Jesuit priest John Dear is an extraordinary apostle of peace, but even more impressively a man of deep and transformative prayer. "A man of prayer will get more done in a year than another in all his life" (Louis Lallement, S.J.). John Dear's prayer life ushers forth in the work of peacemaking. His almost two dozen books and thousands of articles and talks make him a Jesuit marathon man, constantly going anywhere and everywhere as he serves the non-violent Jesus he so loves, proclaims and imitates.
Since the early 1980s, Dear been everywhere on the front lines of the struggle for Faith and Justice in our times, from numerous jail cells to the offices of the Pentagon; he has also met and befriended everyone from Martin Sheen and Jackson Browne to unknown campesinos and inner city residents. John knew well the martyred Jesuits of El Salvador, and is on a first name basis with Mairead Corrigan of Northern Ireland, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and virtually every other leader of contemporary peace movements. His mentors, famous peace activist brothers Phil Berrigan and Dan Berrigan, S.J., are the prophets he emulates as he blazes new trails of peace and justice.
One memorable day in Rome he met and gave John Paul II one of the twenty books he's written on peace, went on to meet with Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J, the then Superior General of the Jesuits who strongly supported and endorsed his work, and later chatted with his buddy Mother Teresa. St. Ignatius never had a day like that!
Dear's autobiography is not your typical activist's memoir. As interesting to me as his descriptions of his time in jail and the multitude of journeys to places as diverse as Duke University, Palestine, Central America, Northern Ireland, Iraq, San Francisco, Richmond VA and Springer NM, Ground Zero for months after Sept. 11, 2001, is his chronicling of his fascinating inner journey and struggle to allow his heart and soul to be formed and fashioned by the ever challenging reality of his deep and abiding relationship to Jesus.
As a young undergrad at Duke, Dear struggled with questions of faith. Through much prayer, dozens of books, and the witness of some genuine Christians, he came to the realization that transformed his life. "Finally I saw it. God existed. Not only because Joe said it and Mother Seton lived it; God's existence was made plain through the life of Jesus. I finally understood the universe has a purpose, the human race has value, and my own life has meaning."
Dear took God very seriously and soon received a sign that revealed to him his life's specific mission: to call for peace in a bruised and battered world, a human community torn apart by ignorance, hatred and war. He joined the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and immersed himself in the transformative and challenging spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Society's founder. Through daily prayer, annual eight day retreats, and two 30 day silent retreats, Dear was formed more and more into a prayerful peacemaker striving to rid our world and his own heart of all that is contrary to the teachings of Christ made manifest in the sermon on the mount (Matt 5; Luke 6).
Years into Jesuit life, several years after ordination, John delved even more deeply into the depths of transformative, Ignatian spirituality. During his second 30 day silent retreat, praying five hours a day, he came to a deeper realization of the central truth of his life. "I discovered something of Jesus' perfect non-violence, his willingness to forgive."
Contemplating Jesus on the cross, Dear "watched in wonder as Jesus choose not retaliation of flight but perfect, non-violent love. ... He devoted one last breath to an intercession for clemency: 'Forgive them, they know not what they do'." John Dear realized once again, "that my own heart was the only place to start if I truly wanted a non-violent world". He recalled the words of Billy Neal Moore, a death row inmate he had met several years earlier, who laid down the challenge, before John and before us all, to search our own hearts and forgive anyone who has done us wrong.
Having traversed the same program of Jesuit formation as has John Dear, I stand in awe and admiration of all he has done and accomplished. He has traveled tirelessly, served months and months in jail, and preached peace before hundreds of thousands. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is simply one of the great Jesuits of this era.
A Persistent Peace is a great read, written in a disarmingly straight forward and conversational style. Long on personal narrative and reflection, Dear spares us the fire and brimstone of some condemnatory activists' off putting rhetoric. Dear's autobiography is a testament to what can happen when a person plunges into the fascinating challenge the gospels place before us. When the power of the Lord takes up a person's generous offering of self to the mission and meaning of the reign of God, sometimes a life like John Dear's is lived. Our world is a better place for the gift of such a life.
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