…many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.
Isaiah 2:2-5, NAB
In the Catholic liturgical year, this Advent’s readings began with the book of Isaiah, including a phrase that is among Isaiah’s most evocative: Swords into plowshares.
The first time I heard those words, I was a child in school, and I read them in an account of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. – a speech now known as “I have a dream.” To me, Dr. King’s call to nonviolence practically set to music the words from the book of Isaiah. The message seemed clear to me: beat our swords into plowshares, and peace will follow.
Still later, reading and hearing the whole of the book of Isaiah, I came to realize that my childhood impression of swords-into-plowshares was upside down. Beating swords into plowshares isn’t a first step. It’s a consequence that can only follow from “[C]limbing the Lord’s mountain…[that] we may walk in his paths.”
Sometimes I think pounding away at the swords would be easier. And just in time, Advent is here to nudge me away from that idea, to turn my impressions upside down, and to point me to that mountain I’m supposed to climb.
I am not exactly held hostage by social media in its manifold manifestations, but I need to monitor various sites in order to do my job. I rely on Twitter in particular on state legislative session days to keep up with votes, for the days when I choose not to chain myself to the session’s live feed. But the trouble with Twitter and its cultural cousins is that the Send button is right there, just begging for my commentary and tart replies.
Today is one of those days.
For sanity’s sake, I’m recalling something I posted a little over five years ago. I quoted a writer whose plain sense I need to keep in mind whenever a site’s Send option is all too tempting.
Some say I repress my anger, and I reply, You betcha. I have never had much patience for the “let-it-all-out” theory. I know several people who are forever letting it all out, and their spirits remain consistently unimproved.
Michael Perry in Backpacker magazine, June 2003
Of course that depends on what one is letting out. But I take Mr. Perry’s point.
Last April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a petition drive to urge the federal Food and Drug Administration to make sure any COVID-19 vaccine be derived from ethical sources, not involving cell lines originating from fetuses killed by induced abortion. So what has happened since?
Some vaccines are in the testing stage already. Two, from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, have been much in the news over the past couple of weeks. In a recent EWTN interview, ethicist Joseph Meaney of the National Catholic Bioethics Center said that neither of those vaccines are developed or produced from human fetal cell lines. I’m happy to hear that, since those two vaccines will likely be the first to market.
As the bishops wrote in their petition last spring, “It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: no American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience.“
No matter who’s in the White House or Congress or the FDA or a pharmaceutical company’s board, that’s a message that is going to need to be delivered over and over again.