“At The Root of All War Is Fear”

Dear Friends,

In the midst of the continuing machinations of the seemingly endless cycle of killing (that we call WAR) I find myself turning inward to find that quiet, contemplative space, particularly as I navigate the season of Lent.  As I do so I know that there are countless people (who call themselves Christian) who are so swept up as cogs in the endless war machine that they don’t even pause to consider the blood on our hands and its implications (as Christians).

Early this morning I pulled my copy of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation off the shelf, dusted it off, and flipped to the dog-eared page of a favorite chapter.

Merton had (in his time) found that still, quiet place in which he could see
himself and the world with a remarkable clarity, and he articulated the human
condition with profound (and raw) sincerity. Here is the reflection from the
chapter titled, The Root of War Is Fear:

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

Merton understood those things that we are unable to face; fear, guilt, and every
other possible human shortcoming. He further understood that it is very much a
part of the human condition to ease those burdens on ourselves by passing them
on to others. He saw this being raised to a form of high art during the height of
the Cold War in the 1960’s when, as a society, the United States turned
Communism into the greatest enemy anyone could possibly imagine, and built up
the most fantastic machinery of war with which to fight it (and annihilate
ourselves in the process).

It is ironic that so many of those who claim Christianity as their own are the very
ones who helped build up the very weapons (during the Cold War) that could
cause the ultimate genocide, the very destruction of life on Earth. And, during
much of the past eight years the United States has, by the creation of a vast state
of fear and distrust, prosecuted an endless war on terror that has led to endless
human suffering, economic distress and (ironically) an increased risk of
terrorism both towards the U.S. and its allies.

And then there is Thomas Merton, the gentle monk who left behind a depth of
contemplative wisdom that, if we are honest enough to look within, could help us
(particularly those who claim Christianity in one form or another) out of the mess
we have created and down the road to peace. As Merton reminds us,

What is the use of postmarking our mail with exhortations to “pray for peace” and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls “mocking God” — and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do.

Later in this chapter, Merton elaborates on praying for peace:

When I pray for peace, I pray not only that the enemies of my country may cease to want war, but above all that my own country will cease to do the things that make war inevitable. In other words, when I pray for peace I am not just praying that the Russians will give up without a struggle and let us have our own way. I am praying that both we and the Russians may somehow be restored to sanity and learn how to work out our problems, as best we can, together, instead of preparing for global suicide.

Merton wrote these words during the Cold War, but they seem to apply just as
well to the post Cold War world as the United States keeps doing “the things that
make war inevitable.” What will it take for us to change course and turn away
from war, seeking real peace? Perhaps Merton’s final thoughts in this chapter
provide some clarity:

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in the other.

May each of us find that still place in contemplation where we can see both within
and without, and may peace begin within each of us.


A Lenten Call: Give Up Our Violence!

Editor’s Note: This is a reflection written over the course of two days by William “Bix” Bichsel, SJ during his 30-day stay in solitary confinement at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center. Bix began this reflection on Friday, February 3, 2012, the third day of his second (four day) fast, which was in solidarity with U.S. political prisoner Leonard Peltier.


As I rubbed my hand down the surface of my bony body, a thought came to me that I was sanding down my dry, itchy skin to be a parchment for writing/proclaiming the Gospel – the Good News.

My thoughts come out of living in a 24 hour lock-down, single cell in a federal prison for 30 days. During 19 of those days I fasted from solid food and drank only water and 2 small cartons of milk a day. During 29 of those days I did not sleep a wink at night and lay awake scratching and itching and tensing my muscles and stretching to get a position to sleep. No sleep came.

The first sleepless nights were spent thinking of projects. After my release I want to join Peter Roderick in transforming Tacoma Avenue into “Peace Pole Avenue.” I also plan to help Jose Mercado create a mural walk of peace and resistance on the walls and sides of buildings there. Planning a family reunion took up most of one night and another was spent pondering how to enlist youth in the work of abolishing nuclear weapons.

Within days it was apparent to me that sleeping at night was not possible. No matter how much anti itch cortisone and anti fungal cream I rubbed on my legs and body –the itching continued. After some days my world turned upside down. No sleep at night; very little during the day; liquid only nourishment; and yet I felt much sustained by the grace of God, the prayers of the community and the companionship of Brother Jesus.

