One of the more common critiques that many Catholics make of their clergy is that they seldom hear from their pastors on moral topics in the news and our culture such as fornication, divorce, abortion, religious liberty, homosexuality, redefining marriage and so forth. Most recently the question of war and warfare have also been in the news.
As a pastor I try my best to teach the faithful under my care when these topics arise and explain Church teachings in these matter briefly. I often provide handouts as well to accompany the teachings that I do, usually at announcement time, separate from the Homily.
This weekend as the question of military action looms in Syria, another teaching moment arose and I spoke for about five minutes on the topic explaining the insights of Pope Francis, the American Bishops and using the catechism. If your clergy spoke to you on this matter I am interested in what they said and how they said it and encourage you to use the combox.
As for me, here is a brief synopsis of my own comments this weekend.
As you know there is a very savage civil war underway at this time in Syria. And recently this included the use of chemical weapons. According to our own Government and other international investigators this attack is credibly attributable to the Syrian Government.
Chemical weapons, to include poison gas and nerve agents were first used on a wide scale in World War I and the effects were so horrific that the international community later passed strong resolutions forbidding the use of such weapons. So vivid and awful were those memories from WW I, that the international community has largely, with a few exceptions, abided by these restrictions ever since.
All people of good will rightly detest and are gravely alarmed by the recent deployment of these sorts of weapons by the Syrian Regime against its own people. The President, to his credit, is not willing to simply ignore these egregious violations of human rights and international law. And, also to his credit, he has remanded deliberations regarding any military retaliation to the reflections of the American People, working with their congressional representatives.
In accord with this call for reflection, Pope Francis and the American Bishops have all expressed caution and concern regarding military retaliation at this point, considering it premature, and and in violation of the principles of the “Just War” teaching dating back to St Augustine.
The Just War Tradition is not meant to “justify” war so much as it is to frame the decision of any recourse to military action in the mature and thoughtful deliberations of Scripture, Natural Law and and the long experience of the Christian Tradition.
The Criteria to be met in order to regrettably enter a conflict with military retaliation is well summarized in the Catechism as follows:
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
– all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
– there must be serious prospects of success;
– the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2309)
At this time, based on what is known and has been set forth by our government, it is the respectful judgement of the American Bishops, and Pope Francis that the criteria for the recourse to war or warfare are not fully met.
This judgment is very similar to the judgment that was rendered on the eve of entry into the War with Iraq. As can be seen, the conditions for recourse to war are very strict, and they ought to be. War is a horrible reality and brings great suffering. It is already clear that the suffering in Syria is great and it does not seem that military intervention by the US will have a reasonable hope of ending that.
Let us also be clear, the deliberations about recourse to War involve prudential judgements where reasonable people may differ as to the details. Unlike other moral issues such as abortion which involve an absolute moral evil, warfare, while strongly limited by our principles, can theoretically be a legitimate course of action under strict circumstances, as stated. Thus, the Catechism while giving clear principles to be followed also says:
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (# 2309).
Hence we respect that this is a decision that does finally belong to the President in consultation with the Congress. The Church does obviously urge that our reasonable criteria for “Just War” be at the heart of any deliberations. Our Holy Father and the Bishops must also state that, based on what has been disclosed to the American People, the criteria for just war are not met and that other lesser measures be pursued first.
Let us pray for our President and congressional leaders that they wisely and faithfully execute the offices of leadership entrusted to them by the American People. May God grant his wisdom and insight. For the people of Syria too we pray for an end to conflict and the miracle of forgiveness.
35 Replies to “Sober and Serious on Syria. A Pastoral Teaching rooted in the Just War Teaching”
My clergy did discuss the matter of attacking Syria. He likened the US to Germany when it was under the rule of Hitler. Understand that this clergyman is from Poland/Germany himself. He fears the worst if the US attacks.
That stated, I do not think that our motivation is that of Hitler’s. My opinion: we don’t know who the enemy really is – it could be the Taliban for all who simply did this to draw the US into the fight and to weaken us. We have known for decades that Russia and Syria and other states have/may have chemical weapons. To attack them now because they used them, knowing that they had them for decades with the intent to use them, is a bit shallow.
