Friday, December 23, 2016

Prince of Peace, nuclear weapons, and the challenge of peace

I have read that President-elect Trump has advocated more nuclear weapons. A tweet from him stated:
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

To put this in context, according to a BBC report
Jason Miller, the communications manager for the Trump transition team, explained he "was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it - particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes".
Mr Miller also added that the president-elect "emphasised the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength".

I will save another post to write about nuclear deterrence but I wanted to offer a few thoughts

In the days before we come to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, who came as a vulnerable baby and died on a cross, bringing “peace through the blood of the Cross” (Colossians 1:20), I find myself grieving. I thought we were moving beyond this, although I recognize that President Obama had plans to invest about one trillion dollars in the nuclear arsenal.

In the face of this I think it is important to re-read the 1983 pastoral letter of the US Catholic Bishops.

One of the strongest statements can be found in the Summary:

In the words of the Holy Father [Pope Saint John Paul II], we need a "moral about-face." The whole world must summon the moral courage and technical means to say no to nuclear conflict; no to weapons of mass destruction; no to an arms race which robs the poor and the vulnerable; and no to the moral danger of a nuclear age which places before humankind indefensible choices of constant terror or surrender. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. The content and context of our peacemaking is set not by some political agenda or ideological program, but by the teaching of his Church.

This is, at heart, a question of our spirituality. Are we willing to work beyond fear and threats? Are we willing to open our hearts to all peoples? Are we able to develop our minds to imagine and make real new and peaceful ways of responding to conflict and violence?

Or are we stuck in the old ways of fear, anxiety, recrimination, domination, power, and force?

We need a “moral-about-face.”

These days our bishop is confirming almost 300 young people in our parish. Yesterday afternoon the second reading was from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5: 16-25) in which he contrasts the works of the flesh (the unredeemed world) with the fruits of the spirit.

It might be useful to use these lists from the first century to discern what a moral-about –face might mean for the United States, the world, and our very selves.

The works of the flesh are:
immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. (New American Bible translation)
or, in N. T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament translation:
fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, bursts of rage, selfish ambition, factiousness, divisions, moods of envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things.
The fruits of the spirit are:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (New American Bible translation)
or, in N. T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament translation:
love, joy, peace, great-heartedness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
In two days we will celebrate the Son of God made flesh, welcomed with the song of angels, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people of good will.”

Let us give glory to God in our lives; let us be people of "good will." And above all, let us welcome Jesus with open arms and not with nuclear arms - loving God and our neighbors, even our enemies.

A nativity scene in an exhibition in the Ravenna cathedral, 2013.
 More photos of nativity scenes from the exhibition can be found here.

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