“WHO IS WISE?”
(Psalm 107: 43)
Roger LaPorte: Everyone I have spoken with about him says the same thing. There was nothing visibly aberrant in his character. He was intelligent, sensitive to people's needs and more-than-normally kind, especially to the elderly. In his early twenties, he was part of the Catholic Worker House in New York City. He was not a high-profile Catholic Worker—just another young Catholic fellow trying to help some people that few cared to help, trying to take seriously the Wisdom embodied in the Gospel teaching of “Christ in the least” (Mt 25:31-46).
About 4:30 a.m. on the morning of November 9, 1965, he walked out of the Catholic Worker flat at 58 Kenmere St., for the last time, armed with the instrument of his own bodily destruction—a container of gasoline. Shortly after 5:00 a.m. in front of the United Nations Building he doused himself with the fuel, lit a match and instantly became a flame with a human soul. The intensity of the heat melted the pavement.
He lived in agony for several hours; and, according to the priest who administered the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the hospital he made a “profound” confession. Roger insisted that he wanted to live, that he did not strike the match in order to kill himself but to try to communicate to the American people the reality of the horror and misery they were mindlessly, callously and self-righteously pouring onto the people of Vietnam.
A person would probably have to be nearly sixty years of age today to remember the political-media scene that surrounded the Vietnam War in 1965. The 1960s, which everyone talks about, had not yet really begun! In 1965 information about the war was still being contrived and managed by deceitful men in government and mass media. It was a time of disinformation and the well-orchestrated plausible lie.
It was a time when American boys were killing, dying and being mercilessly maimed for life physically and psychologically. Almost all of them, however, were still coming from the traditional fertile fields of military conscription and recruitment: the intentionally created and maintained underclass of welfare and working poor, poor black and poor white youngsters. Not only had these young men been premeditatedly and systematically deprived of sound elementary and secondary educations—and hence unable to get into college and thereby procure a deferment from the draft—they were also politically and economically powerless to communicate that they were being savaged.
It was a time when a conservative American Cardinal with long-standing, high-level military and governmental connections and with extensive ecumenical backing proclaimed the heretical gospel of “My country—right or wrong”—while his fellow Cardinals, Bishops and priests were sending an ever-increasing number of Christian boys off to kill 10,000 miles away with the full blessing of the Church.
It was a time when Vietnamese babies in utero and extra-utero were being destroyed at such a rate that journals across Europe and on the political left in America began calling Vietnam, in the words of Dan Berrigan, “the land of the burning children.” Indeed, it is now estimated that one half of all the children born in Vietnam between 1965 and 1973 never lived beyond five years of age.
In short, it was a time of a cruel and impenetrable hardness-of-heart nourished on sentiments of anti-Gospel patriotism as orchestrated by way of a multi-billion dollar mass media fraud—a fraud to which most Americans agreed to close their eyes. In this deceit full atmosphere—where grotesque evil was daily being honored as good, where the mass murder of the innocent had become normalized government-created and Church-endorsed policy—Roger LaPorte desperately tried to cry out: “See the lies! Acknowledge the evil! Stop inflicting this misery on others! See what you have done! See what you are doing to other human beings, who have done you no wrong. Hear the screams of ordinary people like yourselves, who are being mercilessly crushed under the boot of an out of control, sociopathic military-industrial complex.”
Suicide, like war, capital punishment and abortion, is an intentional act of homicide. Rationally, of course, it can be justified. If it is acceptable for one person to kill another person in order to try to bring about more peace (this is, after all, the legitimatizing purpose of war, capital punishment and abortion), then why cannot a person kill himself or herself to try to bring about more peace? Reasonably the suicide mission of the peace activist should be considered as at least as noble as the homicide mission of the soldier who dies in the act of killing others—and maybe even more so—should it not?
