Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Gene Fowler, noticing a Bible on the shelf, once asked W.C. Fields, "What the hell are you doing with that"?
Fields replied, "Been lookin' for loopholes"...

Thou shalt not kill. Love thine enemy. Love one another as I loved you. Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no; anything else comes from the evil one.

Christ couldn’t have been clearer, firmer, more concise, more unequivocal, more definite, more final. He put no restrictions whatsoever on any of those.

If he had added Thou shalt not kill unless you happen to deem it a “just” killing, his entire life, death, and ministry would have meant nothing. The Crucifixion would have added nothing. Good Friday commemorates the unspeakable suffering of yet another nobody, a dreamer, a loser. The Resurrection was a symbol, a gesture.

There is only one unforgivable sin, Christ said, and that is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I wonder if this willful twisting of his life, teaching, being, and the plainest, clearest possibly teaching is not exactly what he was talking about.

 As G. K. Chesterton observed, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

Still, we should at least know what we're aiming for.

If he left me or you in charge of who gets to be killed, I’m handing in my rosary.

The terrible thing about all divine truth, indeed, is its simplicity. Whether it be the secrets of the physical universe he has created (like Einstein’s E=mc2), or the Ten Commandments, or the Beatitudes, or the truth we learned in the catechism – all can be simply stated. And yet how curious it is that this very simplicity make them so unacceptable to the wise and the proud and the sophisticated of this world. ‘It is the simple things of this world,’ says St. Paul, ‘that God has chosen to confound the wise.’ Has God really planned it so, or is it just that we in our human wisdom are too proud to accept the utter simplicity of divine wisdom? Why must we always look for more sophisticated, more meaningful, more relevant answers, when he has set the truth before us in so stark and simple a fashion?

Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next. That is the fact of the matter; you believe it or you don't – and that is the end of it. Philosophers may argue about it, and they have; some have managed to convince themselves and others of its truth, while others have not. But it is the first truth of the faith, and those who have faith accept it; those who do not, do not. I cannot myself convince anyone of it, but I believe it. I do not apologize for my faith, nor am I ashamed of it…That is the only secret I have come to know. It is not mine alone; Christ himself spoke of it, the saints have practiced it, others have written about it far better than I. I can only hope that what I have written will strike a responsive chord in some, will prove a help to others, however few. And I pray that you may be one of them.

--Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., He Leadeth Me



  1. I need to get back to reading Fr Ciszek! I've been lured away from He Leadeth Me by Stephen Fry, and Senator George McGovern, and Fr Robert Griffin, and Jorge Mario Bergoglio! (Note to self: Stop acquiring books faster than you can read 'em!)

    Oh, yes, and the Scottish poet Norman MacCaig (1910-96). His poem "By Achmelvich Bridge" makes me wonder why its author is not more widely known on this side of the Atlantic.

  2. Dear Heather,
    Thank you for quoting Fr. Ciszek. I just read "With God in Russia" a few months back (been on a Russia kick lately) but that book doesn't have a lot of his reflections of faith in it. It's more the story of what happened to him. Guess I'll be putting "He Leadeth Me" on my to-read list.

  3. Such a simple statement and very profound. "When you're in love, the last thing you're looking for is loopholes." Thanks for another way of understanding the commitment of love.

  4. I read this earlier and now just found myself musing about ... how does this simplicity in approach relate to fundamentalism, as usually understood? I mean, I agree with everything here - but I confess that Christ's unequivocality sometimes frightens me. Terrifies me, to be honest!! Sometimes his words seem to support a very fundamentalist outlook, something i have struggled with all my life; wanting to be obedient, to be simple, to be faithful, yet sometimes repulsed. I am being honest.

    And though this is not quite the same issue (fundamentalism) lately I struggle with/am amazed by/ challenged by/ am running away from, "Give to to everyone who asks". Give to everyone? Who just asks? Give to everyone who asks for money? Aaargh! Its hard.

    Its all, all hard. I think I take it too easy. Don't judge, love your enemy, make peace before you bring your offering - that seems easy, liberal. "You whitewashed sepulchres! ... How will you escape being condemned to hell?" or ""Not the least stroke of a pen from the Law will be removed until all has been accomplished", and Matthew 24 - the end times scenario - some of these things almost alienate me. Sorry if i have taken up the wrong end of your piece! You wrote well as always, and as always good writing touches upon all sorts of issues lurking in the mind of the reader.

  5. Hi Heather: I really appreciate you quoting Fr. Ciszek. He is one of my heroes. After reading both books, "He Leadeth Me" and "With God in Russia" I could barely pick up another book for a while. And to DJL, I must say "He Leadeth Me" will astound you! We all perceive things differently, but I must say that I feel I could NEVER have survived what he went through and kept my faith as he did.

    Heather, thanks as always for bringing love to light. We live in a very tainted world today. I'm an elder now and sometimes stand with mouth agape at what I see. Everything to me is so simple, just love your neighbor as yourself, but alas, not so easy, huh! Not with car commercials and even food commercials full of sex and violence and "my rights" screaming loudly over every system to be heard, felt, touched and gathered in any human way possible. I know each day as I wake and say good morning to the Lord that I can put it into His hands and He does a way better job than I could ever do! Blessings from Texas, my friend.

  6. I can't recommend He Leadeth Me highly enough. "With God in Russia is good, too, but He Leadeth Me is a classic. There's an incredible passage where Fr. Ciszek's interrogators finally break him, he goes back to his cell, and devastated, realizes that for all his prayer during five years of solitary confinement, he had still been relying largely on self. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, he had a "second conversion" and at that moment, abandoned himself completely to God...

    Anyway, fundamentalism to me is based on fear, on finding a formula. The all-or-nothing of Christ is love, for which there is no formula..."Love one another as I have loved you" is so simple on the one hand, and so fiendishly difficult on the other. The beauty is that we get to creatively, and in total freedom, work out our salvation, with Him, minute by minute.

    The point of "Love thine enemy" is that our joy will never be complete when we're viewing the other as an adversary, when we're walking through the world armed, on red alert, ready to pull the trigger at the first person who crosses us...

    The litmus test for me is always how are my relationships with the people in my immediate circle? How am I thinking about, acting toward, holding in my heart my friends, family, colleagues, fellow parishioners?...In my case, there is work enough there for several lifetimes...

  7. "The litmus test for me is always how are my relationships with the people in my immediate circle? How am I thinking about, acting toward, holding in my heart my friends, family, colleagues, fellow parishioners?...In my case, there is work enough there for several lifetimes..."

    I think that is really good stuff... We need to be local in the most intimate sense, not just in our food or our tendency to reject "big government".

  8. Dear Ms. King,

    I enjoy your blog, both the writing and the beautiful and interesting photos you include. I haven't seen anything of yours in Magnificat for awhile, since November I think (I get the UK version, not sure if that's why), so I'm glad to see they're putting out a book of your material.

    I've been mentally chewing on something you wrote earlier in the month on your Q&A with George Goss. You mentioned how the USA spends more on military spending than the rest of the world combined. I appreciate the point you're trying to make there, but I think there's another way of looking at that (and this relates to your more recent 'Looking for Loopholes' posting).

    Let me just throw out a couple of Gospel passages related to soldiery and warfare - Luke 3:14 (John the Baptists tells the soldiers not to extort money or make false accusations and be content with their pay, he doesn't say to give up soldiering); Luke 14:31-32 (neither an approval nor condemnation of warfare, but a casual acknowledgement that it exists) and Luke 22:36-38 (where Jesus advises the disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword if they haven't one). Interesting that these passages are all in Luke, that 'gentle' Gospel. And there's Aquinas' argument for 'just war' and the Catechism's allowance for nations (and individuals) to defend themselves with lethal force.

    Now I understand that the message of Jesus Christ is strongly for loving those who hate you and making peace. And, I completely accept that much of the fighting that America has engaged in during the course of her history has been rather dubious morally.

    But, getting back to your comment on military spending: Yes, on the one hand, America's level of military spending is obscene. But it's proportion to other nations' military spending is meaningless. Europe since the end of WWII has spent too little on its militaries and European nations cannot fulfill their moral obligations to defend their own people, instead relying on America's military power. Let's not forget that the Soviet Union was a very real threat. The Americans have been paying to protect Europe while the Europeans spent money on lavish social programs - the net result being an enervating and degrading dependence on government programs and an impending demographic winter because Europeans are too busy contracepting, aborting and generally idling to have children, not to mention massive government debts left for the few children they do have, despite low levels of military spending.

    Yes, I'm oversimplifying and there's plenty of moral decadence on both sides of the ocean. But implying that America's spending more on armaments than all other nations combined is a negative thing is also oversimplifying things.

  9. I second roberthoman in calling this "really good stuff":
    "The litmus test for me is always how are my relationships with the people in my immediate circle? How am I thinking about, acting toward, holding in my heart my friends, family, colleagues, fellow parishioners?...In my case, there is work enough there for several lifetimes..."

    I also share some of Randall Peaslee's concern about the dangers of simplifying the nature of the state's role with regard to warfare. The difficulty arises when we try to apply personal standards of ethics to the state. If the state, for example, turned the other cheek, we'd have no criminal justice system and, as N. T. Wright has said, the bullies and the bad guys would always win.

  10. One thing that comes to mind is that most of the money and blood America has been spending for over a decade now on military endeavors hasn't been "to protect Europe." I'd be happy if we agreed that the state needs military forces, then cured our arrogant imperialism and raining down of terror where we should not be raining down terror, quit our pig-headed persistence in quagmires, and then started talking about how to most ethically deploy our military. Arguments about how Christians should think about prudently managing necessary military forces can be big fat red herrings when our military forces are engaged in grotesquely excessive, massively ill-advised endeavors.

    Meanwhile, it's entirely appropriate for individuals to believe that to follow Christ, they themselves must not take up arms for the state.

  11. Dianne, No disagreement with you from me. America's military endeavors in recent years haven't been carried out to protect much of anybody as far as I can tell.

    The war in Iraq appears to have been plain brutal power politics (many Middle Eastern governments wouldn't lift a finger to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but were happy too see America do the dirty work - and take the blame for the resulting ugly mess. Oh, and, what's the number of Christians living in Iraq now compared to pre-war Iraq?)

    America will be played the fool again if we get involved in Syria. The 'rebels' are largely radical Islamists but will happily take whatever assistance America offers.

    The really interesting question for Christians is 'What would have been the appropriate response to the Afghan Taliban after 9/11?'

    I'll leave that question hanging for anybody who wants to answer it.

  12. Thanks, Randall, and to all who have commented, but I must say that whether America should have entered the war in Iraq is not a discussion I'm interested in hosting.

    This is not a piece about America's foreign policy. It's a piece about the radical challenge of trying to put on Christ's mind and heart. It's a piece based on the Fr. Walter Ciszek quote: to wit, that the teaching of Christ is so simple we can't or won't see it. It's a piece about the fact that the Crucifixion and Resurrection changed the whole meaning of winning, losing, life and death.

    Here's the discussion I'm willing to host: What does it mean to us that Christ said "He who tries to save his life will lose it but he who loses his life for my sake will find it? [Mark 8:35]" What does it mean to us that Christ said "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" [Mt. 10:28]?

    Because I don't think Christ was any pie-in-the-sky dreamer. I think he gave us the only way, the one true way to have peace, joy, and integrity in this life and into eternity. That doesn't mean we won't suffer, perhaps greatly-but it means we won't suffer the hell of bondage and fear that come from devoting our whole lives to thinking of our neighbor and world as our enemy.

    The times in my life when I've been willing not to insist on the last word, not to have to be right, not to establish my dominance, and the times I've felt most free, most peaceful, most full of a strange joy. That, to me, is "winning": when I'm willing to "lose" my life for his sake. That doesn't mean I'm a doormat, it doesn't mean I let people abuse me, it doesn't mean I don't have to constantly discern when to stand my ground and when to let something go. I also often fail, am often clumsy, am often wrong, am often baffled. But that way is a world away from the sheer self-will on which I lived for so long. THAT is hell.

    American foreign policy is so clearly made and carried out by a bunch of people living on sheer self-will that to me it's barely worth discussing. I mention its "grotesquely excessive, massively ill-advised endeavors" (thank you, Dianne) at all only because they so unequivocally corroborate my own experience of trying to dominate at the personal level.

    Which is to say at the spiritual, supernatural level. I just can't understand how we can so blithely think of killing even one other human being! A new documentary called The Act of Killing (produced by Joshua Oppenheimer and produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog) is "a sprawling study of the aftermath of the 1960s mass killings in Indonesia by Suharto's coup-instilled military regime and death squads" (from a review in the LA Weekly by Nick Schager).

    It is about just "that ruthless winners-write-history morality" that warmongers and loophole-seekers espouse--and what is worse, espouse in the name of Trinitarian God.

    History--real History--is written in heaven. The bullies killed Christ. But who, a mere two thousand years later in the span of eternity, remembers them?

  13. Heather, you're right to stifle a discussion here about American foreign policy. The content of your post is so much more interesting, vital, and potentially productive than yet another internet thread on militarism. I see that when I said, "I'd be happy if we agreed . . . and then started talking about . . .," that sounds like a proposal to have that discussion here. Nope! I happily defer to the kibosh you put upon that! I was speaking generally, as in, If I *have to* discuss Christian approaches to military exploits, which seems inescapable (oh, the tedium!) every time the topic of Christian refusal to kill comes up, well, then I want to make a few things clear at the outset. Enough of that.

    My final sentence in my previous comment, about individuals reserving the option to refuse to take up arms, was sort of my flag staked in the ground at the location beyond which it's rarely allowed to go, namely, "well, at least let some Christians follow their individual consciences on this even if everyone else thinks it's naive and impractical and unpatriotic."

    Much more challenging and illuminating is your invitation to contemplate living "at the spiritual, supernatural level," where you "just can't understand how we can so blithely think of killing even one other human being!" In almost every iteration of that conversation I've ever experienced, the first thing that happens is the barriers, parameters, walls, limits, measurements, you name it, spring up as if we were engineered to be completely incapable of taking such a simple, loophole-free command as Christ's at face value.

    "But you can't run a society that way!" Well, perhaps we should just say, who cares? Let's try to be the crazy individuals who are too foolish to recognize how impractical our refusal to kill, out-maneuver, or dominate is. Embedded in that choice, after all, is a proscription against trying to coerce anyone else to do likewise, so trying to convince others with arguments to make the same choice (to "run a society that way") isn't our business anyway.

  14. Dianne, bless you, I so appreciate both your comments, especially "Meanwhile, it's entirely appropriate for individuals to believe that to follow Christ, they themselves must not take up arms for the state." Or at the very least, to ponder the question--which to me is at the heart of the Gospels. If he wanted us to take up arms he would have taken them up himself and have been killed, a "war hero," in battle...

    He died a very different kind of death--so different it turned the world on its axis...

  15. Heather,
    When I read With God in Russia, I found it interesting, with hidden gems of wisdom in the midst of unfamiliar stories. But He Leadeth Me was transforming. It's one of the books that is never far from my prayer table -- and that brings Light and clarity to my walk regularly!

    I'm ever grateful that your blog is about the Mystery that is Real, Mystical, and True :-)



I WELCOME your comments!!!