Archive for peace

O King of Nations: Word Made Flesh for Us

Posted in O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 22, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

O King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

While there are certainly roots for this antiphon in the prophecy of Isaiah, I feel more compelled to reflect on some passages in the New Testament that this antiphon alludes to in its incarnational language. The first is the early Christian hymn found in the Letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5b-11)

The Incarnation is, as the antiphon reminds us, the ‘keystone’ or centerpiece of creation. In the birth of Christ God unites creation with God’s very self in a way that points toward the eternal divine plan — that all creation return back to God. God desires, it would seem, nothing more than to be in relationship with us.

It is through the Incarnation (life), death and resurrection that God reconciles all things to God’s self. It is not simply the crucifixion, as some morbidly disturbed individuals wish to insist. Instead, it is God’s entrance into the economy of salvation, as part of creation, that is the unifying element. God so loved the world…

Let’s also look at Ephesians 2:13-18. Here we sense some more of the Christocentricity of God’s plan, while we also recall that it is precisely Christ who stands at the center of salvation.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments an legal claims,that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Let us not lose sight of the meaning of Christmas, the true meaning — that God became one like us. This very act, planned as it was from all eternity (sorry Augustine, no Felix Culpa), is the high-point of salvation history. It is both a sign and an action; a sign of God’s plan for creation and the action of bringing that creation back to God.

By becoming a creature, fashioned from the dust, God saves us.

Photo: Stock
Originally Published in 2010


My Birthday Request in the wake of Paris and Beirut

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 8.22.27 PMThis is a video expression of my gratitude for all the kind wishes and greetings on my birthday along with a birthday request or plea to join in prayer with not only the victims of the terrorist attacks in paris and Beirut, but also prayers that we do not allow this horrific violence to harden our hearts to the needs of others who are refugees and migrants fleeing violence and unrest. Let us not abandon them, but open our hearts and borders to those who need our love and support. As Thomas Merton notes, drawing on his Christian faith, it is only love that can overcome the fear that is at the root of all war.

The video is embedded below, or you can go to the YouTube channel to watch it here:

God is Not Fair (In the Best Way)

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on August 19, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

winery-vineyard6I’m always struck by the zealous insistence of “fairness” as rule that first appears in childhood when parents pronounce a decision that some child renders unjust: “That’s not fair!” Though this sort of protestation arrives on the scene during one’s youth, the socialization that led to this way of viewing the world began a very long time ago. Sometimes one is in fact not treated fairly and that is certainly an injustice. However, fairness as a rule tends to be more subjective than most of us would like to admit and it’s almost always, at least when invoked by the comfortable or privileged, a cover for selfishness.

The Gospels are replete with illustrations that uncover our selfish impulses, which is usually masked by the ruse of “fairness.” This morning’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew (20:1-16) is exactly this sort of thing.

You will recall how Jesus announces that, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.” This fictive landowner, the usual stand in for God, then goes out periodically throughout the day to hire more laborers. He orders that all the workers be paid the same wage, which provokes the ire of those who were first hired in the morning. We know how it goes.

So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’

The “fairness rule” rears its ugly head in the contestation of the workers who labored all day. Surely, they insist, we deserve more than those who worked but a few hours.

But why? As Jesus’s narration makes abundantly clear, the landowner has cheated absolutely nobody.

‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’

Again, let us look to yet another Gospel illustration, this time from Luke’s account (15:11-32). One of the most-famous parables of Jesus again reveals what’s really at play in our own self-righteous thinking. This is of course the narrative of the “Prodigal Son.” After the younger child wishes his father dead and demands his inheritance, which he squanders, what would be fair is for that son to be dismissed and left for dead. Or, in the best-case scenario, as the son himself imagines, he might be hired as a servant on his father’s estate.

However, what happens in the Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of our base human impulses disguised as “fairness.” The gratuitous father is entirely “unfair” by worldly standards and welcomes the son back without punishment or shame.

Like the vineyard workers who began early in the day in Matthew’s narrative, the older son in Luke’s parable seethes with anger at the spectacle of his father’s blatant unfairness.

What is to be learned here? What does this say to us?

First, God’s sense of what is fair and what is not fair does not, at all, align with our human sense of “fairness,” which again is typically a thin veil covering our own self-centeredness. The Reign of God is marked by everybody having what is necessary. In both parables, God does not withhold anything from anyone. All parties are accounted for and given what is necessary for human flourishing.

Yet, it is a sense of of selfishness and entitlement that drives those who have what is from the outset fair (an agreed upon daily wage or all that already belongs to the father) to feel they deserve so much more. Perhaps this impulse goes all the way back to our mythical parents in Genesis, who were not content with their humanity and desired to have and be even more.

Second, these parables and an awareness of the selfishness that is called “fair” today spawns other narratives that justify real injustice in our world. The wealthy, comfortable, and powerful spin tales of “fairness” that justify their grandiosity in the shadow of poverty and injustice around them. Like the vineyard workers hired in the morning, many justify their greed and desire for more as a comparable reward for their hard work.

But unlike the parables, the landowners and father (or mother) figures are usually not prodigal in their generosity and or love. Most landowners operate according to the logic of those first-hired workers. The rules then get set to benefit a few, while the system and the rhetoric of society explain inequality, abuse, poverty, and injustice as merely a real-world reflection of “fairness.”

It is difficult for many of us to accept the gratuitous love, generosity, and mercy of God. We hold one another accountable to rules of “fairness,” sometimes even baptized in the water of religion, but it is not the radical unfairness of God; it is not the radical justice that is equivalent to God’s infinite mercy.

What our world desperately needs, and that the forthcoming year of mercy may offer, is a serious reconsideration of what we consider to be fair.

 Photo: File

Give Nonviolence a Chance

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

world-peaceThis column originally appeared in the January 20-27, 2014 issue of America magazine with the title “Daring Peace.”

On Dec. 10, 2013, the eyes, ears and hearts of the world were focused on Soweto, South Africa, on the occasion of a memorial service to remember the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Mandela will be remembered for a great many things, including his commitment to peacemaking and nonviolence in his later years. But in a way unlike Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi, with whom Mandela will be remembered as a great world leader of liberation, Mandela’s relationship to nonviolence and peacemaking was especially complex.

As a Los Angeles Times article by Robyn Dixon, titled “Nelson Mandela’s Legacy: As a Leader, He Was Willing to Use Violence” (12/6), reminds us, Mandela once “embraced armed struggle to end the racist system of apartheid.” In the 1950s and ’60s, Mandela was convinced that the nonviolent efforts the African National Congress had adopted to fight the white supremacist regime were ineffectual. He and others trained for military action and established Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed branch of the A.N.C., which was willing to use violence to reach its goals. Yet Mandela would not always maintain this stance.

Dixon reminds us: “Umkhonto we Sizwe abandoned its policy of violence in 1990 as negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid and the setting up of free elections continued. After his release, and on becoming South Africa’s chief executive in 1994, Mandela adhered to the commitment to peace, tolerance and equality that became the hallmark of his presidency.”

Nelson Mandela’s story is not about embracing radical nonviolence from the outset. It is about conversion to nonviolence. His is a story that offers hope for those who believe that they cannot let go of the necessity of violence in our world. His is a story that encourages us, especially those who bear the name of Christ, to give nonviolence a chance.

Nonviolence is often viewed as impossible, an unrealistic dream of the naïve and foolish, particularly in an age marked by drones, nuclear weapons and diffuse terrorist networks. This sort of logic is what led the young Mandela to endorse taking up arms. It was this sort of logic that led U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last September to write off his own suggestion that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria could avoid violent intervention from the international community by “[turning] over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” Kerry expressed his incredulity: “But he isn’t about to do it.”

However, there are prophets who continue to cry out in the wilderness of our 21st-century world on behalf of nonviolence. Pope Francis, for example, called both Christians and people of good will alike to join him in a prayer vigil for peace in Syria on Sept. 7, 2013. During that day of prayer and fasting, Pope Francis spoke in St. Peter’s Square: “We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

Pope Francis, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the government of Argentina for this nonviolent witness and its result, challenges the world to follow in the spirit of Mandela’s own lifelong conversion toward peace and nonviolence. What seems impossible and illogical might just be our own unwillingness to take seriously the Gospel imperative of peace. Pope Francis asked during the peace vigil: “Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?” And he offered a Gospel response: “I say yes, it is possible for everyone. From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone!”

