Romans 13: 11-14
Notes in English for a homily I will share tonight at the Vigil Mass of the First Sunday of Advent in Dolores, Copán, Honduras, inspired by Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, in a year filled with death.
This year the municipality of Honduras has experienced at least six violent deaths: the killing of the mayor, the woman and her two children killed in a murder by arson in San Antonio Dolores, the couple who were killed by machetes in their home in Pasquingual.
It has not been a year of peace, but the prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of peace - on the Lord's mountain:
“they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks… they shall not train again for war.”
How far is this vision from our reality? But what shall we do?
In the poor neighborhood of Philadelphia, where Shane Clairborne lives with a Christian community, they witnessed the killing of a nineteen year old in the block where Shane lives. Their response was inspired by this passage of Isaiah and they began a campaign to turn weapons into gardening tools, making shovels out of AK-47s. The movement has spread throughout the world.
This is an important first step in a world where weapons abound. This is a first step.
There is a need for nations to pound their weapons into instruments of peace, starting nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In fact, on October 27 this year, the United Nations voted to launch negotiations for a treaty abolishing nuclear weapons. Both France and the United States worked behind the scenes to oppose the move, and together with other nations including Great Britain, and Russia opposed it.
But what even a treaty is not enough.
As Dorothy Day wrote in the September 1938 Catholic Worker, we need “a disarmament of the heart”:
Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints…. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.
How can we do this?
I think St. Paul has much to teach us in this regard. Writing to the Romans, living in the heart of a violent and oppressive empire, he urged them to a heart-felt conversion:
Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…
This is how we can begin disarmament.
But this disarmament, this conversion, takes place when we wake up. As Paul wrote,
“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”
Perhaps the first step to wake up is what happened to Thomas Merton on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, where, as he put it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he woke from a dream of separateness:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness….This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! …There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….
When he begin to see the presence of God in others, when we realize that we are all one and responsible for each other, then we can begin the conversion, the disarmament of the heart that will open us to welcome the disarmed world that God promised to Isaiah and to us who worship the Prince of Peace.