A Timeless Vision: Moving beyond self-preoccupation
Near the end of World War II a German Jesuit, Father Alfred Delp, was imprisoned for envisioning a new social order for Germany. His vision was grounded in the principles of the gospel and therefore was a repudiation of the myths and fictions of Nazism. While awaiting his death he wrote a series of meditations that have since been published as The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp
In 1962 Thomas Merton wrote a preface to the meditations (with gender references as they were at that time). I was struck as I read Merton's essay by the timelessness of his observations about Father Delp's vision, a vision which had been shaped and formed by his intense life of prayer. Merton writes, "[Man] must be liberated from fixation upon his own subjective needs and compulsions, and recognize that he cannot fully become himself until he knows his need for the world and his duty in serving it. In bare outline, man's service to the world consists not in brandishing weapons to destroy other men and hostile societies, but in creating an order based on Godâ's plan for his creation, beginning with a minimum standard for a truly human existence for all men. Living space, law and order, nourishment for all, are basic needs without which there can be no peace and no stability on earth."
In these uncertain days, as our nation contemplates the terrible possibility of war with Iraq, Merton's words call us to a profound examination of our place in the world community and the ways in which we can contribute to its genuine peace and "order based on God's plan for his creation." And what is that plan? We find it again and again in the pages of Scripture which speak of swords being transformed into tools for the cultivation of the land so it may bring forth fruit to feed and nourish the human family. Food for the hungry, freedom and justice for the oppressed, are an integral part of what the Bible, and indeed Jesus himself, mean by peace. Our more common understanding of peace as the containment of hostility, often through military might, bears little relationship to the biblical notion of shalom.
The church's proper focus is not upon itself but upon God's creation and the world God sent his Son to save. Let us not lose sight of this in the midst of our concerns over the stresses and strains of our ecclesial life. Here again Merton and Father Delp offer us a cautionary word. "Too much religious action today concentrates on the relatively minor problems of the religiously minded minority and ignores the great issues which compromise the very survival of the human race."
It is clear that if the church is to exercise a ministry of reconciliation it must embody reconciliation in its internal life. Consequently, we need to seek the help of the Spirit to find ways that allow us to move forward together in common mission in spite of the divergent perspectives and points of difference that exist among us. However, self-preoccupation can be the evil one's way of distracting us from "the great issues which compromise the very survival of the human race."
Recently I presided at a baptism. As I marked the child with Chrism and sealed her as Christ's own forever, I thought: here in this ritual we are being given a vision of reality from God's point of view. That reality is a vast network of relationships and interdependencies which Saint Paul describes in terms of limbs and organs of a body. We belong to one another, he tells us, and cannot consider ourselves as separate entities without seriously compromising both the health of the whole body and the well being of each of its limbs. When one of us suffers, therefore, we all suffer.
As we hear rumors of war let us not forget for a moment that our future as a nation is inextricably bound up with the futures of every other nation: far away or close at hand, large or small, rich or poor. The children of Iraq in a very real way are our own children.
The notion of autonomy, be it that of a person, a church, or a nation is a dangerous delusion. Until we begin to live with the full consciousness of our profound interconnections, we are a threat to ourselves and to the world God has entrusted to our care. May these unsettling days not imprison us in fear but rather open us to the transformation and healing power of a Love that can embrace and reconcile all things.
The Presiding Bishop's statement on military action against Iraq
September 6, 2002
Our nation is now engaged in a debate about the wisdom of military action designed to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The choices made now will set in motion events that will reverberate around the world, for good or ill. In this grave time I encourage President Bush to continue to listen with an open mind to those who articulate very different positions from his own, voices within our nation and from our allies and others around the world.
The problem of Iraq admits no easy solution. However, through diplomatic and multilateral initiatives, we can both serve our common interests and seek to contain the national security threats posed by Saddam Husseinâs rule of Iraq. Our great nation now has the opportunity to express leadership in the world by forging a foreign policy that seeks to reconcile and heal the worldâs divisions.
I believe it is becoming ever more clear that this is the way to proceed, rather than choosing a course that will immediately endanger the Iraqi civilian population and our own United States Forces, that will alienate many of our closest allies, and destabilize the Middle East. We will all be better served to see our national energies and resources expended in resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, such that Israel finds security and peace with its neighbors and Palestinians achieve statehood.
Further, unilateral military action would surely inflame the passions of millions, particularly in the Arab world, setting in motion cycles of violence and retaliation. Such action would undermine our firm national intent to eradicate global terrorism. As well, it would further strain tenuous relationships that exist between the United States and other nations.
The question for us now must be: what is our role in the community of nations? I believe we have the capacity within us to help lead our world into the way of justness and peace. The freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the United States oblige us to attend not only to our own welfare, but to the wellbeing of the world around us. A super power, especially one that declares itself to be "under God," must exercise the role of super servant. Our nation has an opportunity to reflect the values and ideals that we espouse by focusing upon issues of poverty, disease and despair, not only within our own nation but throughout the global community of which we are a part.
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has called the Church to the costly work of waging not war but reconciliation. This means addressing the root causes of the anger toward the West and the United States in particular, and building new understandings between Jews, Muslims, and Christians - all of us the children of Abraham. The Churchâs governing board, the Executive Council, also voted in June to âoppose unilateral military action against Iraq,â citing its October, 2001 resolution âto promote the eradication of terrorism through justice and reconciliation abroad.â
The President and his Administration need our prayers as they seek ways to address the challenges that face our troubled and fragile world. I pray that compassion and reconciliation and healing may become the realities of our common life, thereby reflecting Godâs own passionate desire for the life of the world God sent his Son to save.
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA