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Original contents from the archives of Marquette University.
The John P. Raynor Library
Dedication Ceremony
September 19, 2003
Address by Martin Sheen

This proclamation sounds a little too close to an obituary for personal comfort, but then I am never comfortable unless I am uncomfortable, so I am deeply honored and equally grateful.  Thank you very much.

On this special occasion, I can relate to your beloved Al McGuire when he said, "I am an Einstein of the streets and an Oxford graduate of common sense". For my own part, I now have a Marquette degree and a street-wise education.

I am a firm believer in Franklin Roosevelt's advice to public speakers - be sincere, be brief, be seated - so I won't keep you too long.

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen

The fundamental purpose of higher education, it seems to me, is to encourage and enhance the individual's personal search for meaning, while preparing the individual for a public journey.

The individual and the institution are inextricably connected, of course, and while higher education is certainly preferred, it is not always necessary.  But the personal search for meaning is absolutely essential, and we are so made as to find that meaning only through, with, and for each other, guided by a common spirit, whether or not we are conscious of, or acknowledge, such a presence.

Perhaps the most extraordinary manifestation of that presence and the absolute genius of the divine is in choosing to dwell where we are least likely to search deep within our own being, couched at the very center of our own vulnerability and brokenness and, when we truly awaken to the reality of that presence, Teilhard de Chardin tells us, we have discovered fire for the second time.

My own personal search continues to take me far and wide with many different twists and turns involving many different people, never knowing what or who I will encounter along the way, and, though I never intended to go out of my way in dealing with the horrible poverty of the third world, I was forced to encounter it in India while filming Gandhi there in 1981.

My experience with the poverty of India had a profound effect on my life and culminated with my return to Catholicism, the faith of my birth.  But a very conscious decision to avoid returning to a pious practice of my youth led me instead to embrace the church of Daniel Berrigan, Oscar Romero, Dom Helder Camara, Henri Nouwen, Caesar Chavez, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, and that decision has made all the difference.  The past 23 years have been by far the most difficult and equally the happiest of my life.

As I was preparing my remarks for this occasion I knew, of course, that Marquette University housed the Dorothy Day and Catholic Worker Movement papers, but it was not until I read a recent Marquette University publication about Dorothy Day, with an extraordinary contribution by Dr. Susan Mountin, that I realized to what extent her life and work were revered and even practiced here on campus. This includes a credited course offered to undergraduates called 'Dorothy Day', which Dr. Mountin teaches.  So I am gratified to come here and share some thoughts and feelings on basic Christian doctrine that are, shall we say, less welcome in our country these days, mindful, of course, of Gandhi's quote: "We shouldn't criticize Christianity; it's never been tried".

When I was a struggling young actor in New York in the winter of 1959, I joined an adventurous young company of players called the Living Theatre. A brilliant young man named Julian Beck was its founder and director. He was also the first pacifist I had ever met and he hired me as a stagehand and understudy at $5 per week (mind you I was worth every penny). In an effort to compensate such a pittance, he sent me downtown to Christy Street where, at that time, a friend of his ran a soup kitchen and anyone in need could get a free hot meal every evening.

The place was the Catholic Worker and his friend, of course, was Dorothy Day. Thus began my long and cherished association with the Catholic Worker Movement, which continues to this day as a powerful source of spiritual nourishment and practical application of the gospel, including how to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Another reality that inspired me about Dorothy Day was her uncompromising pacifism.

For the past six months we have engaged in a very violent mission to free Iraq but, in so doing, our own freedom is called into question.

There is an old Hebrew adage: Choose your enemy well for he is what you will become.

On the eve of this war, I wrote a brief reflection that I felt went to the heart of the matter:

In order to prepare for war, you must not be sensitive or poetic or humorous, you must not be self effacing or reflective, sentimental or forgiving. You must not be tentative, compassionate or light-hearted.

On the contrary, in order to prepare for war, you must be clear, uncompromising and confident. You must look life square in the eye and choose death.

Times of crises can be opportunities for healing and renewal, and we are given such an extraordinary opportunity since that infamous day, September 11th, but in order to fully comprehend our place and plan our future, it is vital to know from whence we came with an honest and fearless inventory.

The U.S. is less than 6 percent of the world's population, yet we use 54 percent of the world's combined resources.

Among the 17 leading industrialized nations of the world, including England, Russia and China, the U.S. has the largest percentage of its population living in poverty, including nearly 20 percent of its children.

Forty-seven percent of all U.S. Federal tax dollars are now spent on the military and that percentage will rise dramatically with more appropriated for Iraq.

From 1995 to 1999, long after the cold war ended and the S.A.L.T. Agreements were signed, the Department of Defense spent $150 billion dollars on nuclear weapons alone.

Each year we spend $4.5 billion on weapons research and 60 percent of all Federal research funding for our universities is military related, including chemical weapons research.

Today the U.S. is responsible for 49 percent of the total arms sales in the world and nearly half that amount goes to Third World countries.

Over the past six years, while nearly 30,000 people have died from senseless acts of terrorism, 24,000 people die every day from preventable hunger.

While there is a great deal to be proud of and support as the leader of the free world, it is no secret that the U.S. owns the dubious distinction of leading the free world as well in homicide, rape, abortion, drug abuse, alcoholism, child abuse, militarism, divorce, spousal abuse, and capital punishment, with the greatest number of its citizens armed and the highest number of its citizens incarcerated. Clearly something is terribly wrong in our culture and it is not getting much better.