We need to take constructive/defensive actions, not destructive/offensive actions. Of course, this is easier stated than done.
What I meant: For all that we know, the Taliban is behind the chemical attacks. This requires a very strategic approach which focuses on that element which is not much different from armed, serial killers who must be detained or killed in order to protect innocent children from being poisoned or having acid thrown in their faces. We have a responsibility, as brothers/sisters to brothers/sisters, to help protect innocent life from those who truly desire to murder innocent life with hatred as their motivation. We also have a responsibility to broker peace in Syria – to help them reach a compromise which hopefully respects a more democratic government as part of the solution – for the sake of the rights of the governed.
While I’m no fan of citing the Dritte Reich anytime bad things happen to good people, the political philosophy underpinning the Whitehouse’s exceptionalist thinking is indeed a dictatorship of relativism, not a form of prudence (righly understood as phronesis contingent on humanity’s limited powers to control anything – including themselves – perfectly). Condiser Bethke Elshtain’s critique of Roman Catholic Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt’s faulty logic of the State’s absolute power: “The prince is the sovereign lawgiver, but he is restricted as to the content of his statutory power by natural and divine law … The marvelous juristic mind of Bodin reveals itself again on this occasion as in the technical remark that strictly speaking the prince cannot act against the law of God, his seigneur, because through the very act of violation of divine law he loses “the title and honor” of a prince.” http://mises.org/misesreview_detail.aspx?control=341
as Acton adjured “Power corrupts. Absolute power, absolutely” (worried as he was that the new liberal movement in international Catholic affairs would suffer an abortive rupture in the promising ecumenical rapprochement in the newly-conceived American democratic project that the unilateral ultramontane declaration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1858, something that had occured as recently as the 1844 Philadelphia nativist riots)
The temptation to false flag operations, as putatively put forward by Sr Agnes ( RT, perhaps Colleen Campbell of EWTN would get such a scoop if American’s ever regain the trust of the world’s oppressed) must be thoroughly investgated before punative strikes can be attached to those held to blame. If it could be proven that Gulf oil states are behind this what then? Aim the missiles at Georgetown’s campus in Qatar? Foolhardy presumption has a price, are we willing to pay it?
CK, your words are very large and your quoted sources quite foreign to me (I assume to most); as such, I struggle to understand what you are trying to state. But thank you for your contribution.
I think that there are three (3) efforts to pursue: 1) move to get Syria to peacefully turn over its chemical weapons to UN control; 2) covert operations to uncover and unhinge any Taliban influences in the region; 3) further diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to a peaceful end. As I stated above, we are responsible for our innocent brothers / sisters – we must do something.
Nothing mentioned in my parish (only prayers for dialogue and resolution of the problems in Syria during the prayers of the faithful). They didn’t talk about immigration this Sunday either (I think I heard that the USCCB wanted immigration reform to be talked about this weekend). These subjects are difficult for the parishes to address because we are so partisan within our own church. Trads/Rads can easily be translated as GOP/Dem! So if the pastor says something he will likely have half the congregation angry with him.
“Trads/Rads can easily be translated as GOP/Dem!”
Doesn’t sound very Catholic to me. It sounds so……..Protestant!
Sorry you feel that way, but I am only saying what I have seen. If you are a traditional Catholic, you are probably a Republican and if you are a “radical” Catholic you are likely a Democrat. It just seems to work out that way.
That is exactly what is wrong with our understanding of Catholicism in the U.S. …most U.S. Catholics inform their faith with political ideologies rather than vice-versa. If we’ve failed at anything it is educating our members of sound Catholic theology! Instead we have allowed cultural and political platforms to dominate our discussions!
After the Mass and before leaving the sanctuary, our pastor asked us to continue praying for all those involved in the Syrian conflict. Together, we prayed for President Obama, Congress, and all world leaders – for wisdom and guidance, especially. And we prayed that God would grant us peace in the Middle East and throughout the world. We then sang “Let there be Peace on Earth”.
