Parshat Behar begins: “G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai . . .”
There is a well-known Midrash that explains that Mount Sinai was the lowest of all the mountains, and so G-d chose it to teach us a lesson in humility: If you want to be a vessel for the Torah, you must feel yourself to be lowly and humble.
This, however, leads to the question: If G-d wanted to teach us a lesson in humility, why give the Torah on a mountain in the first place? Wouldn’t a valley be a better representation of humility?
The answer is that we need both: the greatness of a mountain, but the humility of Sinai.
This dichotomy is expressed beautifully in the Parshah itself.
One of the main mitzvahs featured in the Parshah is the Yovel (Jubilee). Every 50 years, the figurative reset button is pressed. All Jewish slaves are set free, and all land that was sold since the previous Yovel is automatically returned to its original owners.
What is the point behind this reset? Why did the Torah institute such a mechanism, where all transactions become undone and everything reverts back to its original status? … —Sholom Kesselman (www.chabad.org)
Catholics and others around the U.S. have an opportunity in May to write to their local Catholic bishop to encourage them to teach and preach on active gospel nonviolence. This is part of the global outreach offered by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to support the Catholic Church in re-centering Gospel nonviolence in Catholic life and faith.
Social concerns committees, diocesan social justice directors, youth groups, and individuals can host letter-writing events in May at churches, coffee hours, prayer groups, and other key gatherings.
Write the bishop of your diocese in May. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to join in. See bottom of post.)
Instruments of Reconciliation: A National Campaign to Amplify Active Nonviolence in the U.S. Catholic Church
Three suggested dates below in the month of May have been chosen in the United States to ask Catholics and other concerned Christians to share their hope for greater teaching and commitment to active nonviolence with their local bishop and invite him to affirm active nonviolence as the “nucleus of the Christian revolution” by:
1: Sharing and speaking about Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message broadly within their diocese, seminaries, and other ministries
2: Concretely committing to an initiative to scale-up practices of active nonviolence within his diocese.
As Pope Benedict wrote, “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution.’”
We want to support our Bishops in their efforts, like Pope Francis, who pledged the assistance of the church in “every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”
Some dioceses – such as the Archdiocese of Chicago – are already experimenting with a commitment to a culture of nonviolence and practical steps to greater active nonviolence to address tensions and crime within the diocese. Pope Francis wrote them a letter of encouragement.
May 3 is the anniversary of The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (1983), the Bishop’s pastoral letter.
May 8 is the birthday for Daniel Berrigan (b. 1921) and Sophie Scholl (b. 1921).
May 20 is the Feast of Austrian conscientious objector and martyr Franz Jagerstatter who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
What if I’m not Catholic and I want to participate? Thank you! The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative welcomes support from all people of good conscience who want to see greater teaching from the Catholic Church on effective and active Gospel nonviolence.
You do not need to be Catholic to ask you local Catholic bishop for greater teaching on this. Search for your Catholic diocese’s web site to find the address of the local Catholic bishop.
Fr. Dan died a year ago today. Long live the Resurrection!
Below are reflections from last year:
Fr. Daniel J. Berrigan (May 9, 1921 – April 30, 2016): ‘A Priest of Uncommon Conscience’
by Rose Marie Berger
Daniel J. Berrigan–priest, prophet, poet–died today in New York City. He was 94.
In the coming days there will be joyful celebrations of Fr. Dan and gatherings to tell his mighty story. He was one of the great Christian witnesses of our time; a giant of the 20th century in America, along with Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Martin King, Fannie Lour Hamer, and Cesar Chavez.
He leaves an extended family of Berrigans, O’Gradys, and McAlisters, and an even larger community who called him “Uncle Dan.” But now, at last, he is pain-free and dancing with the angels and his beloved co-conspirator, brother Phil, who preceded him in death in 2002.
For me, I will remember a few small things: First, that my father kept above his desk a photo of Dan Berrigan’s arrest in 1968 at a Catonsville (Md) army draft board and recruitment center, where Dan and 8 others poured their own blood and homemade napalm on 378 draft files and burned them in the parking lot. Years later, Dan told me that he’d once been flying on a commercial airline and the pilot overheard his name from the ticket desk. The pilot walked up to Dan and asked if he could shake his hand. “You don’t know me,” he said, “but I owe you my life. My draft record was one of the one’s you burned that day. Because of all the mix up, I was never called up. Thank you for saving my life.”
Second, that I was able to study Isaiah with him on a Sojourners community retreat in the early 1990s (see photo at right I took on that retreat in rural Maryland). And I heard him read his Advent poetry one year–wild, frightening, unpredictable, incarnate–when he was visiting Dorothy Day house in Washington, D.C. (I also asked him to dance once at his 75th birthday celebration, but his back pained him too much to accept.)
Third, I was able to spend a time at Dan Berrigan’s summer house on Block Island, Rhode Island, given over to him by the radical Episcopalian lawyer and theologian William Stringfellow and his partner Methodist poet Anthony Towne. The tiny house teeters on an eroding cliff over the Atlantic. It’s a place where the primal forces of God are not obscured by human hubris. But it was here that Bill and Anthony “harbored” Dan there when he was a fugitive from the FBI after being convicted of felonies “by reason of the illegal activation of their opposition to the Vietnam war,” said the trial document. Framed on the wall of the house is a calligraphy with an excerpt of Bill and Anthony’s letter in defense of their actions of “harboring a fugitive.”
A Christian does what he must do as a Christian
Daniel Berrigan is our FRIEND
And is always welcome
in our home
any visit from him is an
honor for us
because he is a priest of
he his a citizen of
urgent moral purpose
and he is a human being of
exemplary courage ….
Dan always was one to turn questions upside down. On his own death I suspect his mischievous grin has finally returned: “Death? What death? I’m only just getting started.”
Here’s an excerpt from one of the tributes in Sojourners magazine to Dan Berrigan from the 1990s. It’s taken from a court case:
Judge: “Father Berrigan, regardless of the outcome of these hearings, will you promise the court that you will refrain from such acts in the future?”
Dan: “Your honor, it seems to me that you are asking the wrong question.”
Judge: “OK, Father Berrigan, what do you think is the proper question?”
Dan: “Well, your honor, it appears to me that you should ask President Bush if he’ll stop making missiles; and, if he’ll stop making them, then I’ll stop banging on them and you and I can go fishing.”
-From testimony at the Plowshares Eight resentencing, 1990.
For more about Fr. Berrigan, read Looking Back in Gratitude and his own autobiography To Dwell in Peace (1988). And every American should read The Trial of the Catonsville Nine by Daniel Berrigan. It is a classic of American resistance literature.
Twenty-five years ago today a rebellion of frustration, fear, and anger broke out in Los Angeles when a Simi Valley jury acquitted four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department of the use of excessive force in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King. It began in South Central LA and spread throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area as thousands of people rose up over a six-day period following the announcement of the verdict. Many Korean store owners were in harm’s way and the police primarily deployed to protect white neighbhorhoods.
Theologian Ched Myers wrote of that time, “The ever-deepening gulf between rich and poor is illustrated by two voices …, one belonging to George Bush, a man who abusively policed the world, the other belonging to Rodney King, a man who took a world of abuse from the police” (Who Will Roll Away the Stone).
Below is an excerpt from Sue Kim, currently vice president of development at the Boston Children’s Museum, who lived through the LA uprising with her family. She vividly recalls what happened on April 29,1992 and days following. (Thank you to Sue Park-Hur and Hyun Hur at ReconciliAsian for sharing this):
The LA Riots ravaged the community. We received news primarily from Radio Korea, because the American news outlets did not provide enough information about what was really happening on the ground. Street names were mentioned, but they never acknowledged that they were Koreatown streets until much later. As the riots started heading closer to K-town, most store owners decided to camp out at their places of businesses because it was our livelihoods. No one really had insurance. If the stores burned down, what would families do? We risked our lives (literally), but decided to guard nonetheless.
Our family bookstore was on Western Ave, just south of Olympic. We prayed all night as the looters and fire bombers headed our way. We knew because of the smoke in the air, the red sky and reports from Radio Korea. The gunshots were booming and sharp. We stayed clear of the windows. Next door was the Korean Chinese Restaurant and the owners and employees were also there and they had guns. Some of the men had mandatory military training from Korea.
Just before the rioters got to our block, literally one block away, something spooked them and just our little section of Western was skipped over. The rioters veered off and found another way up north on Western. I will never forget the darkness of our store, my mom, brother, sister, an employee and me… huddled in the store… knowing that terror and unreasonable cruelty headed our way.
