God and the Nuclear Threat

The Resurrection

In his inaugural  address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stressed to the people of the United States, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Nothing to fear! Really! We were facing lengthy wars in Europe and in the Pacific.  There were ongoing financial crises in our country that we would be struggling over. Eventually, in the 1960s, nations possessed the atomic bomb, many of them were stockpiled! Indeed, we recall the fear arising from the nuclear threat which soon became a very real threat, as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 loomed large, during the time of the presidency of John F. Kennedy.

Behold our situation today. We have two nuclear-powered nations in which their unstable leaders, each with his finger on the nuclear button, are repeatedly exchanging insulting threats. Have we nothing to fear?

Is there any way in which we can truthfully repeat with President Kennedy, “fear not”?

I believe there is, but it takes faith to recognize it. Think along with me.

The biggest explosion the world has ever experienced happened some two thousand years ago, on a hill just outside Jerusalem, a hill called Calvary. The death of Jesus there was that great explosion. The Evangelist St. Matthew testified to its effects both on the earth, and in the nether world, telling us of the temple curtain being torn in two, and an earthquake that split rocks, and the reports of tombs being opened and saints raised from the dead:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud cry, and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After the resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Matt. 27:51-53).

It was an explosion so strong that it caused a rock-splitting earthquake, and was so loud that it woke up the dead.

But on an even higher level, the death of Jesus was the release of power in the form of energy we call “divine grace,” to overcome the explosive evil of sin, for “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:15). It began the salvific proclamation of the Gospel, the powerful proclamation of Jesus as the “word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18), the “word of his [God’s] grace” (Acts 20:32). St. Paul told us “Christ is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). He also proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom. 1:16).

There are amazing analogies between a nuclear explosion and the Pascal Mystery, which is the mystery of how we are saved, the mystery of the passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In a nuclear explosion, immediately after the release of power, there is the great flash of blinding light; in the Paschal Mystery there was the great flash of the “Light of the world” (John 8:12), the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We note here how the brilliance of the glory of the risen Christ emitted a mysterious kind of blindness. Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus first appeared, did not recognize him at first, but took him to be the gardener, and the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, also did not recognize him until he revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.

In a nuclear explosion, there follows the ascending mushroom cloud. After his resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven of which we read, “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Finally, there comes the great sounding shock wave of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, of which we read in Scripture that it shook the whole house in which Jesus’ disciples, and some women, including the mother of Jesus, were praying. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2). Jesus’ disciples were fired up: “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:3-4). We could see this fire as analogous to the firestorms of a nuclear explosion. Moved by the fire of divine love, Jesus’ disciples went from there to spread the Gospel of salvation to the whole world.

There are two types of nuclear weapons, fission and fusion. We can see both types in the Paschal Mystery. In fission, atoms are split in their core; there is the clash of two opposing forces in the nucleus of the atom, resulting in the release of tremendous energy. In the Passion of Jesus, there was the clash of the Son of Man with the greatest force of evil, Satan. In that battle, Jesus, the Power of God, conquered the evil one. He cast out the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31). We see Satan split by being cast out, and Christ’s humanity split in his death as his body and soul are separated.

In fusion atoms, are fused together. Here we see Christ and sin fused together into one, even to the point where St. Paul tells us, “God made him [Jesus] to be sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus was made to be the sin of the world to take away sin. He was made to bear our faults in his own body: “He [Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). As such, he conquered sin.

The analogies are real, but the contrasts are striking. A nuclear blast destroys bringing death, the Paschal Mystery builds up bring abundant life; the nuclear blast produces terrible firestorms, the Paschal Mystery produces wonderful fires of love. In the one, its fallout poisons everything it touches; in the other, the fallout of divine grace heals and enlivens many hearts. The nuclear explosion by fission tears atoms apart; the Paschal Mystery explosion liberates souls from the tyranny of sin. In the fusion type bomb, atoms unite; through the Paschal Mystery, souls are united in Christ unto holiness and salvation.