My deepening resistance to the U.S. forces of death led to my decision of non-cooperation with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system. With this decision, I felt God’s joyful gift of freedom in which I hope to walk. A freedom that conspired with the long, itchy, sleepless nights and lead me to ask: How do I proclaim the Gospel – the Good News – in this post-Christian, self-indulgent, nuclear age? What is the message of the Gospel today?

I choose the Gospel of Mark as my framework today because his Gospel is short and strongly oriented to discipleship in following Jesus. Other Gospels point to discipleship as well; but, Mark stresses this as the main, underlying theme. My thinking is influenced by Ched Myer’s social and political commentary on Mark’s Gospel in his book, Binding the Strong Man. We are in dire need of following Jesus in today’s world.

Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist in the wilderness preaching repentance and proclaiming that one mightier than him will come. Jesus shows up and is baptized by John, and then is led, by the spirit, into the desert. After this, John is arrested and Jesus goes to Galilee to begin his ministry. He preaches, “The Kingdom of God is at hand… Repent and believe in the Gospel – the Good News.”

Jesus’ first and constant teaching is that the Kingdom of God is near – not down the road. It can happen now. “Believe the Gospel – the Good News.” Believe that every human being is precious and that, with care and compassion, the Earth’s bounty can provide what is necessary for a full human life for all. Believe that people with varying religious faith traditions and nationalities and ethnicities are meant not to be threatening, but to be invitations to harmonious cooperation without weapons or violence.

The Gospel message that is most neglected is also the message that holds the most hope for humanity: nonviolence. We can hammer swords into plowshares; we can love one another; we are sons and daughters of a loving creator. These are some of the elements of the kingdom at hand, which Jesus proclaimed. Following his proclamation, Jesus admonishes, “Repent!” But, what does that mean today?

There was a time when Christians believed that repentance was about atoning for rule breaking, like missing Mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday. Today’s Gospel calls us to repent for more serious offenses. There is no room for trivialities; we are destroying the earth that is home to all God’s worldly creations. We are killing each other.

Retaliation is neither natural nor justifiable and vengeance is incompatible with the forgiveness that is central to Christianity. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of cannot come into existence through violence or reliance on might making it right! Even when a great good – like the freedom of some people – is achieved through violence, the result adds to the unending cycle of violence. The myth of redemptive violence is simply violence concealed in lamb’s clothing.

The lamb’s clothing conceals those forces of death which hinder the Kingdom of God. Forces embodied in national policies that feed a perpetual culture of war and starve our people. The U.S., as the superpower, uses nuclear weapon superiority and military domination to control other nations and peoples to serve our “national interests.” Our weapon system is a sign of ultimate hopelessness that stands in opposition to the Kingdom where humans can live together and thrive.

The forces of death are like rivers of molten lava pouring down a mountainside and the flow is controlled by those with influence, wealth, and power. Corporations, their congressional puppets, and a few highly influential people wield this power in the U.S. They manipulate our government at every level and make a mockery of our justice system. Only the power of nonviolent resistance can challenge this oppressive status quo.

To repent is to confront the violence within us, to change our learned responses of violence. We are called to respond with conscience, intellect, and imagination – to work together for peaceful solutions. Repent and learn the way of nonviolence so that we can live together as a global community. Support the efforts of people of all faith traditions and ethnicities to live and thrive together. Place human need as the priority, and use profits to insure food and agricultural production for every global citizen. Encourage work and farm cooperatives as part of a national and global concentration on food and agricultural production. Open our collective human potential through free education for all. In such an age of cooperation, the gifts and talents of every human being can shine out in global splendor!

The Kingdom of God calls for healing and caring for every acre of God’s creation. The development of energy from solar, wind, tidal and geothermal sources other than oil, coal, and gas can bring about sustainable employment. The tremendous need for environmental healing and repair of the land, water, and atmosphere of our Earth requires workers. Labor unions can bring workers closer together to form relationships and to ensure the right of collective bargaining. Military training can be phased out and replaced by service corps volunteers who serve the nation in building infrastructure and responding to natural disasters.

