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Father John Dear: “It’s time for all of us to grow up and take Jesus at his word"
December 6th, 2008
By Michael Vick


The United States is at war in Afghanistan. The United States is at war in Iraq. As many as 35 wars rage today, spanning the globe and killing millions every year. Nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War, the world’s nuclear states together still have stockpiles of at least 10,000 atomic bombs, capable of killing every human on the planet many times over.

 

If Jesuit Father John Dear had his way, it would all end. And, he says, Jesus Christ is on his side.

 

”Jesus said love your enemies,” Father Dear told Catholic San Francisco before a speaking engagement Oct. 9 at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Burlingame. “He didn’t add, ‘but if they’re really bad, you can bomb them.’ There is no such thing as ‘just war’ in the Sermon on the Mount.”

 

When confronted with an obvious modern example of the Just War Theory’s application, World War II, the priest remains steadfast in his opposition to violence.

 

”Where non-violence was actually tried against Nazis, it worked,” Father Dear said. The priest referred to, among others, Franz Jaggerstatter, the Austrian Catholic who was beheaded for refusing to fight in the German army. “He was the most radical saint perhaps since the early Church. He said you cannot be a Catholic and kill.”

 

The Jesuit said situations like the one Jaggerstatter faced are not buried in history, but are living questions many face today.

 

”We live in a world of total war,” he said. “The reality of the world is mass murder, sister and brother killing sister and brother, even in the very place where Jesus said, ‘Love your enemy.’ It’s time for all of us to grow up and take Jesus at his word. It has to be that way, or we’re doomed.”

 

Father Dear, ordained in 1993, has been a peace activist for more than two decades, starting with a pilgrimage to Israel in 1982 at the height of that country’s first war with Lebanon. At the Chapel of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, he said the truth of the Sermon on the Mount hit him, and he knew he had to follow that truth.

 

Still scared, he asked God for a sign.

 

Just then, Israeli fighter jets screeched across the sky, breaking the sound barrier on their way toward Lebanon. The priest said that at that moment he decided to follow Jesus. He never asked for a sign again, he said.

 

Since that day, Father Dear has been arrested more than 75 times protesting for peace, and has spent more than a cumulative year behind bars. One of his most famous arrests came in 1993. He and three other activists snuck into Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C. and undertook what the group called a “plowshare action.”

 

The four entered the base around 4 a.m., expecting what the priest called a “silent night.” Instead, they found they had arrived in the middle of full-scale war games. Undeterred, the group found an unguarded hangar and began taking hammers to an F-15E aircraft. The group was quickly arrested. Eventually Father Dear was sentenced to nine months house arrest at the K Street Jesuit Community in Washington, D.C.

 

The priest said his ordeals with the government over the past 20 years have left him without the right to vote and that his activities are under continued government surveillance.

 

”The Church doesn’t take me seriously,” Father Dear said in a promotional video for his new autobiography, “A Persistent Peace.” “The media doesn’t take me seriously. I don’t think my family takes me seriously. The Jesuits certainly don’t take me seriously. But the government takes me very seriously.”

 

Fellow priest and peace activist Franciscan Father Louis Vitale, on hand for Father Dear’s talk, said the Jesuit sets an example in his love and promotion of peace.

 

”He lives it totally, speaks of it unceasingly and writes about it beautifully,” said Father Vitale.

 

St. Ignatius parishioner James Miner, an attendee at the Burlingame talk, said he was impressed by Father Dear’s journey, and hopes to follow his example.

 

”My own life has been a journey of conversion toward non-violence,” Miner said.

 

It is that journey that Father Dear said he holds as his greatest accomplishment.

 

”Life to me is the journey toward peace,” said the priest. “After all these years of working, the journey to peace is still the most important thing, greater than any one event or success.”

 

Though he remains committed to peace, the priest said he tries to avoid the word “pacifism.”

 

”Pacifism connotes passivity,” Father Dear said. “Non-violence involves active derring-do, confronting the opponent non-violently. Peace is not just a tactic or a strategy. It’s a whole new way of life. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Blessed are those who like peace.’ He said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’”

 


From October 17, 2008 issue of Catholic San Francisco.







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