Pope Francis’ challenge to us is to return to the Gospel and embrace nonviolence as the way to be peacemakers and reconcilers. Nelson Mandela’s life story illustrates the possibility of this conversion. The logic of violence has had its reign for long enough. Can we too give nonviolence a chance?

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013).

Photo: File

Jesus Was Not Such A ‘Nice Guy’

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

jesus-painting_1280_x_1024Jesus was not such a “nice guy.”

This might be difficult to accept at first glance, because the image of Jesus we have today has been so sanitized and packaged as to make wearing a precious-metal cross around one’s neck or identifying oneself as a Christian in public is not a particularly uncommon (nor unpopular) thing to do today, especially in places like the United States. But who is this Jesus that is so immediately attractive, so easy to follow, so much like our own imagining? And, then, who is this Jesus that we hear about in today’s Gospel, who claims to have come to bring division rather than the establishment of peace (Luke 12: 49-53)?

There are at least two reasons we might understand that Jesus was not entirely a “nice guy.” The first is that the Romans, despite anachronistic misunderstandings of their behavior and outlook, did not typically go around crucifying “nice guys.” Yes, while Jesus was without a doubt an innocent man who happened to be crucified, we should not forget that there was a reason that he drew attention to himself and it wasn’t for saying kind things about the way the status quo was maintained. More on that in a second.

The second reason that we can reasonably assume Jesus was not such a “nice guy” is that he tells us as much in today’s Gospel selection from Luke (and we hear it echoed in the synoptic Gospel of Matthew with an even-more disturbing emphasis on not-nice-guyness in terms of Jesus’s claim to bring “the sword”).

It can be difficult to get beyond the seemingly violent message that Jesus appears to convey in his exhortation to his disciples. We might hear in Jesus’s admittance that he didn’t come to “establish peace on the earth” something of an advocation for violence. But that’s not really what is going on.

Likewise, it might seem that Jesus does not respect “family values” (isn’t that an interesting read) in suggesting that those who follow him and live life according the Good News he announces will find themselves among divided families and communities. But that’s not really what is going on.

What is going on is a straightforward, albeit counterintuitive, admission of the risk, challenge, and reality of authentic Christian living that centers on following the Word of God and becoming a prophetic in one’s time and place!

In other words, we are called, like Jesus was, to not be “nice guys” (and “gals,” for those who aren’t Millennials and use “guys” in an inclusive manner).

Jesus did indeed come to bring peace, but it was — as we hear elsewhere in Sacred Scripture — a “peace the world cannot give” (John 14:27). The peace that Jesus is talking about here, the “peace” that he did not come to establish, is the kind of peace that we might talk about when we express a desire to maintain the status quo or wish “not to ‘rock the boat.'” It is a kind of “keeping the peace” that eschews “tough love,” or a “challenging voice,” or the “hard truth.” It is a kind of “establishing a peace” that exists according to the wisdom of the world and not the foolishness of God, and rests in the reason of human injustice and not within the Reign of God.

Jesus was crucified, in part, because he did not come to preach a word that kept things the way they were, but instead was sent to proclaim the in-breaking of God’s Reign, which is about the establishment of justice and not the earthly status quo of injustice and violence. In other words, Jesus was not sent to be a “nice guy,” because nice guys don’t rock the boat nor do they upset people by challenging the way things are. And, oh, how Jesus upset certain people who had so much to lose because they had gained all — power, wealth, status, etc. — at the expense of others!

As those who bear the name of Christ and claim to be his disciples, we are called to not be “nice guys” like him. We are not to keep the peace of things as they are, but to open our eyes to the plight of the poor and forgotten, the underserved and abused, the marginalized and those suffering at the hands of others’ greed. And this might mean that we face divided families and communities, unsettling those who are not able or willing to hear the Gospel.

