Monday, May 27, 2013

Gospel Guidance on War and Peace

Servant of God, Dorothy Day
Each Memorial Day, we pause to honor those who have died in the service of our nation. It is an opportunity for our country to consider the cost of the freedoms we enjoy.  Perhaps it should also be a moment to reconsider the principles of the warfare we employ.

Since the time that Jesus spoke with an other-worldly authority, Christians have been forced to grapple with his radical non-violence:  “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44); “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Mt 26:52).  Jesus was not na├»ve: He personally felt the violence of an unjust and fallen world.  And yet he made no easy compromises about using worldly power or resorting to violence.

Christians of the first centuries saw military service as incompatible with walking the path of Christian discipleship--not because they were unwilling to die in service to the empire, but because they were unwilling to kill for it.  From the time of St. Augustine on, however, the Church realized the necessary role of the state in protecting its citizens from aggressors, and Christians were allowed to help provide military defense of their fellow citizens.  Thus a theory of “just war” principles emerged, in an attempt to provide moral guidance to individuals and nations regarding how best to promote peace.  The theory was guided by the assumption that defending oneself and one's people from an aggressor is qualitatively different from being the aggressor, or from resorting to “pre-emptive” military strikes or "preventative warfare." 

In a powerful section entitled “Safeguarding Peace,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses war within the context of the fifth commandment’s prohibition of killing (CCC, 2302-17).  Two passages that seem particularly noteworthy today: 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecosts of the Present Moment

“If you are what you should be,
you will set the whole world on fire.”
+St. Catherine of Siena

Do you know someone who is able to be really present to others?  Can you picture someone who is able to give his or her full attention to the task at hand?  It seems to me that this is part of the task and the challenge of living Pentecost: simply being where we are, and doing what God wants us to do.  Now.  In this place and time. 

It also seems that much of the Christian life mirrors the experience of the Apostles in the days after Pentecost.  Like the earliest Christians, we know that Christ is really risen.  We have experienced his living Presence, and we also know that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We understand the Lord Jesus' promise to never leave us alone.

But, as with the Apostles and first disciples, we recognize that the mission from the Lord Jesus is as undefined as it is daunting: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15).  There is no road map.  There is no five year strategic plan, no specific strategies.  So, like the earliest Christians, we wake up each day and turn to prayer, to listen and wait for the prompting of the Spirit. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beginning with the Beautiful

Pope Francis praying at the Basilica of St. Mary Major
In two memorable months, Pope Francis has managed to capture the minds and hearts of people around the world.  This is not meant to take anything away from the brilliant papacy of beloved Benedict XVI, who was like a "scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven...who brings forth from his storeroom both the new and the old" (Mt 13:52).   But our new Holy Father has managed to delight believers and non-believers alike with something more.  But what exactly is it?

From the moment he stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's, Pope Francis has been leading neither with Goodness nor with Truth, but with the Beautiful. Goodness is able to compel those who share a core set of assumptions and recognize a fundamental natural law; Truth is able to convince those who assume that life is reasonable and inherently meaningful.  But, in a post-modern context in which these very presuppositions have been largely deconstructed, the Beautiful is able to cut through the clouded confusion and the arid ambiguity.  For the Beautiful speaks first to the heart, as opposed to the will or reason, and therefore is able to inspire changes in both action and thought.  

The very choice of Francis as his name hearkened back to one of the most beautiful of all the saints:  Francis, the little poor man, who so wanted to identify himself with the poverty of Christ that he literally gave himself away; Francis, the joy-filled lover of God's creation, who saw the Creator reflected in all creatures great and small; Francis, the living icon of Christ, who understood that the Christian life is fundamentally an imitation of Christ and so was graced with the very wounds of the Savior. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Say "Yes": Imitate the Saints

Our Lady of Fatima--5.13.13
"Life holds only one tragedy, ultimately:
not to have been a saint.”
-Charles Peguy
The month of May brings us to the midpoint of the Year of Faith.  Like being halfway through Lent, this is a chance to evaluate how our commitments to grow closer to the Lord are going--and whether we are willing to redouble our efforts for the second half of the Year.  The month of May also brings us a theme (in the title above) which might reignite the ongoing conversion and personal transformation God desires for each of us. 
So when you hear the word "Saint," what comes to mind?  If you're like me, then one of your first reactions is probably to say, "not me." But Peguy's insight clearly implies that becoming a saint is a real possibility for each of us.  More importantly, it looks like it is the one thing necessary-- otherwise there would be no tragedy in failing to hit the mark.  The Second Vatican Council repeatedly emphasized this with the phrase "the universal call to holiness" (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 39):  Jesus' revelation is not just for an elite chosen few.  Rather, the Lord insisted, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14:23).  The invitation is open to anyone who is willing to love him and keep his word.
So how about a little word association:  When you hear the word "Saint," do any of the following phrases come to mind, or are there any others you'd like to add to the list?  Saints are: