Because of the Church’s Position on War I

I can’t think of a better time than Thanksgiving morning to launch a series of posts about the Catholic Church’s position on war—which is a fundamental reason why I am proud to be Catholic and therefore fits comfortably within this blogging niche. I’ve thrown up that Roman numeral in the title of this post because this will be only a prologue.

But what a prologue! I’m incited to write about Catholics and war by an exchange of comments with “Kneeling Catholic” that follows my post on George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Day address. The moment the inspiration hit me, I heard the voice of the Peacenik inside me. She said, “But W-e-b-s-t-e-r,” (the Peacenik speaks in soothing tones) “why not read the Divine Office first? It’s always a good idea, W-e-b-s-t-e-r. Why, even The Anchoress does it. It’s not without risks, but . . . ”

The Angry Man butted in, “Aw, shut up! Webster—just read the Liturgy!” Which I did, bowing to the combined advice of my angel and my devil. Taking up the Liturgy of the Hours, I found, as I so often do, a reading for today, Thursday of the 34th week in Ordinary Time, that is eerily on point. Here it is. (I’ll be back to this topic later this holiday weekend, after much turkey, much TV football, three or four naps, and, I hope, a viewing of the new film “The Road,” based on Cormac McCarthy’s end-of-days novel.)

From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop [that's him in the icon]

As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd’s help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you. 

What he says is this: “Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. But the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power.” That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. “I intend,” he says, “to deal in the same way with you.” For, when he says, I am sending you out like sheep, he implies: “But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you.”

The Lord, however, does want them to contribute something, lest everything seem to be the work of grace, and they seem to win their reward without deserving it. Therefore he adds: You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. But, they may object, what good is our cleverness amid so many dangers? How can we be clever when tossed about by so many waves? However great the cleverness of the sheep as he stands among the wolves—so many wolves!—what can it accomplish? However great the innocence of the dove, what good does it do him, with so many hawks swooping upon him? To all this I say: Cleverness and innocence admittedly do these irrational creatures no good, but they can help you greatly.

What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counseled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence. 

Do not believe that this precept is beyond your power. More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack.

  • Kneeling Catholic

    >>>I’m incited to write about Catholics and war by an exchange of comments with “Kneeling Catholic” <<<glad to be inspirational! :-)You are a good writer, needless to say, and *usually* a clear thinker. I however don't think you have correctly defined 'pacifism' which I see as an absolutist position.If 'pacifism' is simply going to war as a last resort then we are all pacifists. If it is the flat refusal to take up arms in service of your country, then it is not Catholic." it is just that Christians invade the land you inhabit, for you blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone you can from His worship" Name that Saint!pray for me!k.c.

  • Anonymous

    Giving thanks for this insight as we go into the day…This homily from St. John Chrysostom is perfect as we prepare to come together -it is difficult sometimes in our own families to come together for the "good"…good of the family as in the good of the universal church…but love in charity…truth needs to be shared and the Good News shared… but with the innocence of the dove.God Bless you Webster and your family this Thanksgiving Day…I will be giving thanks for this website it has really helped me grow closer to my faith! (Even if we do not always see things the same way…which makes it beautiful in a way…because the faith Jesus Christ brought us is big enough…)Over the last couple of years I have wondered Why do I stay Catholic?…You have brought light into my soul on this Question.Thank you dear brother in Christ.

  • Webster Bull

    Anonymous, thanks! It is so inspiring to me to hear that this blog has "helped" anyone at all–other than me, that is. To meditate every day on why I am Catholic, and especially why I am HAPPY to be Catholic, is a powerful exercise. I recommend it to anyone.

  • Webster Bull

    k.c., my new bff—1. Pray for me!2. I can't name that saint!3. I plan to discuss pacifism in more detail with future posts in this series, and I hope we will have more chances to discuss this, as well as the other doctrinal Catholic position, the just war. (I suspect we will.)4. I'm hoping to clear my head to think about all these things as well as possible.Peace! Webster Ooops, did I betray an elitist position by using the P word? just kidding ;-)

  • Frank

    I'm looking forward to these posts and discussion. St. Francis was bold to discuss this with the Sultan, eh k.c.? Such courage has roots in a deep and abiding faith. St. Bernard is a favorite of mine too.

  • Mickey Jackson

    I look forward to this series. I, too, am (perhaps inordinately) proud of our Church's position on war.

  • Webster Bull

    Yes, St. Bernard, the Cistercian who launched the Second Crusade. There's a great tension in that one worth contemplating. The Crusades were a very mixed bag and something Catholic-haters often bring up, as in "If you're so holy, how could you have trampled the Holy Land like that, not to mention Constantinople?" And yet . . . Islam had conquered the southern and eastern edges of the Mediterranean (and much more) with the sword. Was Christendom supposed to respond with pacifism?

  • Kneeling Catholic

    " it is just that Christians invade the land you inhabit, for you blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone you can from His worship" Bravo Frank! Thanks for humoring me and answering!St. Francis of Assissi!My point in quoting St. Francis is to refute Mr. Bull's inclusion of him in the pacifist camp. I myself was quite shocked by the above quote…. I ran across it when I went googling about trying to see if St. Francis was really a pacifist. I'm afraid he wasn't.Day on the other hand…apparently fit the standard definition of 'pacifist'k.c.

  • Webster Bull

    All right, already, I retract St. Francis, but surely someone better versed in the saints than I am can come up with 50-100 true pacifists on the list. I mean, they were MARTYRS, weren't they? And they are honored by our Faith.As for Dorothy Day, I plan to post on her today 11/29, the anniversary of her death. She may not have been perfect, but she definitely forces the questions. PS to KC, Call me Webster! Or Web. When I'm 80, you can call me Mr. Bull.

  • Frank

    And St. Francis was willing to challege the Sultan to a "let's see who will walk through fire and survive" contest! Muy Caliente!

  • Frank

    From wikipedia citation on St. Francis of Assisi (SFOA?…sheesh, don't go overboard on the acronyms Frank!)"In 1219 Francis left, together with a few companions, on a pilgrimage to Egypt. Crossing the lines between the sultan and the Crusaders in Damietta, he was received by the sultan Melek-el-Kamel. Francis challenged the Muslim scholars to a test of true religion by fire; but they retreated. When Francis proposed to enter the fire first, under the condition that if he left the fire unharmed, the sultan would have to recognize Christ as the true God, the sultan was so impressed that he allowed Francis to preach to his subjects.Though Francis did not succeed in converting the sultan, the last words of the sultan to Francis of Assisi were, according to Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, in his book "Historia occidentalis, De Ordine et praedicatione Fratrum Minorum (1221)" : “Pray for me that God may deign to reveal to me that law and faith which is most pleasing to him.”Francis's visit to Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognised as "Custodians of the Holy Land" on behalf of Christianity."Rapprochement…what a great word!

  • Frank

    Ah, the "sign of contradiction" and the effectiveness of "rapprochement". Yes, we actually can all get along if our hearts, souls, minds,and strengths are in the correct place…"'He wanted to be a martyr but he succeeded in being a man of charity,' Father McCleary explained."From the article I found below: