Up Front and Personal

Looking Up at a Great Light

by Marian Ronan 

As Christians, we all know how central light is to the story of our faith. The creation story opens with “Let there be light.” And Matthew introduces Jesus with a quote from the prophet Isaiah: “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light” (4:16). When we look up at the stars or face the glorious rising sun, it is this sacred story that we are wrapped in.

Unfortunately, not all great lights merge easily with our faith. Consider, for example, the massive wildfires burning now around the planet. Or what happened on the other side of the world 78 years ago when a great light appeared above the city of Hiroshima, Japan. 

As Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, recalls in his recent pastoral letter, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace,” on Aug. 6, 1945, children in Hiroshima ran to the windows of their school, attracted by the bright light of the nuclear bombing of their city. Many of them died that day or later from radiation. Sadly, that great light generated only destruction and death. 

And three days later, on Aug. 9, our country dropped a second atomic bomb on another Japanese city, Nagasaki. Aside from being unnecessary, given the utter devastation of the first attack, this bombing was of special interest to us as Catholics because the bomb was dropped 500 feet from the Catholic cathedral, destroying it and killing the entire congregation gathered for Mass. 

Since I was born almost two years after these bombings, I like to think I am not responsible for them. But there can be little doubt that the profits gained from what President Eisenhower called “the military industrial complex,” including the production of nukes, contributed a great deal to the postwar prosperity by which the daughter of a shift worker could become a seminary professor with a Ph.D. 

And then there is the fact that Pope Francis, in 2017, declared not only the use but the very possession of nuclear weapons immoral. Meanwhile, the United States, already the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons in a war, is spending trillions of dollars upgrading its nuclear arsenal. What does this mean for Catholics like me who continue to pay the federal taxes that fund this immoral endeavor? 

We may, indeed, be greatly increasing the likelihood that another great light will explode over God’s creation. Let us pray, instead, that the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into this world will move us to demand that our country renounce nuclear weapons, moving this world into the light of Christ’s peace.

Marian Ronan is a retired professor of theology and religion who is active in Pax Christi Metro New York.