This is not an entirely new concept. It dates back to the Hebrew Prophets, such as Jeremiah, who we hear about in our First Reading. Jeremiah, a reluctant prophet who at first resisted God’s call to preach the truth of God’s justice and peace, is threatened with death by the king. His proclaiming the truth of the world as it really is in contradistinction to the way God intended the world to be is a threat to those in power, who benefit from the oppression of others and the maintaining of the status quo.

Like Jeremiah, we too might be reluctant to take on this mission, but like him and Jesus we have been called by God to do just that, to surrender our desire to be “nice guys” who “keep the peace” of the way things are. Instead, we are meant — by virtue of our baptismal vocation — to preach the Kingdom of God in word and deed, risking greatly.

But how can we do this?

It is certainly not easy, which is why in our Second Reading the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” we have to provide models and guides for us. This is a way of talking about the Communion of Saints, those who have gone before us and remain connected to us in spirit. They support us as we continue to persevere and “run the race” of Christian living, a marathon to be sure, a journey that is tiring but one that is the most authentic way of being ourselves.

The question we are left with this weekend is to discern what it means to be a Christian. Do we take the risk of being the prophet who speaks the hard truth and does the right thing, or do we prefer to not “rock the boat” and establish an earthly peace that maintains the status quo of violence and injustice?

Photo: Stock

O King of All Nations: This is My Song

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Draw_Me_The_World_by_stickerstickerO King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

In the United States, especially in times of political contestation and in a year when even religious leaders decry specters of threats against “religious liberty,” it can be difficult to think of the coming of Christ as the coming of the “King of all nations.” The king of Iran, the king of Israel, the king of North Korea, and of China, the United States, and Haiti. Because of this truth, the fact that we believe that Christ is indeed the keystone of the “might arch of humankind,” that we need to put down temptations of extreme patriotism, jingoism, and discrimination on all fronts.

The United States is not the greatest nation on earth. All nations have things about which to be proud and things for which to be ashamed. Greatness, at least greatness as conceived by Jesus’s instruction to his disciples to be the least and to serve all, has not been intentionally achieved by any human community on this earth.

Nevertheless, the King of all nations comes. Christ is near. Are we ready to accept that? To accept our interrelatedness with all people on earth? Or will we, especially in the United States, continue to look only at ourselves to the disregard of all others?

In honor of today’s O Antiphon, I want to share the lyrics to one of my favorite songs: This is My Song, set to Sebelius’s famous tune, Finlandia. This is my song today, my prayer for this O Antiphon.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
May peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
A world united, righting every wrong;
A world united in its love for freedom,
Proclaiming peace together in one song.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms:
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
And hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;
Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

Photo: File

Correcting Oversight: DeWitt’s Reflections on ML King’s Opposition to War and Poverty

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The following essay, written by Stephen DeWitt, OFM, author of the blog, was originally published in the January 18, 2012 issue of HNP Today, the twice-monthly newsletter of the Franciscan of Holy Name Province. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Seasonal Reflection: Being True to King’s Legacy
by Stephen DeWitt, OFM

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most important, influential, and well-known figures of the 20th century United States. King is rightly famous and celebrated for his contributions to the cvil rights movement in the U.S. and his commitment to nonviolent social protest and activism.

This week, as we do each year, we, as a nation, pause to honor his memory and the ideals to which he dedicated his life. During this time most remembrances focus on his contributions to ending segregation and other manifestations of legalized racism in the United States. Many will read or play his famous “I Have a Dream” speech given during the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. All of this was an important part of King’s life and well worth remembering. Equally important, however, and less well remembered, is King’s opposition to militarism and poverty in the U.S. It was to this struggle that King dedicated the latter years of his life. It  is this aspect of his life, often forgotten in public remembrances of his life, that has the most to teach us in this moment of U.S. history.

King’s opposition to war was rooted in two important principles: his belief in the sacredness of all human life and his belief in an objective moral order. Both of these principles were grounded in his Christian faith and guided his entire life. For King, the sacredness of human life was a consequence of humankind’s creation in the image and likeness of God. Speaking on Christmas Eve, 1967, King said:

“Now, let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men [sic] is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world.” (A Christmas Sermon on Peace)

This identity as children of God means that all people are related and interdependent in a way that knows no boundaries or divisions. We are all brothers and sisters and when we truly acknowledge this oppression, then exploitation and killing will be impossible.

Harmony with Universal Moral Order
King also believed that the universe was under the spiritual control of God and that God had written certain moral laws into the very fabric of the universe. This meant that moral decision-making was not about what was popular or even pragmatic, but what was most in line with the grain of the universe as God had created it. We live our lives best when we do so in harmony with this universal moral order; when we fail to do so, the results are violence, inequality, and injustice. This danger was particularly acute when one substituted a lesser value, such as materialism and consumerism, for love and devotion to God.

King believed that the existence of violence between human beings and of massive inequality between rich and poor was a sign that the people of the world had forgotten the inherent dignity of all people and had turned against the grain of the universe. This sense of violation was particularly evident in the relationship King saw between poverty and war in the policies of the United States during his lifetime, especially the War in Vietnam, which he publicly opposed during the final years of his life.

Speaking about the War in Vietnam in February of 1967, King called Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program the third casualty of the War in Vietnam, because the war was taking money that could be spent on the poor and using it for unjust killing and war. King goes on to lament a society that could rigorously evaluate every dollar spent on social welfare, while carelessly throwing billions of dollars at the slaughter of other human beings. For him, this indicated a massive distortion of values and priorities.

In April 1967, King called the War in Vietnam, “a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit…” and called for a radical revolution of values so that the U.S. would “get on the right side of the world revolution” (Beyond Vietnam). As King saw it, the world was in the midst of worldwide revolution of freedom in which the oppressed peoples of the world were rising up to demand their rights as free people. Through its ongoing actions in Vietnam, the U.S. had placed itself on the wrong side of this revolution and was in need of great moral and spiritual revolution to bring itself back in line with the movement of the world.

Parallels Decades Later
Tragically, the radical revolution of values that King called for has not come to pass and his criticisms of war and violence retain their relevance. Even a superficial analysis of the recent misadventures of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan indicates the truth of this statement. According to some estimates, U.S. actions in these countries have cost more than $1 trillion (National Priorities Project), money that could be used here in the U.S. to alleviate the effects of the ongoing economic recession. As in King’s time, when budgets become tight, it is always social welfare programs that are forced to make sacrifices and not military and defense programs.

Nor would King be content with the massive inequality between rich and poor that continues to exist in the U.S. Speaking in 1956, King lamented the fact that one tenth of one percent of the population controlled nearly 40 percent of the wealth (Paul’s Letter to American Christians). Today, the wealthiest one percent control fully 40 percent of the wealth and earn 25 percent of all income annually (Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%). King condemned this situation, saying,

“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe “enough and to spare” for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth. (Paul’s Letter to American Christians)

As long as the rich continue to dominate the poor, King’s critique retains its relevance and serves as a reminder that the U.S. is still in need of a radical reorientation of priorities.

Today, U.S. society remains troubled by the same issues that King spoke out against so eloquently during the final years of his life. Our tragic addiction to violence and war remains as the U.S. continues to spend obscene amounts of money on the military while people struggle to pay their bills. We continue to prioritize the rich and powerful, while leaving the poor and middle class to fend for themselves, despite all rhetoric to the contrary. The bankers and financiers who brought the U.S. and world economy to the brink of collapse are bailed out, while ordinary people are thrown out of their homes, often through dishonest and fraudulent means.

If King were alive today, he would be speaking out against the tragic state of U.S. society and culture. He would be marching with the various Occupy movements calling for accountability and for government programs to help people remain in their homes.

This week, many speak eloquently about the need to honor King’s memory and remember the great things he did for civil rights in this country. If we truly want to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., however, we will join in the struggle to transform U.S. society and bring about the radical revolution of values that he called for. To do anything less makes a mockery of his life and everything for which he stood.

— Br. Steve, a member of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, professed his final vows as a Franciscan in August 2011.

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