The theory of the just war is there to put a brake on violent solutions to complex issues.
Posted on September 1st 2013 in Weekly messages
The dramatic events on Thursday evening in the House of Commons have been picked over by countless journalists since then. The defeat for the government has been interpreted in myriad ways, but from the outside it only looks like common-sense had finally broken out over the complex issue of the Middle East. The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and has no place in human conduct, but the consequent indiscriminate massacre of civilians was certainly not the first to take place during the Syrian civil war. Only a few months ago, a hundred Christians were massacred by Islamic fundamentalist rebels for simply being Christian. There have also been many stories of rape, and one Christian girl was raped by over a dozen men before being murdered and left lying with a crucifix thrust into her mouth. Little has been said in the newspapers or by Parliament, because this scenario does not fit into the preconceived packages in which such wars are reported. So far the war in Iraq and the ‘Arab Spring’ has led to the unintentional destruction of one ancient Christian culture in Iraq, the serious attack on another in Egypt, and more than likely the destruction of the ancient Syrian Christian churches as well. These were not the intended consequences of western action, but should have been foreseen since they provided an opportunity for those bent on religious violence.
It might well look naive when confronted with the forces of worldly power but the Christian invites dialogue to solve conflict, and places very strict conditions on the waging of war. The current civil war in Syria does not in any way match the criteria for a just war: the protection of civilians, absence of effective alternatives (to war), the prospect of success, and the lack of collateral damage. Those who initiated the violence have much to answer for, as does the regime of that country for failing to listen to genuine grievances. The application of just war theory in no way validates the current regime, but it tempers all attempts to descend further into the cycle of fruitless violence where the innocent are mostly those who suffer. To refuse to engage in war is not an act of cowardice or appeasement, since to create a culture is much more difficult than destroying one. The implied comparison between Bashir Assad and Adolf Hitler made by some MPs and commentators is not credible. The countries of the Near East are not the single people entities of popular imagination, nor has any external nation been threatened as of now. These countries contain a myriad mixture of religions, branches of Christianity and branches of Islam, peoples, and tribes.
The peoples of the Syria need our humanitarian support and the Christians of both Egypt and Syria need our prayers as they live with the daily probability of martyrdom. They must have courageous faith and they are a salutary lesson to us all.
To reject the possibility of war might look at this stage the weakest option, but this outbreak of common sense in the House of Commons, might well lead to the other route, that of ceasefire and peace, an outcome for which we must all pray.
Who will or will not be saved is not the question. It only requires one to strive.
Posted on August 25th 2013 in Weekly messages
There must be many families throughout the country and beyond who are preparing their children for the beginning of the school year. Even the youngest child now seems to need a whole battery of equipment for the start of the new school year. They are the necessary preparations, every parent hopes, for something greater to be achieved in the years ahead. These tasks have an obvious future orientation to them. However, every human action has a future orientation embedded within it. Most of the time this future orientation remains hidden but occasionally it does come to the fore.
Anyone who has had the task of gently coaxing someone out of depression knows instinctively how essential it is to let the spark of a possible future re-ignite the depressive to seek meaning within their life again. The future is again a necessary dimension for forgiveness in which to re-establish the bonds of respect, friendship or love that may have been broken through wrong-doing or carelessness.
This natural attachment to the future takes a central place as ‘eternal life’ within the Catholic faith. The striving for a place in God’s kingdom lies at the heart of the Christian vocation. This vocation does not require any prior knowledge of who or who will not be saved; nor does it require one to pass judgement on others. It only requires one thing - to strive to enter through the ‘narrow door’.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus did not answer the bystander by telling him or her whether few or many will be saved, but encouraged them to strive. If Jesus had answered by saying ‘many’ would be saved, then one could ask what would be the point of striving? On the other hand, if He had said few were to be saved, that would also be discouraging by removing the incentive to strive. Any direct answer would, in a strange way, take away from the future. The listlessness of contemporary society can be partially explained through the general assumption that ‘everybody is going to be saved’. The rigour demanded by Jesus Christ has been replaced by a general diffusion of ‘niceness’ that glosses over the serious moral problems of the day.
