Monday, August 18, 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers

In addition to this bold Beatitude, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount also offers the seemingly unconditional commandment to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:44).  Even more radically, perhaps, Jesus provides us with one of the most non-violent teachings possible while being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane: He implores Peter to put down his sword and then pronounces that "all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52).

In the face of the all-too easy tendency to justify the use of violence to resolve international conflicts, the Catholic Church has made a conscious and intentional return to Jesus' non-violent stance since the Second Vatican Council.  From Paul VI's cry, "No more war, never again war!" and John Paul II's bold claim that he would have walked to Baghdad on his knees to prevent the first Iraq War, to Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting to prevent Western military interventions into war-torn Syria, the trend has been decidedly non-violent.

So how can we now make sense of the Vatican's position on intervening in Iraq?  Is Pope Francis flip-flopping, or abandoning what some have called his position as Global Peacemaker-in-Chief? In recently calling the U.N.'s Secretary General and the entire international community to action in Iraq, was the Holy Father merely concerned for the countless Christians being driven from their homes and slaughtered by radical Islamists?  Or is there something more going on here?

The interpretive key comes, I think, from the section of the Catechism which deals with "Safeguarding Peace" (CCC, nn. 2302-2317).

When commenting on the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shall not kill," the Catechism moves from discussion of respect for human life and for the dignity of persons to a discussion of what is entailed in actively promoting peace.  The line of reasoning includes the following highlights:
  • Denouncing murderous anger and hatred ("If anger reaches the point of a deliberated desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity...Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm" [nn. 2302-2303]).
  • Defining peace as not merely the absence of war but the "tranquility of order" ("Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity" [n. 2304]).
  • Praising those who renounce violence and bloodshed as bearing "witness to evangelical charity" (n. 2306).
  • Imploring everyone to prayer and action in the face of "the evils and injustices that accompany all that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war" (n. 2307).
Then comes the "However":  After insisting that "All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war," the Catechism quotes the Second Vatican Council in saying that, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed" (n. 2308).

"Last resort" is the linchpin to the Church's traditional "just war" doctrine, which requires that each and every condition must be met in order for military force ever to be justifiable (n. 2309).  In the face of crimes against humanity and in the name of defending innocent life, it might on rare occasion be necessary to disarm those who are attacking the innocent; or, as Pope Francis seems to be saying, it might be legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor.  However, it must always and only be after all peace efforts have failed.

Of course, such a call does not justify using excessive force or indiscriminately bombing areas where non-combatants might be harmed.  When confronting terrorists, governments ought to bring all political strategies, all international intelligence, and all humanitarian resources to bear.  And they ought never to resort to the same tactics which the terrorists themselves might be using against innocent civilians.

If Pope Francis does indeed see the current situation in Iraq as one where it is necessary to use military interventions to stop the terrorizing advance of ISIS, let's not forget that even this call comes  within the prior context of encouraging the peacemakers.  Let's commit ourselves to becoming more prayerful persons of peace ourselves.  Let’s pray for the conversion of radical Islam and for the gift of wisdom for civil authorities who are responsible for vast military machines.  Let's pray for a renewed spirit of international solidarity which can help ensure that nonviolent solutions will truly be tried. 

After all, the world needs more people whom Jesus himself will call "children of God" (Mt 5:9).  Our Lady, Queen of All Nations, Pray for us!


P.S.  During these octave days from the Solemnity of the Assumption to the Church’s celebration of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, maybe one Rosary--or even one heartfelt Hail Mary--will help spur on the peacemakers which our war-torn world so badly needs.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Black Grace and White Grace

Blessed Fulton J. Sheen
While recently enjoying some family vacation with my wife, children and wonderful in-laws, I was also blessed to have another wise friend nearby:  Blessed Fulton J. Sheen.  Although the book I was reading was  written in 1950, Sheen was able to share some piercing insights about how we (post-)modern men and women experience God's grace.  (No wonder he is considered a forerunner of the new evangelization!)

The following selection describes the movement toward Christ-centered living, which alone can fulfill the deepest and most authentic desires of our self, and it introduces a very helpful distinction between "Black" and "White" Grace:

“There are two great moments in the life of every soul as it advances to the Christ-centered level.  The first is negative and passive; the second is active and Divine.  The first crisis is an overwhelming sense of emptiness, which is actually ‘Black Grace’; the second is a sense of the Divine presence, or ‘White Grace.’  The first experience involves a discontent, a consciousness that God is making an impact on the soul.  The first condition is a result of Godless living; it might be called the negative Presence of God in the soul, as God’s actual Grace is His positive Presence.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Better or Better Off

Peter Maurin (1877-1949)
Co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Peter Maurin had a dramatic influence on Servant of God Dorothy Day.  He also had a talent for writing what he described as "easy essays."

They may be easy to read, but I doubt they were easy to write, and I know they are rather challenging to live!  Here's a sample, for your consideration, from the Houston Catholic Worker Newspaper (vol. XXXV, n. 5):

Better or Better Off
  1. The world would be better off,
    if people tried
    to become better.
  2. And people would
    become better,
    if they stopped trying
    to be better off.
  3. For when everybody tries
    to become better off,
    nobody is better off.
  4. But when everybody tries
    to become better,
    everybody is better off.
  5. Everybody would be rich
    if nobody tried
    to be richer.
  6. And nobody would be poor
    if everybody tried
    to be poorest.
  7. And everybody would be
    what he ought to be
    if everybody tried to be
    what he wants the other
    fellow to be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Signs of Undercover Catholics
We all know and admire them.  They impress us in various ways and inspire others to be better people.  As you move through this week, keep an eye out for friends and neighbors who bear these marks of being "undercover Catholics":
  1. They are drawn to beauty, and they know it's not just in the eye of the beholder.
  2. They want to make the world a better place.
  3. They ignore gossip and refrain from detraction.
  4. They know that love is more than just an emotion, and so they choose to love each day.
  5. They look first for the good in others.
  6. They own their possessions, not vice-versa (and they try to give them away as if they belong to someone else).
  7. They care about the common good.
  8. They understand that a person's soul is infinitely precious.
  9. They strive to live in solidarity with those who are vulnerable.
  10. They are willing to make sacrifices for others.
Like most practicing Catholics, these "undercover Catholics" don't necessarily exhibit all of these characteristics--but they wish they did.  In fact, deep down they want to be not just "nice" but holy, and they realize that "The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint" (Leon Bloy). 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Christ in the Border Crisis

With so much violence spilling over around the world--witness the Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Palestine, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan--it's easy to gloss over the violence which lurks behind our nation's ongoing border crisis.
In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Unaccompanied Children, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas emphasized that "Violence perpetrated by organized transnational gangs, loosely-affiliated criminal imitators of gangs, and drug cartels, has permeated all aspects of life in Central American and is one of the primary factors driving the migration of children from the region" (p. 7).  Isn't it time that we begin to address both the immediate crisis and the root causes--through both works of mercy and works of justice?
Of course, even to ask this question and raise this topic is bound to offend someone:  The political polarization is so extreme; visceral reactions simmer just below the surface of apparent civility.  As followers of Jesus, however, we should be willing to admit to ourselves and to others that we know what needs to be done.  Here are seven starting points for more meaningful conversations about the boarder crisis: