The gospel and disarmament

by Sr. Mary O'Connor

The stench is horrible. A spirit of hopelessness seems to be prevalent as a person walks through a street STREWN with garbage. The sight of starving, wasted, ill people is everywhere. Pain is on the faces of hungry people. Men and women are picking at the garbage, searching for food. Children are crying and babies are left with no-one to care for them.

Could all this be real? Is it possible in our advanced twentieth century? This is not some horror scene just conjured up within someone’s imagination. No, these are the conditions in which people live and die, day in and day out in the slums of India.

Once while meditating on this reality, the familiar words of Jesus jumped out at me: “But, if you give what you have as alms, all will be wiped clean for you.” These words were addressed to the Scribes and Pharisees, but how pertinent they are for our wealthy, sometimes arrogant United States of America. We, who as a nation spend so much time, money and energy on devising more powerful war machines, could instead turn these energies and resources to the relief of suffering around the world. Then we would be men and women doing a most heroic act. Our military could become an army of mercy, a powerful force whose members fly or travel by ship into poor countries. We could bring in food, medicine, blankets, and whatever else is needed to sustain life. (We could begin this endeavor right here in our own land.) Then we would be using our nation’s “superpower” to save life instead of destroy it.

Much physical training would still be needed because the better your strength and agility, the better you can serve God’s people, our brothers and sisters.

Objections arise: “But the military personnel are not trained to be doctors.” This is true. But “whatever you do to these, the least of my people, you do to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Any act of kindness is blessed in God’s sight.

“You are making no sense! Don’t you see that if we spend our military money and might on works such as these, we would have no weapons stored up in case of an attack? Our defense would be weakened. We would be devastated as a nation.”

Would we be? Or would we receive singular blessings such as an abundance of crops and favorable weather instead? Might we receive the spiritual benefits of following the gospel thoroughly? Yes, the gospel is absurd. It is impractical and it does not make sense. It is utter foolishness. A generous, courageous act on the part of our military, the absurdity, the foolishness of the gospel needs to be lived in order to heal a broken world. If this were to happen, would we be hated or would our example really make people think and wonder if there is a better way that we have missed all along, even though it is proclaimed year after year from church pulpits throughout the nation?

What if we had reached out to the people of Iraq in this manner long before the Gulf War ever started? Maybe the heart of Saddam Hussein might have been stirred to want to know what sort of teaching is motivating such humanitarian outreach. I don’t know if he has even heard of the gospel. We would be gospel for him. At the very least, it might “arouse the conscience,” of the world as Peter Maurin would say. The members of the United Nations would be led into reflection. “If you give what you have as alms, all will be wiped clean for you.” The gospel is challenging and life-giving. It is a new challenge to live it on a national level.

My purpose here is not to condemn those who have participated in war. I am proposing a radically new approach.

In the face of the dismay, strife, pain and scandal within our nation at this time, we can turn Christ’s teaching into action; so far, every other solution has failed. Then the words of Isaiah would become a reality: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another nor shall they train for war again.”

A member of the Franciscan, T.O.R. Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, Sr. Mary spends much of her time serving the poor in Steubenville.