Sunday, August 14, 2011


On the 66th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I ran an interview with Fr. George Zabelka, a U.S. Army chaplain who later came to deeply repent of his complicity in the dropping of the atomic bomb, and to believe that any participation in war was contrary to the teachings of Christ.

I hesitated before I ran the interview, not only because pacifism now, as then, is not a popular position (as the comments amply bore out) but also because one reader whose support I've come to treasure is another U.S. Army chaplain: Fr. Joseph Adams.  

Last week I received this e-mail from him:

Dear Heather,

On 06 AUG I was in a Spanish NATO camp in western Afghanistan, waiting for a helicopter flight and watching a news broadcast in Spanish covering the memorial services at Hiroshima. Couldn't understand what the commentators were saying but the images were pretty moving. They were also showing video of the helicopter crash in which we and the Afghans lost about 30 soldiers. And then the title of your blog for 06 AUG caught my eye.

Believe me, I know I have a lot to repent for, and working for any type of bureaucracy can be dangerous to your soul, but I just can't seem to get out of here. I'm a Benedictine monk, who loves his abbey, enjoyed living there, praying there, working there (I'm an electrician by trade) but I believe God has called me to the military chaplaincy. I sometimes feel like Paul when the Macedonian soldier appears to him in the dream, and I have to answer that call. Every time I make plans to go back to the monastery, I'm reminded of the soldiers out here that are sincerely trying to do the right thing and rely on their friendship with Christ for guidance and balance. So, I remain and pray with them for wisdom and courage and for an end to war.

On the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,

Fr. Joe

P.S. Looking forward to your book, although I have to admit I have a Kindle, it's hard carrying a library around with you over here.

Does that not tie the whole issue of non-violence together? Is Fr. Joe not THE most peaceful one of all of us, or I should say have way more of a handle on peace than me? Is this not the greatest possible example of how Dostoevsky was right when he said, "Humble charity is the greatest force in the world?"

This is the beauty of Christ. Just in case I ever start thinking I have a corner on any particular view, along comes someone to remind me that none of us have a corner, that we all have a little part of the picture but nobody has the whole picture, that "Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle," as St. Thérèse of Lisieux observed.

Thanks as well to another (now apparently former) reader who wrote privately to remind me that Christ is in police cars, and army platoons, and lawyer's offices, and emergency rooms and he is exactly right--just as Christ was very much in Fr. George Zabelka--and again, Fr. Joe brings it all together. We bring Christ wherever we are and do the best that we can do, knowing we're going to fall short, knowing we all need to repent, but bringing Christ. .

"So, I remain and pray with them for wisdom and courage and for an end to war." Thank God Fr. Joe is there. Thank God for his peaceful heart. Thank God he came to my blog, and stayed.



  1. Heather,
    From Here:

    I found this quote by Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen‘s Wartime Prayer Book:

    “The great French Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.”

    Pope John Paul II while addressing the Armed Forces and Police during Jubilee Anno Domini 2000, beautifully this:

    “a tribute to your many friends who have paid with their lives for fidelity to their mission. Forgetting themselves and despising danger, they rendered the community a priceless service. Today, during the Eucharistic celebration, we entrust them to the Lord with gratitude and admiration. But where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals? Many of them believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice.”

    Let us not forget the good Pope John XXIII who recalled his own military service, saying:

    “I thank God that I served as a sergeant and army chaplain in the First World War. How much I learned about the human heart during this time, how much experience I gained, what grace I received"

    I found the above when this happened:
    Food for thought from a mostly pacifist who has come to understand that to truly respect life we must defend it in some cases.
    Peace be with you...

  2. When will you post again ? Been looking forward to this !

  3. Oh Heather, you won't be losing me as a reader either.

    Even though none of us has "a lock" on the big picture, and we all see "through a glass, and darkly," the Church must see something else though in this matter.Otherwise pacifism would be a doctrine of the Church, and it is not.

    She must believe in keeping her options open as she works for the salvation of souls in the world.

    Semper Fidelis

  4. Oh thank you Carolyn. I'm not remotely about to be converted to war. But I'm very much converted by Fr. Joe's lack of self-righteousness, by the fact that he responded to the Fr. Zabelka interview with peace. I have a friend whose friend worked in a hospital where they started performing abortions. And instead of, as a matter of conscience, quitting, he stayed, in order to pray for the mothers and the babies.

    So I like this idea of creative solutions, and that the better part of love and courage and faith sometimes means going places where others (like I'm sure me, who would be so spiritually conflicted that I'd be unable to do any good) would fear to tread. Dostoevsky also described paradise in a story, as a place where people "not only in their songs but in all their lives seemed to do nothing but admire each other"...and I always rejoice, and know I'm on the right track, when I can find something to admire, and the more the better!...

  5. Since this issue has divided Christians of good will for centuries, I doubt that either you or those of your readers who do not agree with you will persuade one another. I personally support the views of Lewis and Chesterton, who opposed pacifism but didn't doubt the sincerity or good will of its adherents. As I read your posts, you extend the same courtesy to those of us who you believe are in error. We all see through a glass, darkly, and only our undying love for one another and for Christ will give any of us a prayer of eventually seeing the light.

  6. Thanks, Frank and Kevin. That is exactly right--we don't "persuade": if we're lucky, we walk with. We share the fruit of our reflections; we share our stories! That, to me, is how we may get a little closer to the light.

