Blessed Is the Peacemaker
Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
Mass of the Resurrection for Tom Lewis
St. Francis Xavier Church
I have known
Tom for more than twenty-five years. The last time we were together
was almost six months ago when we spent a day reflecting on the
Nonviolent Jesus and the implications of His Way of Nonviolent Love
of friends and enemies. When I heard that Tom had died, I was surprised
by my reaction. My very first thought was of Brother David Darst,
a Christian Brother who was also one of the Catonsville Nine with
Over the decades
– since Brother David’s death in an automobile accident soon after
being convicted for his participation in the Catonsville, Maryland,
draft file burning – I have often thought about him. But, to have
his name be my first thought after hearing of Tom’s death was/is
a mystery to be pondered by me in the time ahead.
Lewis (second from left) and others burning draft files on May
17, 1968 at Catonsville.
I suppose the
most obvious explanation for it is that Tom and David were one in
the most powerfully symbolic Christian witness of my lifetime, the
"napalming" of draft files outside of the Catonsville
Selective Service Office during the mass murder operation called
the Viet Nam War.
As tens upon
tens of millions of Christians in the United States, including a
sickening number of prelates and personages of distinction, aimlessly
meandered about or hid in the maze of that spiritual pyrite named
Christian Just War Theory, Tom and David and seven other human beings
like us, created a means whereby to proclaim the authentic Word
of God to Churches and to Christians who were in denial of the truth
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their proclamation outshines by a
hundred billion kilowatts anything a Papal Visit, a Billy Graham
Crusade or a Pat Robinson and Mother Angelica national television
network ever did in the name of Jesus Christ to glorify God, His
Way and His Truth.
In an original
work of art (Original here not meaning "novel" but rather
"origin," as in the Word "through whom all things
were made," and who "became flesh."), that required
their own suffering to create – as well as their own freedom, intelligence,
empathic capacities and faith – Tom and his eight co-conspirators
with Christ brought Light into a society, into Churches and into
Christians of all denominations who were living in the darkness
of the shadow cast by the human smoke rising from Gehenna. In a
moment of history reminiscent of another moment in history – the
overturning of the money changers’ tables in the Temple by Jesus
– they poured napalm on draft files thereby communicating to anyone
with eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to understand that
"burning children was inhuman." As one of their court
good friends for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper
instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front
parlor of the charnel houses. We could not, so help us God do
otherwise, for we are sick at heart. Our hearts give us no rest
for thinking of the Land of Burning Children.
It took faith,
courage and creativity to do what Tom did that May 17 in 1968. Without
experiential access to the daily deluge of evil and suffering that
"the best and the brightest" in government, press, military,
Wall Street, academia and religion were conjuring up and pouring
down upon the expendable people of Viet Nam and the United States
at that time, it is difficult to appreciate the depth of faith,
courage and creativity that were the sine qua non for such
a radical act of anti-government, pro-Christ, prophetic performance
art. Most citizens of the U.S. and certainly most employees of government
in 1968 were still of the mindset of the 1950s, which was captured
perfectly by the late Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York when
he announced his support of the Viet Nam War by quoting Steven Decatur,
"My country right or wrong, but my country." Perhaps
an even better snapshot of the state of the societal and the Church
mind in which Catonsville took place can be seen by a 1966 Life
Magazine pro-Viet Nam War story that contained a photo of a
tough looking U.S. fighter pilot in full gear with a skull painted
on his helmet saying to the interviewer:
We sure are
pleased with those backroom boys at DOW. Their original product
wasn’t so hot – if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off.
So the boys started adding polystyrene – now it stuck like s__t
to a blanket. But then, if the gooks jumped underwater it stopped
burning, so the boys from DOW started adding Willie Peter (WP-white
phosphorous) so to make it burn better. It will even burn underwater
now. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep burning right down
to the bone, so they die anyway from phosphorous poisoning.
This was acceptable
thinking for most of the U.S. population at the time, if it thought
at all about the horror the U.S. Government and the plutocracy behind
it were creating for ordinary people 8,000 miles away. In most Churches,
academic institutions and mass media markets the agony of the people
of Viet Nam was at best nothing more than the "stuff"
for an interminable morality debate. Then into this artificial moral
confusion came Tom and his fellow followers of Jesus with that "living
and effective two-edged sword, the Word of God, that penetrates
even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is able to
judge the secret emotions and thoughts of people" (Heb
4:12). And what Truth of God did their illegal napalming
of paper rather than the legal napalming of children bring into
Christian consciences that were supportive of or indifferent to
the mass murder taking place in Viet Nam? It was an unwanted truth
– but self-evident truth – that almost nobody would consider before
Catonsville and few, even today, in the Churches or outside the
Churches are willing to take-in with the acute moral seriousness
it absolutely demands: There is no moral difference between throwing
a thousand children into a fire and throwing fire from an airplane
on a thousand children.
Today the same
fighter pilots, who dropped napalm on children, women and the elderly,
are presented to the people of the U. S. by the government and its
media outlets as war heroes. But, there is no such thing as heroism
in the execution of evil. A mafia hit-man taking great risk in order
to kill the children of an opposing godfather is not a hero. Evil
does not become a scintilla less evil because a person put his or
her life in jeopardy to do it and is subsequently designated a hero.
Murder decorated with a ribbon is still murder – and the burning
to death of children by the thousands in an unjust war is unjust
killing, whose name is murder. Authentic heroism is freely taking
a grave risk in order to try to do good. What Tom did that day almost
forty years ago was an act of heroic mercy, not an act of pseudo-heroic
mercilessness. According to the truth of what is referred to as
the Last Judgment passage in Matthew 25, Tom saw children being
burned to death and tried to help them at a great cost to himself.
He came to the aid of the burning children in the Land of the Burning
Children with the same abandonment of consequences to self that
he would have had in coming to the aid of his own child or to the
aid of the Christ Child in similar circumstances.
In his Catonsville
act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience and in the dozens of other
actions of Divine Obedience in which Tom took part over the decades,
he was always trying to act out of the Spirit of God whose supreme
attribute is mercy, with the Father who is "rich in mercy"
and who "lets His sun shine on the righteous and the wicked,"
and in obedience to the Son whose conversion command is mercy,
i.e., "I want mercy, not sacrifice." Tom’s life
– whether it be in his art, his teaching, his protest, his Catholic
Worker affiliations, or his everyday demeanor – was a life committed
to struggling to be an agent of mercy on behalf of those who are
subjected to the power of the merciless. What a life! What a witness!
What a road on which to return to the Source!
So maybe, the
connection between David Darst and Tom in my mind at that first
instance after hearing of his death is not just that they were both
participants in that most prophetic event at the Catonsville draft
board. Maybe at a deeper level it is what is so succinctly put forward
in today’s first reading from the Hymn of the Suffering Servant:
"The Lord called me from birth,/ from my mother’s womb he gave
me my name./ He made of me a two-edged sword./…The Lord has spoken/
who formed me as his servant from the womb."
Over the years
in thinking about David being killed in a car crash only three of
weeks after being convicted of acting criminally by burning draft
files, I have often reflected on whether Catonsville is what David
was brought out of nothingness and given the gift of faith in Jesus
as the Way, the Truth and the Life for. It is a Biblical truth that
God is Lord of History, that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of history.
But how? It seems impossible in terms of human freedom and in terms
of the little we know about reality. Yet, in terms of David’s life
and death it feels self-evidently so. So also with Tom. There is
a sense that before he left the womb on St. Patrick’s Day in 1940,
indeed before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, his destiny
was placed within him. This of course can be passed off as just
the idle daydreaming of one looking at life in the rear-view mirror.
But there is a Biblical basis for it in the notion of "chosen."
"Chosen" by Jesus is not chosen to be a big shot nor is
it chosen for privilege but rather for service, indeed for service
that entails suffering in order to love and thereby complete a task
in God’s Plan for bringing salvation "to the ends of the earth."
There is a
meditation by John Henry Newman that begins:
God has created
to do some definite service.
God has committed some work to me
which God has not committed to another.
I have my mission.
I may never know it in this life
but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain
a bond of connection between persons.
God has not created me for naught.
I shall do good I shall do God's work
I shall be an angel of peace
a preacher of truth in my own place
while not intending it,
if I do but keep the commandments.
Therefore I will trust God
whatever I am, I can never be thrown away:
if I am in sickness, my sickness may serve God;
in perplexity, my perplexity may serve God;
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve God.
God does nothing in vain
God knows what God is about.
may leave me
I may be thrown among strangers
I may feel desolate,
my spirits sink,
my future be hidden from me-still
God knows what God is about.
I have a most
assured sense that whatever the work assigned by the God of love
to Tom in his mother’s womb, it has been completed. May we all be
as faithful to the struggle to do the work committed to us by God
as was Tom. Consummatum est.
of your life, Tom, is now in the hands of God to do with as He will.
Requiescat in pace.
Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine-Melkite)
of the Catholic Church. Formerly a lawyer and a university educator,
he is the founder and the original director of The Program for the
Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution at the University
of Notre Dame. He is also co-founder, along with Dorothy Day and
others of Pax Christi-USA. He has conducted retreats and spoken
at conferences throughout the world on the issue of the relationship
of faith and violence and the nonviolence of the Jesus. He was the
keynote speaker at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee for
the 25th anniversary memorial of the assassination of Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr. there. He is author of several books, including
these: All Things Flee Thee because Thou Fleest Me: A Cry to
the Churches and their Leaders to Return to the Nonviolent Jesus
and His Nonviolent Way; Christian Just War Theory: The logic of
Deceit; August 9: The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love.
He has also authored innumerable articles on the subject of violence,
religion and the nonviolent love of friends and enemies taught by
Jesus by word and deed. His audio/video series, BEHOLD THE LAMB,
is almost universally considered to be the most spiritually profound
presentation on the matter of Gospel Nonviolent Love available in
this format. BEHOLD THE LAMB is now available on
mp3CD through his website, either at the cost of $5.00 for a
disc or it can be acquired directly by an mp3 downloaded from
the website for no cost. Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy was
nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his life's work on behalf
of peace within people and among people. He may be reached and his
work may be accessed at the Center
for Christian Non-Violence.