Monday, January 12, 2015

Jesus, Mohammed, or the World?

Is it ever justifiable to use violence as the means of achieving some allegedly noble end or goal?  Is it ever morally licit to will the death of an enemy?

Jesus remains the only voice who utters a consistent and resounding "No" to such questions.  For Jesus alone offers a deeper "Yes."  His Yes provides a path beyond all rationalizations regarding post-modern "warfare" or "liberty" run amok as license. 

So what is Jesus' deeper Yes?  It is the in-breaking of divine Love.  This divine Love transcends any categories which mere human thought could have devised:  It is a Love which demands forgiveness, rather than encouraging righteous vengeance; it is a Love which requires self-sacrifice, rather than sacrificing others--typically the most vulnerable; it is a Love which embraces enemies, rather than eliminating them. 

Most radically, perhaps, it is a Love which is resolutely non-violent.  The following "hard sayings" are clear evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead, that he is seated at the right hand of his Father, and that he acts as head of his body on earth, the Church.  After all, why would his disciples record such seemingly impossible teachings, which they clearly did not understand, and why would the Church maintain such impossible standards for her members, if not for the reality of divine Love revealed in the crucified and risen Lord?

  • Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful" and "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:7,9), and then he showed mercy even to his murderers, making peace through the outpouring of his own blood; children of God never impose their own version of justice but always will the good of the other.
  • Jesus said, "To those who would strike you on one cheek, turn the other" (Mt 5:39), and then he did it throughout his passion; true martyrs never take their own lives or the lives of others, but they always use non-violent resistance to break the cycle of sin.
  • Jesus said, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:44), and then he did it unto his death; glory never comes for the persecutors or for the vengeful, but only for those who meet evil with goodness.
  • Jesus said, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52), and then he allowed himself to be arrested, tortured to death and ultimately pierced by a lance; violence never brings lasting peace, but it temporarily suppresses aggression and creates the conditions for the cycle of violence to spread.
Both Mohammed and the powers of the world equivocate regarding war and the use of force in response to injustices or enemies.  Jesus alone remains unequivocal:  The end never justifies such means.  Whether it be "pre-emptive" military strikes, or acts of terror in urban centers; whether it be dropping bombs on enemies in order to prevent the future deaths of "our" soldiers, or executing those who offend my principles or threaten my lifestyle: Jesus offers the only real alternative to the all-too-human temptation to be driven by our fears, hatreds, desires for vengeance, or simple righteousness.

Of course, in discussing the Fifth Commandment ("You shall not kill"), the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the legitimate right to self defense:  "The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing," since the intention of self-defense is the preservation of ones own life, not the killing of the aggressor (CCC, n. 2263).  Subsequent discussion of what is called the "just war" doctrine outlines the strict conditions which would have to be met "at one and the same time," if governments were to resort to the self-defense of its citizens by military force (CCC, n. 2309).   

If Christians have misapplied these principles in the past, if the justification for a right to self-defense has in fact led nations into war as aggressors, or if Christians have too quickly glossed over the fact that "The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated" (and that "The power of modern means of destruction weights very heavily in evaluating this condition"--CCC, n. 2309), then shame on us.  The Prince of Peace will tolerate no rationalizations in this regard.  He may also demand an accounting for why our worldly selves don't spend more time safeguarding peace and working for the avoidance of war (CCC, nn. 2302-2308).

Ultimately and perhaps most importantly, Jesus alone provides the means or the method to achieve a new communion of persons.  He alone is both the messenger and the Message.  His grace is the Way that the path of forgiveness, mercy and love becomes possible.

Let's pray that his Light will continue to shine in the darkness--

P.S. -- There’s still time to “jump in with joy”:  Over 800 subscribers from around the country are reading Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation one paragraph per day!  If you haven’t already shared this link with all those in your contact list, there’s still time to subscribe and to begin receiving daily emails.

P.P.S. – Join the Bishops and the Church around the country for nine days of prayer, penance and pilgrimage marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  There are novena prayers, opportunities to subscribe for daily email reminders and inspirations, as we continue to pray for hope and healing for our wounded nation.