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Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing
on August 13, 2008
Folks are always going to have qualms about the actions of the John Dears, the Daniel and Phil Berrigans, of this world. If for no other reason, we see the cost to them of their convictions and we are compelled to weigh both the courage of our own convictions and their potential cost to us. It is the same cost Jesus spoke of to his disciples when he turned his face toward Jerusalem in the gospels and began to speak ominously of his coming crucifixion.
I definitely count myself among the choir to whom Dear is preaching. I hope it is a big one. It includes everyone who wants to see peace on earth, and is wondering what they might do to contribute to its realization. It includes everyone who seeks to follow Jesus and is open to the emphasis of John Dear (along with Gandhi, MLK, Tolstoy, the Berrigans, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Rene Girard, Eileen Egan, John Howard Yoder, Walter Wink, Andre Trocme, and Jim and Shelley Douglass...for starters) on the nonviolence of Jesus. I hope it especially includes young people who are just beginning to think about such questions, and who want a sense of the past thirty or so years from a radical Christian perspective.
What I loved about this book, as one who is slightly older than John and has lived through the same history, is the combination of the reminder of what's gone on and John's intrepid consistency in seeking out the heart of the action, the crisis points where the peacemaking focus of the gospel needed to be manifest. He went to El Salvador in the mid-eighties, and met the Jesuit priests there who would be slaughtered several years later. He could thus have a visceral clarity about the wrongheadedness (and wrongsidedness) of the official U.S. position vis-a-vis the Salvadoran people. He could throw himself in with Father Roy Bourgeois from the early years of the School of the Americas Watch and its annual protest at Ft. Benning, the most spiritually profound rally of its kind, sprung from the blood of the martyrs of Central and South America. He directed the Fellowship of Reconciliation, visited Iraq in that capacity and saw the devastation caused by sanctions, and thus was prepared in advance to know that the Iraqis were not our enemies, even as the second Bush administration made its case for war on them. He volunteered to work with grieving families at Ground Zero in New York in the days and weeks after the towers fell.
John Dear has given his life wholeheartedly for the cause of peace. It is less truthful to say that he has grasped the Beatitudes and claimed them than to say that the Beatitudes, and the one who spoke them, have grasped and claimed John. Soren Kierkegaard famously said, "Purity of heart is to will one thing." John Dear has willed to be a peacemaker, convinced that is Jesus' call to him and to us all.
Here's the part that moved me most. John was working at a Salvadoran refugee camp in 1985 when he accidentally sustained a bad cut by a machete on his right hand. He was stitched up in the emergency room to which Archbishop Oscar Romero had been brought when he was assassinated. "Days later, I returned to the camp. The men rushed over to see my wound. 'Now you are one of us!' they exclaimed. They showed me their own collection of scars -- one or two on every limb of every man; some even had missing fingers. But unlike me, they never had access to an emergency room. They mended their bodies as best they could and bore ever after the marks of their wounds. An old man took my arm and said, 'Someday, when you raise your hands in the air with the bread and wine, you will look up and see El Salvador.'" (pp. 132-3)
Fr. John Dear, SJ, sees El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Los Alamos, from the perspective of those being crucified violently, and takes us there to see with him. He longs and works for the reign of a loving God, the beloved community. For his dedication and single-minded devotion, I am most grateful...and by his example and this book I am inspired and encouraged to play my part.