    I think the Church IS pacifist in the sense that is says we are all called to work for peace and that war is to be used as a last, last resort and after rigorous, stringent examination of conscience. I myself spent way too much time over the last few years at the VA Hospital in West L.A. watching my friend Fred die of emphysema, and observing the other patients, to feel anything much but sorrow at war.

    But getting snagged on the issue of war on the global level to me misses the larger point that if we could get to the huge inner freedom, surrender, gratitude of stopping fighting war on the personal, spiritual, emotional, psychic level--with ourselves and each other...that, to me, is the Good News. That is the heart of the Gospels. That is where we meet Christ...

    So I endlessly ponder: What did the Crucifixion mean? What did Christ mean when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers?"...And as you say, Kevin, through a glass darkly! None of us can see the full picture. But it is a huge step to even be able to say Let’s carry on the conversation in peace. I’m very grateful for your readership and comments.

  7. Frank, also keep meaning to tell you, I loved the Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang quote you posted awhile back: "In every period of transition the two opposing currents are very violent. To escape from them, one must be prepared to be judged unfavorably by both. So one must learn to be alone. The Christian life, for its part, does not escape this rule. Our Lord Jesus Christ is so often all alone on His Cross."

  8. Let me swallow my pride (although I might choke on it) but I agree with you "that none of us have a corner, that we all have a little part of the picture but nobody has the whole picture." I might not comment much but I read your blog everyday and I'm looking forward to your latest book.

  9. Yes, Dom Lou is one of my "friends in heaven." He was at one time the Premier of China. I've posted a number of times about him, and his friend John C.H. Wu over at YIMCatholic.

    And lookee here...coming soon to a PBS Channel near all of us! :D

    This will be Episode 2, the teachings of Jesus..

    Pax Christi, Pax Humana

  10. Who would want to be +converted* to War? Yuck. My point was only that there are many aspects of of the most important are those who fight in it. They are the ones who have the greatest understanding of the cost of war. I am not sure that you read the article that I wrote here: I left you a link to make you laugh at the irony of what happens when a Pacifist's son becomes a United States Marine.

    Here is the link again Heather.

    No need to publish my comment.

  11. Exactly, Carolyn, the soldiers are the ones who know the real cost of war. That the cost of war is so high is precisely what I find endlessly troubling. One of the points I made in a past post is that my conscience quails at the thought of sending a proxy to fight and die in my place. If I felt strongly enough about an injustice that I felt it was my duty to offer up my life, I would hope I'd put my own body on the line rather than send an 18-year-old boy or girl, or any other person, to die for me.

  12. Reading and praying over this discussion, I wonder if it isn't an example of the fact that we live in the "in-between" times: in-between the Resurrection and the Last Judgment. The Kingdom of God is here and not yet arrived, at the same time, which makes for creative tension in a Chestertonian paradox.

    Some, like Dorothy Day, witness to radical pacifism, the way it will be in the renewal of the world when all will be made new and healed.

    Others must witness to the Gospel by defending justice, etc. on the battlefield, because the Kingdom has not yet fully arrived, still seeing through a glass darkly, as Heather and Frank note.

    All part of the creative tension in which the Christian must live daily, trying to witness to the non-violent love of the Gospel in a world where sometimes war and force are tragic realities.

    More on this topic of the in-between times in Giorgio Agamben's commentary on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, The Time that Remains.

  13. Thanks, Jason, yes. And while we're in the creative tension, we are graced to have an infallible guide: "Love your enemies." That is not real susceptible to varying interpretations. That is unequivocal. That is what distinguishes the follower of Christ. That is the earth-shaking subversion of all powers and principalities effected by the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

    Of course we're all going to fall far short of loving our enemies. But where the creativity and roominess and expansiveness and comes in is in the different ways each of us is called to find in order to carry Christ's teaching out. That to me is what's exciting. That is exactly where the Gospels take place--in our hearts, in the minutiae of our day-to-day lives.

    I, for one, am not remotely equipped to "solve" the evil in the world. But I am equipped to examine the evil in my own heart. And that is really the Good News, or a big part of it. Because that, at least, is some kind of solution. That, at least, gives us hope...

  14. Oh yes Heather! Could I have gone in the place of my son...bring on the Hajib and the Machine gun! It would be to preserve HIS he in turn goes to preserve another Marines' life -strangely unconnected to politics but connected instead to my LOVE for him- it is an awful and confusing paradox to behold!

  15. Yes, Carolyn, that is just it--unconnected to politics, connected to love. And it IS horrible! For of course about a million to one I would not have any such courage, to offer up my life. And that's why I can't stand the thought, and it seems doubly hypocritical, to send someone else in my place. To purport to fulfill my duty as a "citizen" and send another in my place? I often think of the mothers of the soldiers. How can I say Send your son in my place and then face the mother?...This is just one of the myriad dilemmas and of course there is going to be another mother with say an infant who is going to say how can you fail to DEFEND my son? Go yourself, send someone, I don't care, just defend my son.

    This is why I truly believe the only solution is to make our goal to put an end to violence; to make our goal love, as it was Christ's goal. We can't say it's not going to happen in our lifetime, or ever, so why try? It certainly WON't happen if we DON'T try. And every incremental bit helps. Every tiny movement toward peace, interpersonally, emotionally, spiritually, globally helps...He said Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...


I WELCOME your comments!!!