Tag Archives: Fr. John Garvey

You Cannot Serve Two Ideas

You Cannot Serve Two Ideas: When Ideology and Theology Meet

by Fr. John Garvey

10 icon-of-christs-temptation-in-the-desert

When I was involved in draft counseling during the war in Vietnam, I had a liberal friend who knew I was anti-war and was also opposed to the death penalty. She was shocked when I said I was also opposed to abortion. When I told her I thought I was being pretty consistent, she didn’t get it. As she saw it, I was violating a kind of liberal package deal.

A couple of years later I met a man who was not at all liberal. He was very much in favor of both the death penalty and abortion rights, and saw no inconsistency. I found myself sadly agreeing with him: he was consistent.

What made him consistent was a total absence of any sense of the sacred. He didn’t think of life at any point as sacred. He wasn’t liberal in any sense of the word. He had a kind of heartless sense of the convenient: get rid of murderers and other unwanted criminals and also get rid of unwanted unborn children––anything or anyone who might interrupt his life was fair game.

My liberal friend was a more complicated case. She did have a half-baked sense of the sacred, of some value that should attach to a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth to or kill the life in her womb, and she knew that innocent people might be mistakenly con-victed, and that even guilty people should not be killed.

But neither had a sense of life as truly sacred. Nor, I think it must be said, do those who call themselves pro-life and defend capital punish-ment based on the argument that the murderer has forfeited the right to life by taking the life of another. In both cases—one side often secular and the other side often ostensibly religious––there is a sense that a life’s value depends somehow on our end of the deal, our sense that a life is of value (because completely inno-cent, as in the case of the child in the womb) or that a life has forfeited its sacred status (because it violated the sacred status of another life, as in the case of a murderer).

This makes us too important, and God’s role as creator a wimpy cameo. How I regard the life of a child in the womb––whether I want it to be born or not––does not matter in the face of the fact that this unique being exists. To argue that it is a tiny collection of cells and therefore unimportant is not far from arguing that it is not so grave a matter to murder a dwarf as it is to murder a giant; it makes my attitude toward a life more important than that life’s existence, its God-givenness.

To argue that the life of a murderer can be taken because the murderer has violated the life of his victim is to say that the murderer gets to define the limits of the sacred. The terrible fact is that the murderer’s life is sacred, because God has willed that life, and none of us has the power to cancel the holiness of having been called into existence from nothingness. We may wish to cancel our vocation; in the horror of some lives it may be an overwhelming desire. But we cannot. And Christians have to bear witness to the sacred character of all human beings, no matter how innocent or how guilty, all of them people for whom Jesus Christ died. We are not our own. This applies to the newly conceived baby, and to any murderer on death row.  IC

Remembering Fr. David Kirk

by Fr. John Garvey

Father David Kirk died on May 23 at the age of 72. His life was dedicated to the service of the poor and to racial justice. He was, at his request, buried near Dorothy Day, who had been his great teacher.

I met him when we worked together on a book. He approached Templegate, my father’s publishing company, with the idea of a book to be called Quotations from Chairman Jesus. The title will tell you that this was in the late sixties, when Mao’s little red book was all the rage with campus radicals. I was the book’s editor, and Fr. David came to Springfield, Illinois for a few days and we got the book out in fairly short order. It was a selection from scripture and the Fathers and other sources, with an emphasis on the radical nature of Christian belief. Daniel Berrigan did the introduction, and In Communion readers may be interested to know that the dedication was to Jim Forest, then in prison for anti-war activities.

From the time I met him Fr. David, a Melkite Catholic at the time, was drawn to Orthodoxy. He suggested, knowing my own interest, that I read Bulgakov and Lev Gillet. In 2004, after years of circling the decision, he joined the Orthodox Church in America.

During the many conversations we had toward the end of his life, he was very concerned that Emmaus House, the ministry he founded, should continue as an Orthodox ministry.

He was born in Mississippi into a poor farming family. He grew up near black people and his playmates were black until that time in early adolescence when white Southern children were told that they could no longer hang out with black children, and this bothered him deeply.

He used his position as editor of his high school newspaper to attend a black high school for a month, explaining to school authorities that he wanted to do an article on the education of black youth. His real purpose was to see how it was to live black in the segregated South. The experience, he often said, radicalized him.

His involvement in the civil rights movement made him notice that many of its participants were involved in the churches. His own family background was not particularly religious, but he wound up joining a Melkite Catholic parish whose pastor encouraged his involvement in the civil rights movement.

Later David moved to New York and got involved in the Catholic Worker movement, received a Master’s Degree from Columbia, and returned to the South. After his ordination as a Melkite priest, he ran into trouble with a Roman Catholic bishop who was bothered by his desire for interracial fellowship. He wrote to Dorothy Day about this, and she answered with a note to the effect that you don’t need permission to do good – the Gospel gives it to you.

He returned to New York and wanted to start a house for the homeless on the lower East Side. Dorothy Day told him the need was greater in Harlem. He went there and, with others, founded Emmaus House, which over the years from the mid-sixties until today has been a community of homeless men and women who serve the homeless.

The work of Emmaus has involved a traveling kitchen to feed the homeless; job training; Emmaus Inns (apartments for the homeless); legal services for the homeless; and a residence for the homeless.

All of those who live at Emmaus must get the counseling they need, take some responsibility for their education, and do work to help sustain the community.

During his long final illness some of Emmaus’ activities were cut back, and donations fell off. His kidney failure and many other physical ills drained his energy, and he was very concerned about finding a successor. He was aware that in whatever time that was left to him he could do little more than suggest future courses of action.

Emmaus’ board met recently, and Albert and Julia Raboteau were elected co-chairs. The Emmaus community is determined to continue the work. I am on the board, and will be going regularly to Emmaus for a weekly Vespers service.

Emmaus needs money for its continuing operation, but also – most importantly – a director, someone willing, like Father David, to share the life of the poor.

If you are willing to consider this, please do – and in the meantime, pray for the Emmaus Community, and pray that we find someone willing to take up the important work that Father David started.

Interested in helping the work of Fr. David and the Emmaus Community continue? Please contact Fr. John Garvey at:

[email protected]

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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