But, it is precisely because the use of the capacity to reason has been so corrupted by the Fall (Original Sin), that the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ is so absolutely essential to humanity for its Peace, Salvation and Holiness. Jesus, as the definitive revealer of God and God’s Will to humanity, rejects all homicidal violence as inconsistent with the Will of the Father. Hence, it is morally certain, whether any Christian wishes to acknowledge it or not, that any presentation made by anyone suggesting that any form of homicide to self or others is a necessary or a justifiable road to peace and the conquering of evil is wrong. Homicidal violence always opens unknown doors to unimagined chambers of personal and social unpeace, that is, to the flow of new and old evils through the individual human body and the human body politic—propaganda to the contrary, offered by the sophisticatedly violent, notwithstanding.
I have often wondered where Roger LaPorte is now? Every November 9th I remember him at Mass. I have also often wondered where all those others are—those who not only ignored the agony and death being rained down upon their fellow human beings in Vietnam, but who also propagated with unbridled zeal the murderous patriotic slogans and political campaigns that fueled the transformation of that tiny country into “the land of the burning children.”
God is merciful. The God of the Hebrew and Christian Sacred Scriptures, however, is not a Blob of Bliss, Who is nonchalantly neutral to the heinous or to the choice made to harm others. Since Jesus clear teaching is “Whatever you do to the least you do to me” (Mt 25: 36-41), and since Jesus is God incarnate (Jn 1: 1-5), in eternity, need we come face to face with the children that we burned and starved and decapitated before we can come face to face with God?
And, since it is impossible to hurt a person without simultaneously hurting those who love him or her, do we also need to come face to face with those loved ones of our victims whom we drove into misery, before we can come face to face with God? Is the infliction of torturous suffering such a minor thing within the great mystery of human existence that we need not be appraised in mind, purified in heart and cleansed in soul of the imposed, nurtured and embedded malevolent predispositions in us that brought us to participate in it—before we would even desire to be admitted into the presence of the Holy One? Is the horror experienced by the little families huddled together and destroyed at My Lai and 9Gal 6:7) the terror into which we plunged the children who perished under the Nixon-Kissinger Christmas bombings as irrelevant and as forgotten in eternity as government, corporate mass media and Churches have conspired to make them seem in time?
I do not know the ultimate answer to these questions. I do know that a truth in the Judeo-Christian tradition is that “God is not mocked” (Gal 6:7) and therefore these are inquiries of infinite importance—societally and individually, civilly and ecclesiastically, temporally and eternally. I would, therefore, like to ask this question: Has anything changed for the better spiritually or morally—anything—in the souls of the Christians of the United States, of the citizenry of the United States or of the ruling class of the United States since November 9, 1965?
Roger LaPorte, a young Christian man seeking to help some people few cared to help, was a tear that ignited into a flame a little after 5 a.m. on that November 9th of 1965. A little after 5 p.m. that same day New York City and the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, from Buffalo to Washington, was enveloped in total darkness. Shortly after 5:00 p.m. on November 9th in 1965, the Great Blackout occurred. Something not thought possible in the domain of human wisdom and calculation—the collapse of an essential life-support system for thirty million people—happened! In an instant, all electrical power evaporated. I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the learning of the learned I will set aside (1 Cor1:19, Is 29:14). In the blink of an eye, all the lights went out. Shortly after 5 p.m. a great darkness enveloped the land—a darkness that unrelentingly perdures down to this very day in the U.S. Church and in the U.S.
Let me conclude this AD November 9, 2009 reflection on AD November 9, 1965 with a question to my reader. A question addressed equally to his or her empathic faculties as to his or her cognitive faculties. It is a question of practical morality, that nevertheless reaches directly into the very heart of the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that—for God’s sake, for humanity’s sake and for the sake of their own souls— bishops, priests, ministers, pastors will not dismissively flick-it-off as having no pertinence to them at this hour. I hope that every Christian will ponder God’s unique call to him or her that resides within it. I pose this question simply in the form of a few declarative sentences spoken by Daniel Berrigan at the trial of the Catonsville Nine
Our apologies good friends
for the fracture of good order the burning of paper
instead of children the angering of the orderlies
in the front parlor of the charnel house
We could not so help us God do otherwise
For we are sick at heart, our hearts
give us no rest, for thinking of the Land of Burning Children.
Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy AD November 9, 2009