Saturday, August 31, 2013


Poster representing boycott of grapes at Safeway stores, in support of farmworkers in the fields
Solidarity forever!  Soledaridad pa’ siempre!  These were the songs and chants I remember from early 1960’s organizing efforts to support the California farmworkers and Cesar Chavez in forming their union.  The white middle class church I was growing up in, from Msgr. George Higgins on the national level to many priests in the Detroit area, was in solidarity with the rights of the poor to make a better life for themselves, thereby making us all a more Christ-like community.  I was given the opportunity to live, and work in the fields, with Mexican-American migrants in Michigan.  It changed my life, and still strengthens my faith.
Since that time, unions have fallen from grace in our nation’s estimation, side-lined by our society’s constant striving for financial profits for corporations, and then corporations leaving unions in the lurch with ever more lucrative deals in cheaper offshore labor markets.   Some of this was certain of the unions’ own fault, in their mimicking the worst corporate behaviors.  But our whole country has forgotten the concept of solidarity, that gave the labor movement its life breath.  The unions were built by different immigrant worker groups passing on part of the small gains they’d made, to the next group in need.  Individuality is now thought the key to success.  Every man and woman for themself.
This is why we should all be so heartened by the renewal of solidarity called for by Pope Francis in his World Youth Day visits to the poor of Brazil’s favelas this summer. “ And the Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable. I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity!”  The text of the full speech is available from Vatican Radio and well worth reading.  The pope continues, “Let us always remember this: only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied!”
Pope Francis with the indigenous in Brazil
This offers great hope for the “New Evangelization” that is being initiated in the U.S. Catholic Church.  We can’t stay within the bounds of the dominant established culture, though we have much to do there.   We must reach out to all groups and sectors with the Gospel, and share to meet the common needs—a multiplication of loaves and fishes to match the evangelical message, the words of scripture.  Our Liturgy of the Word finds its solidarity, its best lived expression, in our Liturgy of the Eucharist, and our coming together more and more often with those we thought were not part of us.   It’s a good time to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic …

This goes much deeper than social welfare programs, even deeper than the social justice measures that will result, to that real transformation that comes with crossing boundaries, while respecting each other as equals—rich/poor, complacent/evangelical, illiterate/educated, atheist/believer.  All with our eyes of faith, are children of God, members of our ever growing family.
We will evangelize others if we are building trust and common cause with them even when they’re not of the same faith as ours, or of any faith.  The Gospel must be both preached, and lived out.   Joining unions, is one way to do so, though limited now by the scarcity of union jobs.  The inspired risk is to find good ways to throw in your lot with others, even when it’s unpopular to do so [for unions it also costs you some $50/month dues you could avoid, in the growing number of “right to work” states].  Going to church, faces similar negatives in our why-bother-I’ve-got-mine culture.
Jesus was found among tax collectors, fisherman, the sick and the sinful.  He was in solidarity both with outcasts, and anyone who would hear his word, and act on it.   His way of solidarity, not always easy— but a happiness that lasts forever.
Robert Kennedy sharing communion with Cesar Chavez at end of one of Chavez' 40 day fasts for farmworker justice

Monday, August 26, 2013


Antoinette Tuff-- interview on 8-20-13 Atlanta's Channel 2 Action News
A remarkable news story went largely unnoticed last week.  In Decatur, GA, on August 20th, a young man barged into an elementary school armed with an AK 47 and 500 rounds of ammunition.   He, as all the school shooters before him, were not hardened trained killers, had never killed anyone, but on that day he fully intended to take as many with him as he could, all killed in a hail of bullets.  He said he’d nothing to live for.  A few articles told of the courage, and perhaps good luck they’d say, of the young black woman, Antoinette Tuff, who stopped him armed with faith and compassion alone.  Many in the national media, including the Gannett feature in our local Times Herald four days after the event { enigmatically titled “School shooter changed as teen: brother”}, carried his picture, not hers. 

