On the Road to Peace
A Monthly Newsletter from Fr. John
Peace be with you! Just back from my three month, 50 city national book tour across the country, and meditating on June 6th, the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Fifty years ago, with his death and Dr. King’s death, my life took a turn and I never looked back.
Fifty years ago, I sunk into a kind of spiritual funk for a decade, trying to find meaning in life, in the face of violence all around me. Finally, one day at Duke, in response to the insanity of the world, I decided to give my life to Jesus and become a priest. It was in large part a direct response to Dr. King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s killings.
Shortly afterwards, I got the only job of my life outside the church—working as an assistant to David Hackett, Bobby Kennedy’s best friend at the Robert Kennedy Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. I was 21 years old and was paid fifty dollars a week.
Fifty years later, a few weeks ago in April, Ethel Kennedy called me. She heard I was speaking near Palm Beach and invited me over to her house for the day. She told me her life story, and I told her mine, and how Bobby’s vision and death changed my life, led me to Jesus, and a lifetime of work for justice and peace. We were both moved. It was one of the great days of my life.
“What has violence ever accomplished?” Robert Kennedy asked shortly before he was killed (like Dr. King, probably by the U.S. government). “What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.”
“The travail of freedom and justice is not easy, but nothing serious and important in life is easy,” he continued. “The history of humanity has been a continuing struggle against temptation and tyranny—and very little worthwhile has ever been achieved without pain.”
Here we are now, fifty years later, suffering under a dangerous, cruel, warmaking, racist, sexist, narcissistic sociopathic president, who is quite insane, and is stoking the world’s violence and unleashing the end of the world—a far cry from the vision, wisdom and compassion of Robert Kennedy, the one, last, great visionary politician in our history.
In 1980, as I sat in a little office, trying to help Dave Hackett, I had one RFK quote posted over my corner desk. As I told Ethel, I read it over and over again every day. It set the course of my unusual life: “Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice,” Robert Kennedy said on his visit to South Africa, “he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and repression.”
A tiny ripple of hope—that works for me. Like millions of others, I want to unleash a tiny ripple of hope, to do my part to help sweep down the walls of fascism, militarism, racism, empire, war and insanity.
My hope and prayer is that, like Robert Kennedy and Dr. King, we might all do our part to unleash ripples of hope during our time on earth.
Here’s the last great Robert Kennedy quote that continues to inspire me:
“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of humanity and make gentle the life of this world.”
May we all try to make gentle the life of the world. God bless you!
P.S. Please join www.campaignnonviolence.org and start organizing for our national week of action, Sept. 15-23. I’ll see you in Washington, D.C. for our nonviolence march from the Dr. King statue to the White House, on Sept. 22.