On September 20, 2002, the U.S. declared a new foreign policy of first strike, including nuclear first strike, against any nation it perceives as a threat.

In one year, with this fundamental shift, we had moved from protection to paranoia and a weary world is left to wonder.

I am often criticized for being critical of my country, and recently I have even been called unpatriotic, but nothing could be further from the truth. I did not create the rules that govern the universe or the human heart; on the contrary, I am equally subjected to them.

I love my country enough to risk its wrath for calling attention to the darker angels of our nature, but I do so with an abiding faith in its constitution and a deep love for its people.

America has been called the oldest country in the world because it was the first to enter the 20th century, but America is still a nation of immigrants and both of my parents were immigrants.

God's grace is clearly evident in America from sea to shining sea and we live abundantly and free, but the Third World is still the child of a lesser god.

The U.S. is indeed the hope of the world and the world is equally the hope of the U.S. Consider the following:

If we could shrink the earth's population of over six billion people down to a single village consisting of 100 people with all the existing ratios the same, it would look something like this:
  • There would be 57 Asians, 8 Europeans, 21 Africans, and 14 people from the Western Hemisphere;
  • There would be 52 women and 48 men;
  • There would be 70 non-whites and 30 whites;
  • There would be 70 non-Christians and 30 Christians;
  • There would be 89 heterosexuals and 11 homosexuals;
  • There would be no doctor, no nurse, no dentist, no hospital and no school;
  • There would be no safe drinking water;
  • There would be no common language;
  • There would be no electric power;
  • There would be 70 people unable to read or write;
  • There would be 50 people near death and one person near birth;
  • The entire food supply for the village would depend entirely on outside sources;
  • Six people in the village would possess 59 percent of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be U.S. citizens; The average person in the village would be a 13 year-old Chinese girl, and there would be one college graduate.

    (Earth as a Village by Phillip M. HarterStanford University School of Medicine)

No one can ever really tell us anything we don't already know, but the wise can help us to accept the responsibility for knowing, and every religion tries to answer the question: "Who am I and why am I here?".

Unfortunately our culture seems to value financial reward, social position and physical comfort above all else. We are a consumer society encouraged to love things and use people, and yet from this same self-centered, dysfunctional culture a Dorothy Day sprang up among us, as well as this great university with hundreds more like it across the country, and they are all populated with committed faculty and eager young people.

Our modern day culture is often inclined towards sentiment but conventional sentimentality is the enemy of true compassion. It is one thing to say, "How unfortunate!" and quite another to ask, "What can I do?". And "What can I do?" is what our lives should be all about.

The world is a far different place than when I came to it in 1940. There are infinitely more people with a far less certain future. It is a world gone mad from the multiple self-inflected wounds of poverty and greed, environmental disaster and continuous violence, and your generation deserves a sincere and profound apology from my generation for receiving such a pitiful inheritance, but all we had was a hammer and everything looked like a nail.

That is not to excuse our dismal failure, but clearly new tools are needed, and you are left to accept the cup as offered, not altered.

You are not typical or average young Americans who generally see things as they are today and ask "Why?".  You are dreaming things that never were and saying "Why not?".

Now many of you have arrived at that critical time in your life when you must seriously consider the direction of your future. Whatever your choice, you will only be limited by the size of your ambition and the scope of your imagination.

You can choose the road most often traveled where less resistance is the norm. This road offers ample compensation for your time and talent as long as your behavior is acceptable, your loyalties are a forgone conclusion, and your values are subject to occasional compromise.

This road offers the most opportunities and there will be no shortage of fellow travelers, including any number of cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

You may live a long, productive and reasonably contented life and even leave a considerable inheritance. You may even be remembered for something more than that. But at journey's end when you must consider, "What is next?", you may be left to wonder about the other road - the one less traveled.

This road is far less defined with no signposts along the way except the ones you plant for those who choose to follow.

Your destination is largely determined by your own instinct and soon you will discover that you are actually building this road itself to your own specifications.

You will often remain uncompensated for your time and talent and your behavior may only be acceptable to a precious few, but your loyalty and your values are never subject to compromise.

You may live a long and productive life and you won't leave much of an inheritance, but you may leave a substantial legacy of social justice and be a great source of spiritual nourishment for those who follow.

And at journey's end when you must consider the next great adventure to that undiscovered realm from which no traveler returns, the only things you can take with you are the things that you cherished and gave away with love.

In the months leading up to the war on Iraq, I participated in a number of peace marches and rallies as well as several non-violent protests after the war began.

My prepared remarks at many of those gatherings were a combination of the Prayer of Saint Francis and a poem by Tagore, India's Poet Laureate.

At this time I would like to conclude with a portion of that effort:

My brothers and sisters, peace be with you!

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

We are left empty and trembling at the level of confidence placed in the power of violent weapons and the level or arrogance they have inspired in our national leadership. But you have taught us, Lord, that arrogance is ignorance matured and what we sow, also we reap, so Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Descend with us into the depths of our powerlessness and fear and awaken the power of non-violent transformation as we discover your fire for the second time!

Then, Lord, let the light and heat from that fire make every thought, every word, and every deed a reflection of loving non-violent resistance to every wretched form of violence so that we may be made worthy of the long promised blessing reserved for the Peacemakers and for those who show mercy.

Lord, make us non-violent instruments of your peace, so that we may lift up the world and all its people to a place where the heart is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free; where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic calls; where words come out from the depth of truth; where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection; where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit; where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever widening thought and action.  Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!

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