The call of the Gospel is a deep call to conscience. Preach the Good News: “The Kingdom is at hand!” Venture out in faith that God will do what God promised, “Thy Kingdom come on Earth – as in Heaven.” Resist – by word and deed – the forces of death that undermine the foundation of the Kingdom. Some of these forces that grow in this climate of violence are: war, drone attacks, torture, nuclear weapons, weapon production, corporate control of government, institutionalize injustice, abortion, and the death penalty. Meanwhile, funds for basic needs like food, shelter, health care, employment and education disappear. The will to move our national resources away from death and toward life must begin in each us.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus first calls his disciples to follow him, and then he says, “Pick up the cross and follow me.” As we know, the cross led Jesus to the grave. The conclusion of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 16:1-8) finds women at the graveside, fearful and unable to speak. The angel in the tomb instructs them to tell Peter and disciples that Jesus has gone before them into Galilee and that’s where they will find him.

If we want to continue the story and preach the Gospel in our time we must take over from Jesus in Galilee and embrace his spirit so that the Good News is proclaimed from our voices in this violent age.

A Prayer for Lent*


(*By Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy)

Abba, in the name of Jesus
we ask you to send the Holy Spirit
to gather the Churches together,
so that with one mind, one heart and one voice,
they may proclaim as God’s Way
Jesus’ Way of Nonviolent Love of all people—friends and enemies—
and thereby teach that
violence and enmity are not God’s Way
violence and enmity  are not the Christian Way,
violence and enmity are not the Holy Way,
violence and enmity are not the Catholic Way,
violence and enmity  are not the Apostolic Way,
violence and enmity are not the Way of Jesus,
and thus set Christians free forever
from  bondage to the
unholy, uncatholic, unapostolic, unChrist-like
ways of the counterfeit gods and philosophies justifying
war, capital punishment and abortion.

We plead this grace so that
the Nonviolent Lamb
may be our Lord in deed,
as well as in word and sacrament.

We request this gift
so that the Christian Community
may be for afflicted humanity
a faithful witness
to Jesus’ Way of conquering evil.

We implore this healing
so that the Church may be
an authentic extension in time and space
of the Way of the Lamb of God,
of the Way of the Nonviolent Jesus
which is the Way
to renew the face of the earth. Amen.


Praying for Conversion: A Lenten Reflection

Turn our hearts
Turn our minds
Make us branches holding fast to the vine
Patient Keeper, hold us in your tender mercy, Tree of Life.

This Lenten journey has been one of prayer and conversion. I wake each morning asking god to turn my heart and mind toward nonviolence, love and compassion. It is very humbling to be here with the women being held, waiting for their cases to come up, waiting for sentencing, waiting for a destination. Their stories touch my heart. Their generosity and kindness brings a smile and a disarmed heart minute by minute.

During Lent, we follow the journey of Jesus as he prepares for his arrest, trial and execution. He was tortured and executed by the Roman occupying forces, by the Roman empire that didn’t want any unrest or challenge to its power. Jesus, who taught nonviolence, who healed, fed, and encouraged people, was a threat.

As Jesus is about to be arrested, Peter brings out his sword to defend him. John Dear, SJ, reminds us that if there ever was a time to use violence to defend someone, it would be to defend Jesus, the incarnate God. But Jesus tells Peter, NO. Put away the sword (Matthew 26:52).

He rejects violence, even knowing the consequence can be his own torture and death.

“Put away the sword” is good advice to us today. Put away our nuclear weapons. Put away our military spending. Put away our war making.

Archbishop Hunthausen once said, “Jesus’ acceptance of the cross, rather than the sword raised in his defense, is the Gospel’s statement of unilateral disarmament.”

We 5 are held here at SeaTac Federal Detention Center for saying No to nuclear weapons: No to the trident nuclear warheads.

Archbishop Hunthausen called Trident the “Auschwitz of Puget Sound”. The trident nuclear warheads, like flying ovens, are ready to be launched from the Trident submarines and incinerate millions of people anywhere in the world.

The parishioners of St. Leo Parish sang a hymn of conversion, Tree of Life, at the Mass where we were blessed and commissioned to federal prison. The love, prayers and encouragement of the people at St. Leo’s strengthens us everyday.

We pray for the women and men held here at SeaTac and for the guards; we pray for disarmed hearts in a disarmed world, and for the conversion of our hearts and our weapons.



Relevant Links: 

Archbishop Hunthausen’s 1981 speech on Faith and Disarmament

Click here to learn about the Vancouver Declaration.

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