These contrasts are remarkable, but even more than the power of a nuclear explosion, the Paschal Mystery was creative. It was the “Big Bang” explosion of a whole new creation, the beginning of the “New Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ. That was its ultimate purpose, to bring about the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21:1) as we pray in Our Father, “thy kingdom come”. Nothing on earth has ever been more powerful than the Paschal Mystery. In it, Jesus, the “power of God”, was “proclaimed in full power” (Rom. 1:4). That explosion destroyed the sting of death, brought about the unstoppable spread of Christianity, brought countless souls to salvation, praised God as nothing else could, and began the New Age of the Holy Spirit, sending him throughout the world in his mission of salvation and sanctification. It inspires awe and wonder.

In our Christian life, we receive that same powerful Spirit today, in a personal way, not to destroy us, but to empower us. Again, that is the great difference between a nuclear explosion and the Paschal Mystery. The Paschal Mystery does not bring death but life, eternal life. At our baptism into the Christian community, our re-creation in Christ, when we received our supernatural life, the Divine Spirit, the Pneuma, the infinitely powerful, life-giving Breath of God, infused in us life-giving, supernatural virtues, especially the great virtues of faith, hope, and charity—virtues so tremendous that we cannot attain them except by that Divine Spirit. With the grace of God filling our soul, we became supernatural beings capable of intimate union with God in practicing these virtues. Thus, we read in the Letter to the Ephesians: ”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Eph.1:3). And it continues, “that you may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” (Eph. 1:19).

Virtues are powers, personal powers, greater than any material or worldly powers. In the fallout of the grace of God, we weak creatures became stronger than any demons, able to conquer fear with a steadfast confidence in our union with Christ, as Jesus said, “I have this to say to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

The three greatest of virtues supernaturally elevated and transformed our three greatest faculties: intellect (faith), memory (hope,) and will (charity). Even more, the powerful grace imparted by the Holy Spirit super-naturalized the very core of our being. Theologians call this transformation “sanctifying grace” because it constitutes the holiness of our being, as new creatures in Christ.

The Paschal Mystery is still active today in our Catholic Mass, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council told us of the Mass, “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which ‘Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed’ (1 Cor. 5:7) is celebrated on an altar, the work of our redemption is carried on” (Lumen Gentium 3). The Eucharist is the ongoing power of the Paschal Mystery in the redemption of the world. In the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” #47 of the Second Vatican Council we read:

At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries.

And “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.” Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1364).

In the Eucharist the Paschal Mystery occurs in our time, not its temporal and material aspects, which only occurred once in history, but in its supernatural, eternal aspects which transcend time and space, yet can be in time and space. We read in the Catechism, “The paschal mystery . . . transcends all times while being made present in them all.” (CCC 1085). Its ongoing power is called in Holy Scripture, “the power of the resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). Jesus is that resurrection, as he proclaimed, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). It is that power of God by which God empowers us to conquer evil and do good, to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). It empowers us to love, even to that perfect love which “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life … For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324, Lumen Gentium 11, PO 5). Christ has become via his resurrection a “life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45), “proclaimed in full power” (Rom. 1:4), as the “first born from the dead” (Col. 1:18), the “power of the resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). We embrace that surpassing power in faith.

While we certainly hope and pray that war may be averted, especially nuclear war, the point of this essay is that we have supremely superior weapons against evil, particularly in our Holy Mass. We may indeed fear on the natural human level a nuclear war, or even an earth-destroying catastrophe, but let us be at peace nevertheless, faithfully trusting in God’s surpassingly great power, because the ultimate goal of our life is our eternal destiny to be with our Lord in our eternal salvation. Let us trust in the Lord’s great love for us. Jesus declared, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that, can do nothing more. . . But even the hairs of your head are all counted.” (Luke 12:4,7).

Seen in the light of the Eucharistic Paschal Mystery and our destiny, no threat of any kind can be ultimately tragic. For God will bring eternal consolation out of every cross. In every cross we bear, the Holy Spirit comes to deepen us in love, and guide us to our eternal destiny. That is why God wants us to bear our crosses.

