
We refuse to let our feet stumble on the cornerstone that is foolishness to the pagan philosophers of the Greeks.
So I just wondered why Christians are so bad at being Christian, but I am not the first nor the last to wonder this, nor the first Christian to crucify Christ with my own hypocrisy.
I have been praying this week at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is where Dorothy prayed on December 8, 1932, after watching the brutality toward the hunger marchers in D.C. She prayed for what many Catholics—myself included—have prayed for: a way to be Catholic in our daily lives, to comfort the afflicted, to do away with slavery, to make the City of Man look more like the City of God we create each morning at Mass.
I wrote a piece in The Nation about the Catholic Worker movement. It is impossible to say all that can be said about Dorothy and Peter’s movement. It is full of good people, it is full of the works of mercy, and it is full of people striving to make a society where it is easier to be good.
But what I find most powerful and attractive about the Catholic Worker movement, something that the movement has for all the professors promoting war and a Church caught in the chains of Mammon is that it takes seriously the Eucharist—more seriously, perhaps, than even the priests who consecrate the bread and wine—as the theory of social change. It takes seriously that, for the Christian, the Sermon on the Mount is not pie in the sky. It takes seriously the savior who says another world is possible and calls us to that. And what does that look like in action? Take a look.