A Tiny Plot of Holy Ground

Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP

Last weekend we held our annual Mission Immersion Weekend for women discerning religious life and/or service in the Church.  It was a weekend of prayer, laughter, service, reflection, eating, playing, and living together as a community.  I came away from the weekend with a sore back and a full heart.

We did several different types of service during the weekend.  Before and after each event, we had time for input on service, social justice, charity, and how to reflect on our experiences (theological reflection).  At the end of each day, we reflected on our day, the prayer, time together, service, and anyway we were aware of God’s presence with us during the day.

One of the big lessons for me was that the soil in which we planted tomatoes and potatoes was truly holy ground.  It is holy and it is also “holy mystery”.

You see, for one of our service projects we went to Shepherd’s Corner Ecology Center for a presentation by Sr. Diane on the center and on the care of creation.  Afterward, we worked with Leslie, the resident farmer.  Leslie taught us how to prepare the soil and to plant potatoes and tomatoes.  In fact, we planted 50 pounds of spuds and around 60 tomato plants in the process.  It was hard work and it was also a time of reflection and prayer.

This planting process all came into clear focus as I was preparing the hole for a young tomato plant – a Roma variety to be exact.  The craters we prepared were two feet apart and each received a nice sized scoop of fertilizer (don’t worry I’m not going to get specific here).  Then, before placing the tomato plant into the ground, we needed to mix the fertilizer into the soil.  As I knelt to do this, I dug in with both of my hands.  Pulling my hands up and out, turning the soil, I stopped mid-motion, transfixed on the soil pouring between my gloved fingers.  I was overwhelmed with the realization that this soil, or at least all of the elements present in the soil, have existed since the beginning of time. This soil has supported life before.  It has grown vegetables, grass, served as a bed for burrowing animals, and perhaps even the foundation of a tent or a place where person or animal slept for a while.  Many people and animals have walked across it and in doing so have left their footprints for all eternity.

Lifting the soil and allowing it to flow through my gloved hands also reminds me of God’s Grandeur.  In Gerard Manly Hopkins poem we read:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness,
like the ooze of oil crushed.
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
God created all and is present in all.
We are intimately united with the soil in that we are made of the same elements.

This Holy Ground will nurture the tomatoes and will then lie fallow until we once again turn its dark, moist humus and once again life will spring forth crying out God’s Grandeur.

Posted in God Calling??, News

Stand in Awe

Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

In this world of chaos brought to us by leaders all over, not just our own, I found a quiet place that called me back to the reality that is possible in the believing community. I am borrowing very heavily from the talk given at Notre Dame’s commencement 2017. Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., author of Tattoos on the Heart was awarded this year’s Laetare Medal and was one of the major speakers. I am paraphrasing his thoughts but felt they could apply to all of us building peace in the kingdom on earth.

Imagine with God a circle of compassion and then imagine nobody standing outside that circle. We must leave our comfort zones and dismantle the barriers that exclude anyone. Matthew 25 speaks to this thinking and the believing community is called to be Gospel people.

We must stand with those whose dignity has been denied. We must go to the margins and we need to brace ourselves because people will accuse us of wasting our time. Members of the believing community struggle because some of their friends and family members continue to negate the humanity of those who are the beggars standing on the street corner, the ones who are different in some way. “Get a job”; “If you’d give up the drugs, your life would be great”; “Well we all know how her Mother lived”; there is much more hateful language around about the one who just never measured up, no way, no how. Can the believing community make more of an effort to stop it?

Do we stand in awe of what the poor have to carry or stand in judgment at how they carry it?

Father Boyle concludes: “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to be in kinship with them.”



Posted in Wednesday's Word

Peace and Justice Weekly Updates

Pace e Bene is hosting a conference – Blessed are the Peacemakers: A Conference and Training on Nonviolence. Click here for more details about the conference held in Huntington, Indiana from July 28-July 29.

Members of Congress have introduced a bipartisan bill named for American abolitionist Frederick Douglass that would seek to curb human trafficking. To read more, click here.

Action Alert from Network: Americans overwhelmingly agree that Congress must act to stop prescription drug corporations from gouging consumers with high prices on the medicines they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Click here to urge your Members of Congress to support the “Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act.”

From Catholic Climate Covenant: A decision on whether the United States will remain in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will happen any day. You have the chance to ensure we do. Please take a moment to send this letter to President Trump, your US Representative, and your US Senators.

From Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good: Women are 51% of the United States population. Yet there are 14 men and zero women on the working group that is drafting the Senate bill on health care. We demand equal representation for this bill. Women represent more than half the population of the U.S. and deserve to be represented in the working group writing the health care legislation. Will call your Senators today at (202) 224-3121 and demand that the Senate working group on health care add six women and remove seven men so there is equal representation?

Posted in Peace & Justice Weekly Updates

A Justice Issue for Us to Consider and Act Upon

Associate Jerry Stein, OPA

Nuclear Weapons and Security

The Peace Farm, outside Amarillo, TX, began 33 years ago as a place where people could gather to prepare activities in regard to the ongoing witness against the world annihilating work of the Pantex Plant nearby. That is where all the nuclear weapons of the US are assembled. People also lived on the 20-acre farm for about 25 years as a continual witness to the death plant nearby. I’m sure huge numbers of people would witness against a place that was built only for abortions. Yet here is an assembly plant that only exists to abort the whole world and few notice or care. It is the most anti-life place possible.

We sold all but one acre, and now the “Peace Farm” consists of 5 people on a Board that continues the witness as possibilities arise. We are part of the ANA (Alliance for Nuclear Accountability—look at the website if you want to know more), which consists of about 35 organizations throughout the country, most grouped around other nuclear plants of various kinds, having to do with bombs or power. The ANA meets 2 times a year, once in the fall and once in the spring in Washington, DC, to lobby Congress about nuclear weapons and the various programs and money involved. The ANA has been working on the whole nuclear issue for over 25 years, and many are experts in various fields and also experienced in nuclear issues, who therefore know more than many government people who come and go more often.

I came to Amarillo in 1987, to be involved with the Peace Farm and ANA as much as I could. From the selling of most of our land, our Board has enough money to send someone to the DC spring lobbying days, so I’m going this year for the first time. Please pray for me and all of us as we try to make government people aware of the great dangers of building new nukes and having them on hair-triggers for a long period of time.  There have been many mistakes made, some almost starting a nuclear war. I think this our greatest security problem, much greater than terrorism, but I seem to be in a small minority. If you have any ideas about any of this that might help me/us, please let me know.

[The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) will be gathering in Washington DC from May 19-26. Associate Jerry Stein, who has been active in Peace and Justice events for many years, says: “I’m going for the ANA spring meeting and lobbying against nuclear weapons. It’s going to be even more important this year, as you can imagine.” Please keep Jerry and the Alliance in your prayers.]

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Do the Right Thing for the Right Reason

Blog by Associate Colette Parker, OPA – Co-Director

Sometimes, I see or hear or read something that makes me wonder:  “What kind of crazy, mixed up world do we live in?”

It happened again last week, when I read several news reports about Stephen Mader, a former police officer who says he was fired because he chose not to shoot and kill a 23-year-old man whom he assessed as being suicidal, during a domestic disturbance call.

“He didn’t appear angry or aggressive. He seemed depressed. As a Marine vet that served in Afghanistan and as an active member of the National Guard, all my training told me he was not a threat to others or me. Because of that, I attempted to de-escalate the situation. I was just doing my job,” Mader said during an interview with CNN.

Apparently, Mader responded to a call around 2 a.m. on May 6, 2016, about a man threatening to hurt himself with a knife.

When he arrived on the scene, he encountered a 23-year-old man, who had his hands behind his back. After ordering the man, several times, to show his hands, he complied, revealing a silver handgun in his right hand.

Mader pulled his service revolver and ordered the man to drop his weapon. The man replied “I can’t do that. Just shoot me.”

Convinced that the man was trying to commit “suicide by cop,” Mader responded “I’m not going to shoot you brother” and continued to plead with the young father to drop the gun. As two other officers arrived, the man reportedly began waving his weapon and was shot dead by one of the other officers.

An investigation into the shooting – which deemed the use of deadly force justifiable — found that the man’s gun was unloaded.

It seems that Mader made the right decision in trying to de-escalate the situation. But his assessment cost him his job as a police officer – he was fired about a month after the deadly shooting because he “failed to eliminate a threat.”

In this day and age, when police officers have kept their jobs despite brutality, corruption, harassment, and questionable circumstances in the use of deadly force, an officer who seemingly shows compassion and takes the time to see others as human beings gets fired?

From my vantage point, there is something wrong with this picture.

Mader (who happens to be a Marine who identified IED’s in the warzone of Afghanistan so that they could be disarmed without harming our troops or the communities they were in) is the kind of cop that I want on the streets – one who fully assesses a problem and uses his/her skill to resolve the problem; one who is compassionate and values life; one who knows how to use critical thinking to gauge whether he/she is in imminent danger; one who operates with calm and poise.

Although the deadly shooting of the 23-year-old African-American man and firing of Mader, a then 24-year-year-old white police officer (and young father himself) occurred last year, the story made national headlines last week because Mader is now suing the Weirton, West Virginia police department that fired him for wrongful termination.

For me, Mader’s story reveals some problems in our criminal justice system. Is there something wrong with a culture that punishes an officer who shows restraint and rewards behavior that results in death and destruction?

Shouldn’t we expect those who put on a uniform and a badge and commit to protecting and serving our communities to respect the sanctity of life?

Mader’s words reveal that he saw more than a suicidal man begging him to shoot. He saw his brother, standing before him, hurting and in distress. He then decided to try to peacefully resolve the situation.

I think Mader handled things the right way. I respect his judgement. I applaud his ability to see others as members of his human family. I commend him for standing up for what he believes is right.

“In the simple moral maxim, the Marine Corps teaches — do the right thing, for the right reason — no exception exists that says: unless there’s criticism or risk.”

― Josh Rushing (Mission Al-Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World)

Posted in Associate Blog