Friday, July 14, 2006

A homily I wrote after 9/11

Just War
Thirty years ago this week, I woke up in the middle of the night and turned on my little black and white TV. I kept the sound down and just watched the scratchy picture. I was seven years old and I was hoping to see my dad get off an airplane. This was the day the POWs returned from Vietnam and I thought maybe, just maybe, my dad, a Marine officer who was missing in action, would be on the plane and we just hadn’t been told yet. (We found out a few years later that he had been killed in combat and buried by the Communists in 1965.) I consider myself to be very aware of the consequences of war and have thought about it a lot in the last little while.
There are lots of varying opinions about the advisability and/or morality of the possible continuation of the war with Iraq. Many of you know my personal opinion. But that is not what I will speak about today. (It would be an abuse of the pulpit.) What I want to let you know about is what the Church teaches about the possibility of war.
Make no mistake about it; Christianity is not a pacifist faith. The Church does not and has never taught that war is to be avoided at all costs. War is a thing to be worked against. People die and suffer in every war. But there are some cases in which war is necessary in the face of greater evils. No sane person should ever say that the Civil War or World War II or even the Gulf War of 1990 were unnecessary in the face of slavery, genocide, and territorial aggression respectively faced in those wars. War is permitted in the face of aggression (either an attack or a sure threat) or to resist a great evil.
The Church teaches that certain conditions must be met for a war to be just. First, the evil and damage inflicted by the aggressor must be lasting, grave, and certain. In other words, war ought not to be fought over trivial matter such as an insult or national honor. Second, all other means of addressing the causus belli or cause of war must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. Diplomatic efforts will work with some countries and not others, as will embargos. Other nations cannot be trusted or care nothing for the sufferings of their own people. Third, there must be serious prospects for success. Hopeless wars are just that hopeless and serve only to increase human suffering. Forth, the war must not produce evils greater than the evil to be eliminated. Are we causing more suffering than is being avoided? Who has the responsibility for judging these things? Our political leaders—“those who have the responsibility for the common good” as the Catechism states. We have the option and indeed the obligation of respectfully informing them of our informed opinion, but the decision is ultimately theirs.
All Christians are called to be good citizens: to inform themselves of the issues involved and make their voices heard in a respectful and helpful manner. But we must carefully delineate between opinions, which are and are not based and rooted in the faith of Christ.
One thing that also must be clear is that regardless of what opinion one has concerning the war, our men and women in military must be treated with respect. Many of our veterans can tell you of the slanderous and hurtful way in which people treated them during and after the war in Vietnam. I myself have sad memories of my father being called a baby killer. The Catechism teaches us that, “Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to common good of the nation and the maintenance of the peace.” We should all pray daily for our men and women in uniform and express our support of them even if we do not personally support what they are engaged in.
Our bishop has rightly and prudently requested that we pray for peace this weekend. Peace is always to be prayed for and worked for. But we must also be aware there are occasions in which war is possible and in fact the necessary course of action. Let us pray that God will grant political leader through the world the grace to make the right decisions in defense of what is good and right.
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