oming just before the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and March on Washington, her valor should have been news headlines trumpeted far and wide.  She had lived MLK’s principle, “nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people,” prevented the disaster by believing only God’s goodness can triumph over this evil.  Please read more of this story and hear her words at Slate magazine and NPR.
For the first time in any of these tragic events, the shooter shot no one, nor did he himself die.  The African American woman who first confronted him was unarmed, a bookkeeper-receptionist, who instead of running when he told her to, stood her ground, told him he didn’t want to do this, and kept at it with him, listening and talking and praying for the words to say, for one hour—until he put down his weapons and surrendered to the police.  He’d fired his gun numerous times, but no one died.  She placed herself at risk between him and 870 children because she believed she had to, and that the shooter’s life was worth saving too. 
Her courage came from being “anchored in the Lord” something her Christian pastor had taught his congregation, about bringing Jesus with you moment to moment in times of trial.  Her courage came from faith more powerful than a gun, and when it was over, the good outcome was not hers, she said, but she “gave it all to the Lord.” 

efore we arm all administrators and teachers, as some have suggested {and laws in three states now allow} let’s recognize that a gun has never stopped a school shooter, but this woman did, by prayer and compassion.  Passing out more guns in schools just compounds the dominant teaching in our society, that the power to kill is a necessary tool that should be used responsibly, widely distributed.

Antoinette Tuff has been called lucky by some, but those are the pundits who think that prayer is only a sideline, not to be relied on to move mountains, or confront enemies.  You might praise the Lord, they’d say, but pass the ammunition.

Gospel truth confounds this worldly wisdom.  The result of faith-filled prayer is not luck.  It is the only effective weapon against evil—that stops, instead of perpetuates, the cycle of violence.

Michael Brandon Hill--shooter interrupted by grace
Illuminations by Kathy Brahney, may be enlarged in much more beautiful detail, by clicking on

Monday, August 19, 2013


Christians started to violently defend themselves 1700 years ago, when Constantine gave pagan temples to be church property, and then told us we had to defend person and property by force of arms.  This after 300 years of Christians suffering at the hands of the Roman state that regarded us as disloyal, because we would follow only the nonviolent merciful Jesus. We were given freedom of religion in Constantine’s empire, but it was stipulated that our religion would, from then on, become part of his army’s weaponry.   Three hundred years of catacomb Christianity rolled over in its grave.  We became reputable, property insured, and capable of organized violence all in the same time frame.  The Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. legalized being Christian—a freedom fundamentally compromised by enslavement to Caesar’s wars.
Constantine and the Battle of Milvian Bridge--in which he attributed victory to his conditional embrace of the cross.

Most Christians know very little of this history of Constantine {he is honored as a saint in some Eastern Orthodox churches, yet not by Roman Catholics}.  But with the brutality of Twentieth Century wars, and now a never-ending War against Terrorism, many are beginning to examine consciences on our relationship with the state--all this fighting for survival of worldly kingdoms.  Interestingly, there is at this juncture a full length feature film in production on Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. Perhaps it will shed light on the critical turn of the Church towards organized violence, perhaps it will be clever promotion for more of the same.   For pro and con on the history Constantine, there are some good resources below.

The most powerful weapon we are given in the Gospels is God’s loving forgiveness, which is in reality His loving saving Son—and it’s the forgiveness He teaches and lives with us to this very day.  Forgiveness seven times seventy.  Father forgive them they know not what they do [with their choice of weaponized violence].  Those who would save their lives will lose them.  These are hard sayings for God’s people so inclined to live for the worldly kingdom—but they are crucial Good News coming from the mouth and heart of Jesus, lived by Him, hands to feet head to toe, from cross to Resurrection.


“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.”  Rev. 3:16

“Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.”  MLK

“Put away the sword.”  Mt 26:52


References - George Weigel's recent comments.
A good review of this issue, placing the church history in the context of the Spirituality of Nonviolence, can be found in the first segment of Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy’s series, Behold the Lamb, available at

And Fr. E.C. McCarthy highly recommends an important authoritative book on the subject, Constantine and the Bishops {2000}, available at Amazon and libraries.


Monday, August 5, 2013


Does Jesus say it is our duty to use a gun, or any weapon, to defend ourselves and others?  That is a fundamental question for Christians in considering this year's controversial not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in his trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin.  It was ruled self-defense, stand your ground.  But does the church’s traditional position of justified lethal self defense, as stated by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, more than 1000 years after the Incarnation, stand true to our times.  More important, how does it stand up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
These are the words of Thomas Aquinas used in the Catholic Catechism [CCC # 2264] to support killing in self defense, Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's. This is certainly reasonable, but seems more derived from natural law than the life and teachings of Jesus.  Is preservation of life, by killing, what He came to reveal to us?
In a Sunday Gospel of this past July, Jesus tells us our care and compassion is to extend beyond our definitions of neighbor, even to the worst enemy [good] Samaritan, who in turn cared for one whom, by all rights, he shouldn't have.  This explanation of “neighbor” is in His admonition to the lawyer on the breadth of the Two Great Commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  As to His own person, Jesus chooses not to defend Himself, and dies on the cross, forgiving His enemies.

he whole section of our Catholic Catechism on the Fifth Commandment, which ranges from self defense to war, is worth reading carefully and praying about, at this juncture in our life as a country.  Its preamble, “Thou shalt not kill,” is deepened then, by including Jesus’ words in Mt 5:21-22, You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.”
To not kill, something is required.  The preparations Jesus suggests, time and again, are forgiveness and reconciliation, not time spent in consideration of how big the caliber of the gun needed, or strategies for its use.  The anger and fear that leads to killing is to be cleansed by reliance on Jesus’ merciful saving love, of which we are all desperately in need.
Crucifixion by Salvador Dali
Conflict is resolved, and evil conquered, by not taking up the violent means of the Evil One, but by perfecting the healing skills and inspired grace given by our faith in God the all-powerful.  This takes learning and dedication to a new Christ-centered way of living.  Wise as serpents gentle as doves, with all venomous snake bite removed.
There are many practical ways to defuse violence, anger, and fear.  When the haves meet the have-nots as moral equals, this begins to happen.  As Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”  This is happening—from the charitable works of the Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent De Paul societies, to the efforts of Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Catholic Volunteer Network, people meeting each other, who are bound to have differences, can start to overcome them. Now our Pope Francis is leading us into the favelas, where we meet our larger family of brothers and sisters, and banish the fear of them.
  Celebration at Pope Francis' visit to favela--erika garcia of foxnewslatino--July 25, 2013

It was reported in the New York Times that George Zimmerman, on the night of his killing Trayvon Martin, was concerned because he was Catholic and said, “In the Catholic religion it’s always wrong to kill somebody.” He was corrected by a woman wearing a cross, “…that’s not what God meant.”  She assured him, you can kill another to save your own life.
I believe Mr. Zimmerman, paradoxically, had it right--it's always wrong to kill.  Our catechism at this point in salvation history does make provision for lethal self defense.  But what would Jesus do, and what should we truly be doing now and in days ahead, to safeguard our lives and the lives of others, our whole communities black and white, to secure justice and charity for all?

Photo from Birmingham, Alabama civil rights movement
Selma, Alabama civil rights march
Earlier on Monday, jurors got another glimpse into Mr. Zimmerman’s comportment the night of the killing. Officer Singleton testified that Mr. Zimmerman had expressed dismay after first learning that Mr. Martin had died. “In the Catholic religion, it’s always wrong to kill somebody,” he told her, after noticing Officer Singleton was wearing a cross around her neck. She recalled replying: “If what you’re telling me is true, that’s not what God meant. It doesn’t mean you can’t save your own life.”

Illumination by Kathy Brahney