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March 1, 2003-Striving to be Uncomfortable
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March 1, 2003 -- Martin Sheen's speech before the
Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

Photo by Christine Kusnowo

I met Mother Theresa in Rome, 1991, on February 25th, on our peace journey to try to end the Gulf War.

One of my heroes is Joe Cosgrove, Dan Berrigan's attorney, public defender in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a defense attorney for peace.  Back then the only nation speaking out against the war was the Vatican.  

I was raised a Catholic in Dayton, Ohio.  It was a conservative type of town. My mother was Irish, my father from Spain.  His one virtue over all others was honesty.

I became a caddie when I was 9, in 1949, at an exclusive private country club.  The members were all white conservatives who had a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of bad habits.  My social conscience was largely formed during those years.

When I was 18, I left Akron for New York to become an actor, and I abandoned the faith. I got married, had kids, and I came back to my faith in 1981 after a long and arduous journey that included a health crisis, alcoholism, leaving my marriage, abandoning my family for a brief time...abandoning myself.  I came back to my faith after my journey to India.

In India something started to happen to me that continues to stay with me, to this moment.  It brings me to my position on peace and justice.  I didn't arrive at my understanding on war and peace with the current administration or with the current war in Iraq.  I came to it many years ago, formed by a Jesuit community in New York, with Dan and Phil Berrigan.  

My point is that when you find some measure of this genius that is present in all of us, whatever we name this presence in our being, when we become aware of that, we have discovered fire for the second time, and it re-lights our way. And it comes often in the worst times in our lives, in the darkest moments in our lives, and it comes in those times when we are most feeling abandoned.

One of the most powerful stations of the cross I saw was in El Salvador, when I went there just after the war.  I visited the place where Archbishop Romero was assassinated, in the very church, and the stations of the cross around the church are normally the journey of the crucifixion, the Via de la Rosa.  But these stations are pictures of Salvadorans being tortured.  It was the most powerful way of crosses I have ever seen.

We need to be reminded today in our journeys toward ourselves, because all that God really asks of us is that we be honest with ourselves so that we may become ourselves, so that we choose our freedom, and the only time I am comfortable with this is when I am uncomfortable.

Because when I get comfortable and feel I need to be loved or wanted or appreciated, I know what I want is to be on the winning side.  And I am only comfortable now when I am uncomfortable.  This has given me a sense of myself and a door to my freedom.

Wherever I go I bring nothing but myself, and I have never had an effect on another human being except myself.  I do not choose another enemy when I have myself to deal with.  The only person that I have difficult changing is myself.  The only person that I have to live with is myself.

So this current involvement against this madness on Iraq is a reflection on my whole life.

It did not start with George Bush.  It did not start in the last few months.  It started a very long time ago when I decided that my hero would be this naked man who remained on a piece of wood to remind us constantly that he is present to us in the worst of times.  If you follow this guy, it is going to cost you, and the only way you can really know the value of your journey is how much it costs you.

And for me these last few weeks have been extremely expensive and I have been the target of some unscrupulous, sometimes very ignorant people because of my stand against this war.

 On Wednesday (February 26), I helped to lead the virtual march on Washington and I drew a lot of very, very bitter criticism and some very real threats and some obscene responses and, of course, that confirmed my position.

Martin Sheen, March 1, 2003


Martin Sheen addresses the Religious Education Congress. Photo by Christine Kusnowo.

Photographs this page by Christine Kusnowo, used with the courtesy and permission of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.
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