There were those who believed the Iraq war was justly entered into, and I believed it was the lesser of two evil choices (going or not going). We did well at first, as was expected, but had no “second act.” Also, because of the structure of our own government, the war had to be won within one or two administrations. I prayed for Mr. Bush’s re-election less for his or our sake than for that of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who wanted something other than the vicious regimes they had lived under. We did not come through on our promises, which has exposed all the good people in both countries to retaliation and loss of hope for a better place to live. Since I trust the current administration even less, and we have been given no solid, clear reason why we’re going or what we hope to do, there is little motivation to support intervention.
Our Diocese is filled with priests that will point out injustice and where the Church stands on issues that face us as human beings and children of God. Fornication, war etc. It is interesting how little we understand of the History of the area and the history of the Church. The Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths all are all traced to Abraham and in his two sons the people split. Isaiah-Jews, Ismail – Islam. Christians split from the Jews as Jesus is the Son of God and Islam split into Sunni and Shia.
The Jews Temple destroyed in 72 a.d. and banished from Jerusalem leaving behind he altar of Abraham (hard to move a large boulder), which Muhammad napped on and it is now surrounded by the Mosque on the Mount. Both sides will not concede the issue and so there is constant fighting as the children of God are squabbling over a piece of Holy ground.
We cannot be the eternal police force of the World as our leaders do not fully understand the implications of armed conflict, especially in the middle east. I am a ten year veteran and know what warefare brings to civilians.
I am opposed to the Syrian intervention, but what baffles me is why the Pope and the Bishops weigh in as “Bishops” and the peculiar manner in which they are doing so:
If the intervention certainly fails to meet the just war criteria then to kill in a certainly unjust war is in fact immoral, it would be a sin. The soldiers participating in it would be committing serious sin. This is not my misunderstood position, it is well described in a moral theology text book made this point, the text is Fr. John McHugh and Charles Callahan “War and the Catholic Moral Principles” The relevant sections can be read http://www.catholicapologetics.info/morality/warfare/war.htm
This idea is of course consistent with the classical Catholic moral theology position and is almost self evident. If you were a soldier cooperating with the Japanese ‘rape of Nanking” in WW II, I think everyone would agree you were cooperating with evil and bore some degree of moral responsibility for your actions. This is the whole basis for war crimes trials and the like.
Now Looking at specific relevant quotes of the moral theology text we see:
Volunteers not already enlisted may not offer their services to a belligerent, unless they are morally certain that his cause is just. They participate in war from choice, and they should assure themselves that their choice is correct.
(Now its hard to say how this applies to our all volunteer army to those already signed up)
They also state:
(c) Subjects called to the colors should fight for their country, even if they are in doubt about the justice of the cause, for the presumption is on the side of the government. This does not mean, however, that one should be willing to fight for one’s country, right or wrong, nor that one would be obliged to fight for a cause manifestly unjust, or to obey an order flagrantly wrong.
Now of course as the quote makes clear soldiers can presume the government is making the right decision as a practical matter, but it implies that they do not have unlimited latitude to do this, and presumably in a manifestly unjust war they can not cooperate. If the Pope or the Bishops call the war unjust does that make it manifestly so?
in most cases so what it comes down to as a practical matter is hopelessly confusing:
Thus what the Bishops seem to be saying is something like this:
As Bishops or even as Pope we think the war on Syria is imprudent, or perhaps even unjust ( that is, it does not meet just war criteria) but we concede that the facts necessary to really be certain whether or not it meets such criteria are not known to us, so if you disagree then its not a sin to disregard what we say and feel free to launch cruise missiles etc etc as you can presume that your government is correct and we are simply wrong.
How is this helpful to the average Catholic?
The other caveat is that there can not be two sides in an unjust war, one side is just and the other side must by definition be unjust. ( same textbook above makes the same points) So if you really thought the Iraq war or the Syrian attack unjust than quite honestly fighting to expel the American Soldiers would be by definition “just”, even if you bore some responsibility for the evils that lead to the war. Obviously that no one asserts that the opposition to the United States was the “just war” side, but this is why the moral logic is incoherent and inconsistent.
The point of this is not to say the Bishops or the Pope are “wrong”. As policy analysts I think they are quite right, If I was in Congress I would vote no on the war resolution primarily because bad as Assad is, attacks it help the anti-Christian Jihadists rebels. This is perhaps a reasonable political or military strategy but it is nor about the just war criteria per se. The way people are talking about this in terms of the moral issues involved makes a great confusion of the historic teaching about Just war. It is not enough to simply site the catechism, ( as if the current phrasing of the just war teaching is all there is to say about a Christian moral principle that dates back to antiquity. In any case Catechism is merely an outline or framework the application of the criteria are were the real work is done.
What we see a good deal of the time now, is that someone quotes the Catechism criteria for the just war, and then states the Bishops have concluded that this particular intervention does not meet the criteria ( based on what specific analysis being left unclear) Then a caveat or escape clause is added to the effect that “well This is not really the responsibility of the Bishops so at the end of the day the call is up to the political leadership”. What possible sense does this make? Should the faithful call their congressman and urge a no vote on the resolution for war? Is it a sin not to? What if someone votes yes, is that a sin? Seems like the answer is no (see the escape clause above) This is ultimately incoherent.
What seems to be the case is that the Vatican obviously “wants” to endorse pacifism, as a moral principle, something it would find difficult given the history of the Church. After all the October 7th feast of the Rosary was created in response to St Pius V calling on the faithful to say the Rosary to pray for the defeat of the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto. So its pretty much difficult to reverse this. So we are left with statement that the war is unjust but go ahead and ignore us if you think differently. Good Grief!
If I was a soldier looking for moral guidance I would not have any idea what to do in the concrete circumstances I was facing.
So If I am an a naval soldier sitting on a battleship armed to the teeth with cruise missiles and the order comes to fire at targets is it a sin to go ahead? ( As it obvious would be a sin to cooperate with other immoral activities regardless of orders, for example if given an order to shoot prisoners or something like that.) if it is not immoral that what’s the point? Are the Bishops merely giving foreign policy advice to Obama? If they are great, I agree with them, but this will be confusing to the faithful when the want to give rules as Bishops versus when they want to weigh in on policy as American citizens.
The bottom line: If the Bishops have concluded the an attack on Syria is manifestly unjust, clearly a war of aggression like say the Nazi Germany attack on Poland in WWII, then they should go ahead say, so and say why, if its clearly, manifestly unjust then the consequences are clear, soldiers could not cooperate with it. Bishops rarely impose this burden of conscience on soldiers for all kinds of reasons, If they are not sure whether the war is unjust, then to weigh in as Bishops just dilutes their moral authority, They are saying well.. we think its a bad idea but its really not up to us. This does not strike me as a particularly good strategy to reinvigorate the authority of the Bishops.
Well, we are dealing with prudential judgement however and it seems you do not factor this into your reasoning. It does not seem that one could necessarily accuse a solider under obedience to lawful authority which has prudentially determined that the criteria are met. There could be circumstances where your reasoning does apply but a lot of factors would have to be weighed.
You raise some legitimate points mdepie, but I think you are making the mistake of considering the statements of the Pope and bishops and the exposition of just war doctrine in isolation, rather than in the proper context of the whole of moral teachings. Just war principles, including saying that it is ultimately a matter for secular decisionmaking, do not cancel out the questions of individual conscience, they do not cancel out the moral obligations of individuals.
And just as matters of individual conscience are not cancelled out by just war principles, neither are the Church’s other teachings regarding what constitutes lawful and legitimate government decisionmaking. “Those who have responsibility for the common good” includes not only the executive, but the legislatures of nations, they include the people of the nation themselves. The legislature and people are capable of making prudential judgments as well. And if the legislature says NO and the people say NO, then all of that enters into the moral question as well.
Also, leaving matters of war to the “prudential judgment” of secular authorities, before we even get into whether the criteria have been met, is not in itself a determination that the authorities have in fact exercised either prudence or judgment or in any way bothered to trouble themselves with just war analysis. (Here I don’t see that just war doctrine has entered into the Administration’s calculus in any way whatsoever.) Rather, leaving it to the secular authorities for the final decision is the Church rightly maintaining its role as teacher, which proposes and does not impose. It is really not the place of the Church to play judge and jury in every political decision, and it is especially not the place of the Church to be asked to give or withhold its imprimatur to warfare. Instead, it is the place of the Church to give voice to all of these principles, to ask all of the relevant moral questions, to insist that these questions be considered and answered. But at some point, people and nations have to grow up and become moral agents themselves.
The Parish Priest at the Mass we attended this past Saturday, not our usual parish, did not mention Syria nor was the country mentioned in the Bidding Prayers. Thank heavens we have a satellitie and were able to follow Pope Francis’ Vigil for peace in Saint Peter’s Square when we returned home. We got the satellite so we could have EWTN, which our cable server (Virgin) does not permit to have a channel. Thank God for Mother Angelica too!
Catholics opposing military intervention in Syria, including Pope Francis, do so in defense of just war doctrine, not pacifism. The conditions for just war doctrine are scarcely met in the case of Syria. Very clearly, the condition that “all other means of putting an end to it … “, is hardly pursued here.
What I am hearing is that international investigators have evidence proving that the gassing was actually done by the rebels who want us to strike on their side. That all of this is a false flag lie, with collusion from some in Washington. This should be addressed. Are we being lied to, to push us into what will become another world war?
RT’s interview with Mother Agnes Mariam de la Croix I cited above
and here’s our Arab Carmelite sister recently on Ireland’s RTE (sorry for distracting antagonistic contrarian criticism from the posting Youtube host who is no doubt an unsympathetic Islamist – see red band on National flag replaced with Islamic green pan-‘Arab Spring’ band on fingers, as used by Egyptian partisans also, Saudi flag is all-green)
Iran’s flag has the same Islamic green, Libya also, tho’ it has the black [ Kaaba at Mecca ] with a crescent moon-star arrangement from former times (as in Turkey’s Ottoman red/white flag) — an arrangement seen in the night skies all across the globe last night [September 8th the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God] the conjunction of crescent moon and starlike Venus… just saying … for those who like to note those kind of coincidences … God speaks in mysterious ways … are we listening?
Before the pre-Mass rosary, lead by our priest, he asked the we all offer our rosary for peace in in Syria.
I think this is a key statement: “- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. ”
I think your comparison to Iraq is a good comparison. Listening to Father Mitch Pacwa’s interview with the Bishop of Bagdad, availalble on youtube, can anyone claim that the the evils and disorders brought forth there by our intervention didn’t worsen the situation? Can we expect different with an intervention in Syria? I don’t thinks so.
Sadly, our country has used chemicals in warfare in Vietnam, but not the ones people usually think of or mention-napalm, and Agent Orange.
And according to some of the latest reports, rebels that Obama wants to bond with, are already telling Christians in a town they conquered:: Become Moslem or be beheaded.
Also, how can we trust people in Washington to tell us the truth about Syria. These are the same people who left our Americans to die In Benghazi and now are muzzling every effort to uncover the full story there.
Absolutely, I do not believe Assad used chemical weapons on his people.
Why would he ? It makes no sense.
The ” rebels” armed by us are al Qaeda warriors , massacring Christians ( nobody cares btw!)
They are brutal, same guys that fought in Lybia, Mali , Egypt, people wake up! Obama is working for the Enemy, they lied to you,so many times, do your research, don’t believe anything….
. What concerns me most about these wars, is the scapegoating of Christians by both sides involved. Pray for the unjustified deaths of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for their persecutors. I do not believe we will be able to achieve a lasting peace between sunni and Shi’te , only a change of heart by the respective parties can do that, and their history indicates that wont happen any time soon. We as a Country SHOULD stand for what is right, and good, and moral, but we seem to have lost that moral high ground when, for example, we decided that killing our own babies is ok. Perhaps the largest group of people we should pray for is our own selves ? Maybe if we repair our own broken lives as a country, we can see more clearly about how to serve God better, and make better decisions regarding other countries. As it stand now, i feel like we are the new “Imperial Rome” pacifying the various provinces and petty kings all the while justifying our actions with false concerns about the people that dont want our intervention.
Our clergy here say only few sentences about “real” events; it is true that priests are not social workers, politicians, advocates, etc, but keeping silence about the painful events that everyone in the pews experiences, makes church-goers depart from the church. And that is very sad.
Again, priest are not decision makers, but not even acknowledging real events…….?
One of our Parish priests has relations in Syria – he talked about it quite a bit and encouraged our prayers.
Please go to the Pew Sitter website and read the entries by Christians in Syria. Bishops, priests, nuns, and laity do not want the USA to attack. The jihadist rebels are already killing Christians. It is also coming to light that perhaps the jihadist rebels are the ones using gas. Assad is bad, but an Islamist takeover would be worse.
I fully agree with you Bill. Somewhere I read that Saudi Arabia have offered to pay America the costs of war if they will only go in and support the rebels. Why? They have not the military means or the will to go in and support their Islamist faction so they want the very foolish Americans to go in and loose American lives in order to bring about a second “Arab Spring” as in Egypt or in Libya, which results in the oppression and suppression of Christians. I am not an American, I live in Australia and we are not going to be involved in any military exercise in Syria, thank God! Stay out of involvement in any military action. You can only lose if you poke your nose in where it is not wanted. The Pope is so right. Prayer is the only hope. President Putin has already suggested that Assad should agree to international guardianship of all the chemical weaponry as being the way to go. That seems like a good idea to me. Military intervention should avoided at all costs.
Agree with both of you, hopefully more people will find out what is really going on, I know many Syrians ( most Christians) there is a genocide happening , wake up!!!! Westerners are funding the Islamists rebels and the media is keeping,quiet
The nearby Maronite parish priest who fills in at a nearby diocesan parish has asked for prayers in the past for the situation in the middle East (Lebanon has the largest contingent of fleeing Syrian citizen, three quarters of a million refugees). Another missionary priest at a parish where I volunteer has mentioned the blog SOS Christians in Syria run by brother and sister religious stationed there http://soschristiansinsyria.wordpress.com/category/institute-of-the-incarnate-word-ive-syria/
Why are American Catholics so loath to be courageous for their brothers and sisters in faith and instead plead prudential judgement? At least Rick Santorum has found his tongue and now spoken out against strikes, better late than never I suppose, be grateful for small mercies!
This Bashar Assad is an evil man to use chemical weapon against innocent population. This President Barrack Obama, is an evil man, also to agree and allow the government the finance of planned parenthood into the death of millions of innocent babies. How arrogant is this Obama when he himself allow the killing of innocents. We should stand-up against both for they are destroying innocent people and babies. To enter into war in Syria will all the more aggravate the situation and even more kill innocent victims. If it is true that Obama does not want the use of chemical weapon against the populace let him talk personally to Bashar and not just enter into this war and also for Obama to stop his killing of babies for these are really the right things to do. We pray for wisdom to both of these mass murderers. May GOD have mercy on the souls of these two leaders and may GOD grant peace to Syria and USA. Eternal rest grant unto the souls of the victims in Syria and babies in the USA. We thank the Pope for leading us to pray for peace in the world. Pax et Bonum!!!
For what it is worth, the following is the homily I gave this past Sunday, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Last Sunday, September 1st, our Holy Father Pope Francis proclaimed for the whole Church that today / yesterday, September 7th, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, be a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world. Pope Francis also invited each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all persons of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in his call for fasting and prayer for peace. More than 100,000 people gathered today in St. Peter’s Square, from noon to 5:00 p.m. our time, 7:00 p.m. to midnight Rome time, in Eucharistic Adoration and prayer for peace with Pope Francis.
We must be aware of the serious potential for an escalation of violence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, and possibly war. At this time, our President and Congress are debating whether the United States, with its ally France, will intervene in the civil war in Syria with potential military strikes in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against their own citizens. Toward this end, the President has ordered the positioning of American naval forces into the eastern Mediterranean Sea for this purpose.
At this time also, the Russians have sent warships into the eastern Mediterranean Sea to oppose any military action by the United States against the Syrian government. Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned that any approval by our Congress for a military strike against Syria, without the support of the United Nations, would be considered an act of aggression. The country of Iran has also announced that it would support the Syrian government “until the end” against any military intervention by the United States and France. My brothers and sisters, we are indeed living in very perilous times!
