Absolute Pacifism

Stephen T. Krupa, S.J., is right to emphasize Dorothy Day’s absolute pacifism, to which she held even during World War II (“Celebrating Dorothy Day,” 8/27). But I’m not sure that the pacifism of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also deserve that characterization. Gandhi judged it better to resist evil violently than not to resist it at all, lest one become complicit by inaction, and King thought World War II a necessary war to defeat Hitler. Both Gandhi and King seemed more concerned to promote active nonviolence as an effective and moral means of social change than to espouse an “absolute pacifism” for its own sake. My guess is that both would have been greatly interested in the writings of Gene Sharp and others, which explore and promote the realistic possibility of civilian-based (nonviolent) national defense. Just as King thought Gandhi was the first to implement the social implications of the Sermon on the Mount, so might he have thought Sharp the first to apply that moral and spiritual vision to the need to protect innocent human life from unjust aggression without resort to lethal force. Needless to say, we have a long way to go toward the integration of just war realism and a Gospel commitment to nonviolence. In the meantime, Dorothy Day’s absolute pacifism stands as a steadfast witness to the goal.

Roger Bergman


Omaha, Neb.

Female Energy

My husband and I had a lively discussion about how painful it is to see so much male energy in the Muslim protests. My husband observed that there was no female presence within the public anger. He mused about the all-male energy and wondered if the protests would be less violent if there were been both a male and female presence. Directly after our conversation, I went to open my mail and found, to my dismay, that the front page of America (10/8) listed six male voices on the topic of war and peace. This is my second letter to you about the overwhelming male voice in your magazine. Yes, you are Jesuits, but my understanding is that Ignatian spirituality is for all of us. When will that be reflected in your choice of writers?

Kathleen Kinney

Seattle, Wash.

Justice and Peace

I am grateful that you have been able to publish during these recent agonizing weeks. You have all been in my daily prayers, along with so many others who are doing what they can to let the public know what is being accomplished in the way of cleanup, restoration and serving the needs of victims and their families. You do well to sense how very much your readers need help in thinking through the complex questions, decisions and actions of day-to-day justice and peace-seeking.

Sara L. Morrison

Washington, Iowa

Weighty Word

I have followed your reports on the just war theory and its application to the present conflict (10/8). When I think of the terrible weapons of contemporary war, when I think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees lacking shelter, food and water, subject to disease and the death of old and young, I cannot stomach any discussion of a “just” war. War is inevitable; it may even be necessary. But it is always very evil in contemporary times, demanding afterwards repentance and reconciliation on all sides. To link the word “just”—a weighty word indeed—with “war” is obscene.

Kenneth Smits, O.F.M.Cap.

Madison, Wis.

Ordinary Mortals

In commenting on “Home Alone in the Priesthood” (8/27), the letter contributor Marilyn Kramer (9/17) quotes Jn. 14:7-14, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” but misses the point when she says that Jesus represents “an absolute oneness with God that is not accessible to us ordinary mortals.”

Continuing in his farewell address, Jesus said, “ you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (Jn. 14:20-21). The goal of all religions is, or should be, union with God. Jesus tells us he wants this for us in a most intimate, penetrating, permeating way. After all, Jesus’ life was lived not for himself, but for us. God created us in love, not for separation or alienation, but for eternal oneness with himself.

Though priests on the human level need community and companionship, a priest basically should never be lonely, because he, like all baptized Catholics, is called to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, in union with God.

We can learn from Mother Teresa, who would repeat over and over: “I myself am nothing and can do nothing. If anything is done, it is the eucharistic Christ living within me and acting through me.”

(Rev.) George P. Carlin

New York, N.Y.

Life and Prayer

Thank you for your article on Kahnawake by Jon Magnuson (10/1). Here in Taiwan we also have a statue of Blessed Kateri in the church at Ch’ing Ch’uan, and she is popular with our tribal people. In fact the statue factory has made copies and is selling them. We also have copies of her life in Chinese and prayer cards in Chinese.

The circumstances of Kateri’s life are not much different from those of our tribal people here. They first became Catholics 40 years ago; they suffer from alcoholism and cultural disorientation, as in Kateri’s time. However, they also have a clearer sense of their own identity and mission. One young lady who fell seriously ill recently and who prays regularly to Kateri is now forming a music group with her friends to sing at Mass. They are all very gifted amateur musicians. I will share your article with them.

Edmund Ryden, S.J.

Hsinchuang, Taiwan

Sacramental Vision

In offering a contemporary reflection on Luke’s story of the 10 lepers in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (The Word, 10/8), John R. Donahue, S.J., quotes Karl Barth. Father Donahue refers to Barth as “one of the great theologians of the past century [who] urged people to read the Bible with a copy of the daily newspaper at their side.” While that quote is often attributed to Barth, scholars point out that nobody is able to find this in any of his writings. Indeed, a solid case can be made that this saying is most unBarthian! In his monumental Homiletics, Barth wrote that preaching must aim “beyond the hill of relevance.” He believed that we “must preach the Bible and nothing else” (The Preaching of the Gospel). Barth lived to regret that while he was a parish preacher during World War I he never mentioned the war in his sermons. Instead of Karl Barth, maybe our sad times call us to refer to Karl Rahner, who offered us an incarnational and sacramental vision of the “Liturgy of the World.”

Robert P. Waznak, S.S.

Silver Spring, Md.

Tensions in Crisis

As an American and a Franciscan friar preparing for the priesthood, I continue to grapple with the tension between war and peace. I want to thank America for devoting your Oct. 8 issue to this pressing and relevant issue. I found the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir’s article (“What Can Be Done? What Should Be Done?) extremely insightful and balanced. I can relate to his call for a prudent and well thought-out response. He penetrates to the heart of many of the deeper issues at stake.

I also benefitted from the article of Robert P. Waznak, S.S., regarding preaching in the midst of this crisis. His words reminded me of the power that words carry in the midst of such tragic experiences. I hope to be able to learn from those pastoral ministers who have used the proclamation of the word as a means of communicating a sense of the mystery of unexplainable events and the hope and consolation that the Gospel offers.

Finally, I was moved by the personal reflection of James Martin, S.J., on his experience as a chaplain in the midst of the wreckage, “World Trade Center Journal.” Reading about his experience reminded me of the power that individuals can have in bringing Christ to the most broken of places. I was moved with a sense of pride in reading how Father Martin and his colleagues made themselves available to all in need.

Jonathan St. Andre, T.O.R.

Washington D.C.

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11 years 12 months ago
While I have great appreciation for the article by Robert P. Waznak, S.S., “Preaching Faith in the Midst of Tragedy” (10/8), and recommended it enthusiastically to a class, I must demur from his comments (Letters, 10/29) on The Word for Oct. 8. Till proven otherwise I am willing to admit that the quote attributed to Karl Barth may not be found in his writings. I have, however, found it quoted by eminent theologians such as George Lindbeck of Yale, and I consulted Claude Welch, former president and dean of the Graduate Theological Union and pre-eminent living historian of modern Protestant theology. He said that is was probably part of the oral tradition. Not everything a teacher says spanning two generations appears in print, so the “multiple attestation” may argue that, even if not the ipsissima verba of Barth, the quote may represent his position, which Father Waznak also denies.

Mr. Welch stated that the quotation was “certainly consistent with his [Barth’s] attitude” and called attention to Barth’s engagement with the religious socialists, especially L. Ragaz, his stand against the Nazi’s and his role in the Barmen Declaration. Welch also mentioned that Barth had his students draw up a “synchronous chart” of world and cultural events for whatever period they were studying (see Welch’s chapter in Engel and Wyman, eds., Revisioning the Past: Prospects in Historical Theology, 1992).

Barth truly believed in preaching the Bible, but also in bringing the Bible to bear on real human problems. Finally, in mentioning Karl Barth as a “great theologian,” I did not mean to slight Karl Rahner, whom I have often cited in The Word. Even a rich Rahnerian stew could benefit from a soupçon of Barth.

11 years 12 months ago
I am sure you can defend yourself from the surprisingly harsh comments of Rabbi David Berger (Letters, 10/29), but I wanted to say not all would agree with him.

Many of us are distressed to see Israelis use tanks, helicopters and bulldozers in their “restrained” reprisals against Palestinians.

It seems to some of us that the state of Israel was founded without concern for the Palestinians living there. Until that injustice is corrected, Israel (and maybe the United States) will have no peace.


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