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A Reflection: What Is Our Responsibility?

April 19, 2023
A section of the Berlin Wall that now stands on the grounds of Ramstein Air Base in Germany. I was able to see it during a trip there in 2007

The regional, national, and international news has overwhelmed me to no end and just when I think it can’t possibly get worse, it does. Here in the US: Young adults have been shot by angry and paranoid old men who supposedly were “standing their ground.” When does a car turning around because it made a wrong turn or a young man ringing on the doorbell at the wrong house become a cause for gun violence and death?

This evening I read about the recordings released of two members of the sheriff’s department and a county commissioner in McCurtain County, Oklahoma. They were heard wishing they could bring back the days of whipping and lynching troublemakers. They were also recorded wondering if they could hire a hit man to kill a journalist!

I am overwhelmed with sorrow and anger. I feel a sense of dread, hopelessness, and doom. What can I do to make a difference today? What can those of us who think that such actions and comments are repulsive and hateful do in the face of this? So I wonder… what can I/we do? Today over a brief lunch/coffee break I picked up a book to read: Thomas Merton’s book, Passion for Peace: Reflections on War and Nonviolence (PfP).

In the early 1960’s Merton wrote passionately about the violence that he saw in our nation and in the world. The Soviet Union and United States were locked in a nuclear showdown and were, in Merton’s words committed to a policy of genocide. (PfP, p. 42) He wondered how could he, a cloistered monk in a monastery in rural Kentucky, speak out and make a difference. He saw in this nuclear showdown the very real possibility of another Hitler rising, he said that the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion, and tension in which we all live is precisely what is needed to produce Hitlers. (PfP, p. 42)

At the Vatican in Rome, Pope John XXIII had taken an interest in this monk from Kentucky and his writings. Soon they began writing to each other. The pope was taken by Merton’s thoughts and writings on the nuclear crisis and it is believed that Merton’s words helped influence the papal encyclical Pacem in Terris: Encyclical of Pope John XXIII On Establishing Universal Peace In Truth, Justice, Charity, And Liberty which was released in 1963. In the introduction, the Pope wrote the following: Peace on Earth—which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after—can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.

All of this has been rattling around in my head and my heart as I watch the destruction of the very fiber of this nation and world. So what can a pastor and retired USAF Chaplain do? Merton offers me an answer: Christ our Lord did not come to bring peace to a world as a kind of tranquilizer. He brought to His disciples a vocation and a task, to struggle in the world of violence to establish His peace not only in their own hearts but in society itself. (PfP, p. 43)

We may not have the audience or influence of Thomas Merton or Pope John XXIII, but you and I, dear reader, can make a difference in our own part of the world. Will you join me in making a difference in this atmosphere of toxic hatred, suspicion, and fear? By doing that, perhaps we can establish God’s peace not only in our own hearts but in the larger society itself.

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