The narrow door of the Gospel represents the high standards demanded by Jesus, not, as one might think, of one’s own efforts, but through the acceptance of grace. No-one possesses the natural ability alone to enter through the narrow door themselves, whether ‘they are basically a good person’, ‘whether they belong to another religion’ or whether they are a Christian. The gift of grace is always necessary. For some this gift of grace may be unconscious, such as the stirrings of conscience, while for others it might be mediated through their faith. For the Christian, this grace knowingly flows from Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to accept this grace today? The Christian is called to something greater, the kingdom of heaven which, far from making my life on earth meaningless, draws out its deeper meaning, the call to serve. A definite future is offered to us. Once the call to serve has been accepted, an unreflective life then becomes impossible. Jesus looks with eyes of love and the offer of mercy raises questions in our minds regarding our conduct and aspirations. Recognition of our limitations and failings is a first step in the direction of the narrow door. The abundant mercy of God is for those who wish to embark on the journey.
The desire to act immediately without listening does not build the kingdom of God
Posted on July 21st 2013 in Weekly messages
It does not take much for the newspaper headlines to scream out, ‘something must be done’. The issues can be many and various: the failings of the NHS, the easy access to internet pornography, or the responsibility of the banks in recent economic woes, etc. Governments respond with a welter of activity, much of it brought on by a guilty conscience about a lack of prior oversight of the issue at stake. This burst of activity might answer a political need to be seen to be doing something, but rarely are the results those intended. All the above issues are of concern but require proper thought and examination of the issues and suitable courses of action beforehand in order to avoid mistakes and to provide proper safeguards.
The need for thought before action is not an excuse for laziness. Every husband or wife dreads to hear the expression at home; ‘You have to do something about it’. It is the last thing one wants to do; whether resolve sibling rivalry upstairs, engage in dialogue with difficult neighbours, or speak to the bank manager. It is natural to seek the quiet life. Yet there comes a moment when forbearance changes into cowardice or laziness. The difficulty is how to discern the difference?
This Sunday’s Gospel demonstrates both the danger of the cult of ‘must do something’, however laudable, within the setting of a visit by Jesus Christ to the house of Martha and Mary. This is a grace filled opportunity to listen to Him first before serving Him. Mary grasped this intuitively while Martha failed to do so. The arrival of any guest is an invitation to converse and share news of the family.
This pastoral visit is an image of the dynamism of faith. The need to listen to Jesus Christ comes first so that He can guide us, and for us to hear that He cares for us. This form of ‘listening’ is called prayer, and should assist in guiding our actions.
The danger of adopting the Martha approach with regard to faith is that we can easily delude ourselves that the work of salvation cannot be completed without us. This gives the wrong emphasis. Jesus invites us to share His destiny and become conscious collaborators in His work of universal salvation, not out of need but willingly, responding to the fullness of our human nature.
The role of serving is not being denied as such. Any act of service needs to be undertaken in Christ, and placed within the striving for eternal life. This will constitute a challenge to overcome human weaknesses and the consequences of sin.
However, the man or woman of faith can see their life, however hazily, as placed mysteriously within God’s saving plan, and it then becomes possible to serve with a metaphorical spring in one’s step. It becomes part of something greater, whether it be the monotony of the workplace or the relentless of maintaining a home. These realities are not going to disappear, but they become more bearable. The burden is shared with Christ, but is only possible through listening before acting.
When we start to listen to Jesus first, a gradual transformation of our aspirations begins and we can discern in our lives what matters are essential and what are not. This will eventually effect a moral revolution, starting from the individual within the family and extending outwards into the wider community. Many of the problems of our own society, the tragic lack of care or oversight in the social and political world might never have happened with more listening rather than unreflective acting.
Page 1 of 51 pages 1 2 3 > Last »