You may wonder what, if anything, does this have to do with our readings today. In our first reading from the Book of Wisdom, we hear “For the deliberations of mortals are timid and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” We may hear this as a plea for the Wisdom of God to come to us in perilous times such as these, when wise decisions must be made by the leaders of the nations who may potentially be fighting each other in this conflict. It is a plea for the Wisdom of God to come to help us to try to find a way to peace, and to stop this from becoming a wider conflict and possible war. It is a plea for the Wisdom of God to guide us and counsel us to make straight the paths toward peace on earth.
Our reading from the letter of St. Paul to Philemon may be heard as a plea for the Wisdom of God between conflicting parties, that we may no longer see each other as master and slave, as antagonists in conflict, but rather to see each person as brother or sister, beloved by God, and to make a decision to seek peace.
Finally, our Gospel reading from Luke may be heard as a plea for the Wisdom of God to help us seriously consider and discern the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, what that means to each one of us, and whether we are ready and willing to accept the cost and take up our own cross to follow Jesus. Ultimately, to be a true disciple of Jesus requires each one of us to give Jesus Christ the highest priority over anything else in our life; over our parents, over our spouses, over our children, over our brothers and sisters, over our possessions, even over our very life itself. Jesus calls us to peace, to follow His commandment to love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts, with all our being, with all our strength, with all our minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We see and hear this commandment being practiced by the suffering, persecuted Christians of Syria and the Middle East, who rather than taking up arms and fighting back, are praying for peace, urging the nations involved to pull back and avoid full-scale conflict, and asking for God’s Wisdom and strength to bear the heavy cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis, during his Angelus address last Sunday, said:
“I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.”
Pope Francis added:
“All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs to all of humanity!”
“May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.”
Tomorrow / today we celebrate the Nativity of Mary, the Birth of Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Peace, and Queen of Heaven and Earth. Pope Francis urges:
“Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building, in every situation, an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!”
This prayer can not be answered because it is rather like asking God to send down magical elves to disarm the waring factions. I suppose it is logically possible for God to do such a thing, but In human history he never has, as it turns out he usually seems to act via human agency. An example of this is in the late 1500s the Ottoman Turks were encroaching on Europe, Pope St Pius V organized a naval armada to defeat them, ( I do not think there is any historical evidence he asked for “dialog”, or prayed for dialog and reconciliation. In fact he asked the faithful to pray the rosary for the defeat of the Ottoman Turks, which was achieved at the battle of Lepanto, Thus we have the feast of our Lady of the Rosary which traces its origin to that time.
There was no call for dialog then since the JIhadists of the time were not interested in talking, they preferred conquering.. In fact they are not interested in talking now, as they are busily beheading Christians who fail to convert as described by Brietbart, or executing prisoners as described by the NY Times. This is not to say we should or should not get involved in Syria. IT is to say prayers to the Blessed Mother for “dialog” at some point are a little like prayers asking for magic. They fail to recognize that at some level there can only be “dialog” when evil men doing evil things are vanquished. We had “dialog” with the Japanese at the end of WWII when the militarists in charge of the Rape of Nanking were no longer in power, having been “routed with great slaughter” to quote Leo XIII encyclical on the Rosary ( a phrase he used to describe the happy destruction of the Ottoman forces at Lepanto)
As a purely strategic matter IT can argued that the United States should not intervene in Syria since Assad is a bad actor and his enemies are also vile. I can see that, but these calls for “dialog” are rich when our brother Christians are literally being massacred by Jihadists for the crime of being Christians.The flavor and nature of the prayer requests are difficult to comprehend since they are give no evidence of being tethered in any way to reality. They read like they are composed by some bureaucrat in the Vatican. I would love to ask Pope Francis, really what exactly is there to “dialog” about with the folks from radical Islamic front. These guys recently killed on of your fellow Jesuits, Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, and he was on the their side!
Perhaps the United States needs to also consider that we were not appointed policeman of the world, a role we seem to have taken upon ourselves ever since World War II. We cannot afford it anymore, it is unjust, and earns us only contempt from the rest of the world.
Why are we even considering intervening in a local civil war, where the use of chemical weapons cannot be reliably attributed to one side or the other? It is not even possible to sort out which side is good and which side is evil…it seems to be more a case of evil vs. evil, and the rebels, if anything, seem to be worse than the government of Assad.
Have we learned nothing from our experience with Iraq?
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