By the following morning, countless stores were burned, looted, shots fired by drive by shooters and by ex-military Korean men on rooftops defending their livelihood. The police were nowhere. We heard on Radio Korea that they were guarding Beverly Hills.
In the midst of the madness, a van full of old Korean women and a pastor from Van Nuys delivered kimbap (Korean rolls) to us and many others throughout K-town. We cried. I will never forget their kindness. They were determined to help others in the midst of danger. I also remember Korean gang members, and they were willing to help wherever they could defending stores or running errands for people because this was our K-town.
The K-town community rallied and bonded, but also realized how isolated we were. There were no community spokesmen, the media did not provide correct coverage, the police left us to protect ourselves, and a burning desire in the hearts of 1.5 and 2nd generation Korean-Americans to become activists arose. As we marched, the peace-march, we also felt our continued helplessness and anger. The media still did not cover it properly. Friends in New York City, the East Coast and even in the San Fernando Valley did not really know what happened. But how can those who saw the fires and were shot at… ever forget? — Sue Kim
“Part of the spirituality of Easter is learning to believe in the presence of God in all that happens. All we need do is think of the earlier followers of Jesus who were so discouraged and disheartened when He was crucified. From a human point of view, that was the end. All of the hopes of His followers were dashed and broken. So a challenge of spirituality is to believe that God is always present and always bringing about a good in every situation. We don’t always see the good. Perhaps even often we don’t see the good. Yet we are called to believe.
At the heart of all spirituality is this deep and unfailing belief that God is God, that God is present and that God is involved in all that happens. Immediately this takes us to a different level of belief. Our world today, to an enormous extent, believes that there is nothing after death. So many Christians even believe that now. Jesus is a good figure and a good man, but surely Jesus was not God! Once a Christian no longer believes that Jesus is God, then such a person really can no longer be called a Christian. Such a person may well live in a way that brings him or her to heaven, but in this life there is a huge lack of faith.
How different our lives are when we believe that there is another life after death! In the past, of course, some would say that we Christians use the idea or even the reality of heaven to avoid living the realities of this life! For sure, when we believe that this life is not the whole meaning of human reality, then our understanding of how to live changes incredibly. It is more important to be good than to achieve a lot of money or have a lot of sexual relationships or to have power over others. What matters is living in Jesus Christ, living as He did and trying to love others and serve others. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter”
Six minutes of truth-telling from the awesome team at Sojourners: Where’s the Body of Christ when Bodies Go Missing? This is the nascent short podcast series that Sojourners is developing called The God Beat.
This story about missing black and Latina girls in the D.C-area speaks to me because of my work on the Donte Manning story (see Who Killed Donte Manning: The Story of an American Neighborhood) and because of Ebony Franklin, who was murdered a few blocks from my house. There are hundreds of unnamed and disappeared girls in our country.
My Sojourners’ colleagues, Dhanya Addanki and Da’Shawn Mosley, get to the root of the Christian question in their podcast.
An in-depth historical look at the “Providentialist theology” that influenced government and church decisions at the time of the Irish holocaust in 1845-1850.
“The failure of government robustly to rise to the challenge of the Great Hunger because of an ideology underpinned with theological considerations caused many in Ireland to believe that ‘a British Protestant state has allowed massive starvation as a means of reducing the Irish Catholic population and strengthening its control over the country.’ I don’t think myself that it’s true, but never-the-less it was an opinion prominent in Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the famine.”—Oliver Rafferty, SJ
After I was brought down, I heard the winds
Whip the palm trees with wild laments;
Footsteps receded into infinity. Wounds
And the cross I was nailed to all afternoon
Didn’t kill me. I listened. A cry of grief
Crossed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser pulling a ship
Destined to sink. The cry
Was a thread of light between morning
And night in a sad winter sky.
Despite all this, the city fell asleep. …
Excerpted from Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s poem “The Messiah After the Crucifixion”
University of Zimbabwe students carry branches and fronds during a peaceful march from the campus to Harare city centre April 9, 2001. The students, who were protesting the alleged beating to death of a student by riot police during disturbances Sunday 8 April 2001, were disbursed by riot police who fired teargas. (Picture by Howard Burditt/Reuters)
The Palm Sunday Uprising (an excerpt from The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem):
“Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.
Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology … it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts … Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God … For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.
We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem … As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counterprocession’ … The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion: look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.
Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cæsar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life … Holy Week is the story of this confrontation.”–The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-5)