We live in our war-torn world with all its imperfections. In the divine wisdom these imperfections, with their challenges, adversities, and sufferings, afford us opportunities to grow in faith, hope, and charity, in humility, concern for others, empathy, compassion, etc. As such, when adversities strike us on a universal scale, such as the evils of war, we can come together in a community spirit that unifies and energizes us, enables us to fight the good fight against evils together, ennobling one another, making our efforts all the more effective, and ennobling. History is full of such cultural ennoblements sparked by adversity, in modern medicine, science, the humanities, art and social sciences, engineering and technology, communications, and so much more.

The real tragedy in all of this is that today many Catholics are neglecting the Mass. It is our greatest Catholic treasure, both as our Sunday ritual, and as lived out in our everyday life. In neglecting the Mass, one is like the man who buried his talent in the ground, and did not even bother to put it in the bank to gain interest on it. Insofar as we fail to bank our life on Christ, the interest we gain in our spiritual life will be minimal. Today, we Catholics tend to limit ourselves to rattling off our beliefs, almost unthinkingly. I believe that there are three divine persons, that God became man, that Jesus suffered and died for us, etc., etc. It is all well and good, but it is not enough. Our propositional faith is not good enough in today’s world. It is small arms fire. I believe that, that, that, that—sounds like a machine gun! In today’s fight of faith, we need “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. And we have them: the many Masses prayed throughout the world every day. The key word in “Mass Destruction” is “Mass”. Our Holy Mass is our “Weapon of Mass Destruction”; it destroys evil as nothing else does. It was instituted “for forgiveness of sins” (CCC 1366, 1393).

But even more importantly, the Mass is our tool of “Mass Construction” for, as we have said, it builds us up the People of God, the Church. The Catechism tells us, the Eucharist makes the Church; without it, there would be no Church: “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of the communion in the divine life, and that unity of the People of God, by which the Church is kept in being.” (CCC 1325, 1396). We quote from the Letter to the Ephesians: “In him [Jesus], the whole structure is joined together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Eph. 2:21-22).

So, we have great cause for rejoicing. As St Paul encouraged the Philippians, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters .. . . stand firm in the Lord. . . rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice . . . Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:1, 4-7). “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28).

There is no better way of doing all that, and to give thanks, than by active participation in the Holy Mass, and pray the Eucharist, for the very word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving”.

We know that our eternal salvation does not happen automatically, via the Paschal Mystery. As free human beings, we must cooperate with the grace of that great mystery in our redemption, and that of our fellow men and women, especially putting into practice our infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity. It is our duty and privilege in sharing in the redemption of our world. It is to “live the Mass” in our everyday life.

Br Christopher Lucas, OCSO About Br Christopher Lucas, OCSO

Br. Christopher Lucas, OCSO, is a Trappist monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. He holds a Master’s degree in Theology and has taught Theology in a number of Trappist monasteries throughout the country. He had a book published recently by Paraclete Press of Brewster, MA, entitled: Living the Mass: A Deeper Look at the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, April 2016.


  1. Thank you for a wonderful article, Brother Christopher. Very good analogies between nuclear explosion and the Mysteries of Our Savior.

    May I just add one correction: at the beginning, you attribute the “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” to our beloved later President Kennedy. I hate to say it, but as far as I am aware, the main person for that quote was FDR on the cusp of WWII.

    Anyway, thank you again.

    • Elenor K. Schoen Elenor K. Schoen says:

      We have corrected the historical information in the first paragraph. My apologies for not catching that sooner.
      -HPR Managing Editor

  2. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    ” We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” was a valid comparison between two temporal powers and their capacity to destroy the other.
    The comparison of a nuclear explosion and Pentecost is an utter distortion of the meaning of each. One is intended for death, destruction and the subjugation of another. The other is a salvific act of pure love freely given.