5th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalm - 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Gospel - Mark 1:29-39
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you." He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
What I'd like to do today for my homily is to digress from the readings that the Church presents to us. It is rare that I do this but because of a pastoral issue and question that I would like to speak on, the Church, in her liturgical law, does permit me to speak on a contemporary issue that requires some catechesis. What I'd like to do this morning is to explain to you, in brief, the Church's teaching on just war theory. It's a topic that I know has been on many peoples' minds because of all that has transpired in the last several months and because this past Wednesday, many of us were tuned-in to Secretary of State Powell's address to the United Nations. The approach I'll take focuses on the moral, not the political implications of engaging in a war that is just. Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Fr. William Saunders' Straight Answers column at (firstname.lastname@example.org) provide excellent presentation of this topic in fuller detail.
The whole notion of Christians engaging in war seems at first to be a bit paradoxical. After all, the 5th Commandment prohibits killing and Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek when we are wronged. The early Church really struggled with this question - in fact, soldiers who converted to the Faith were often required to leave the military because many military practices contradicted the Christian life. By the time of St. Augustine, in the late 300s and early 400s, many still wondered if it were morally possible for Christians to engage in war in order to defend themselves and to protect the common good and innocent persons from harm. St. Augustine developed an early just war theory to explain how Christians could engage in war under certain circumstances. It was St. Thomas Aquinas who developed Augustine's model in the 12th and early 13th century to give us the six criteria for what constitutes waging a war that is just.
So, with that background in place, what I would like to do is to lay out the six principles:
1. JUST CAUSE - The war must confront an unquestioned danger. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or the community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain." This has been the major point of debate in the last few months. Some weeks ago, both the bishops of this country and Cardinal Ratzinger, who is the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is the Pope's theologian stated that to issue a merely preventive war would be unjust. This makes sense - you can't just wage war to prevent future war. If we followed the logic of preventive war, then Saddam Hussein could launch an offensive in our country because the troops we've lined up on the Iraqi border present a clear and present danger to him. This "first strike" mentality would just spin out of control. Now, when the US bishops and Cardinal Ratzinger made their respective statements, it was not clear at that juncture that there was a definitive link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In the last several weeks, it has become more clear that Hussein has actually supported these terrorists, funded some of their activities and not only has assisted them materially but is also a formal cooperator in al Qaeda's work in that he actually shares in their intent to destroy our country and kill our people. If this is in fact true, then we could view any aggression against Hussein as not a preventive war - but rather, another phase in our ongoing war on terrorism, which has been a just war from the beginning because it has been a response in self-defense to aggression perpetuated by al Qaeda. Without this link between the terrorists and Hussein, our case for waging war resorts back to a merely preventive war and that alone cannot justify our potential option to attack Saddam Hussein.
2. PROPER AUTHORITY - Only a legitimate authority can declare war and must be acting on behalf of the people. The United States would clearly meet this criterion. This criterion comes into play when private individuals who have private militias engage in war in the name of a country, when in fact, the legitimate government does not endorse the action.
3. RIGHT INTENTION - The reasons for declaring war must actually be the objectives, not masking ulterior motives. Again, if the link between al Qaeda and Hussein is definitive, then self-defense could be the intention of the United States. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.
4. LAST RESORT - All reasonable alternatives must have been exhausted or deemed impractical or ineffective. The contentious parties must strive to resolve their differences peacefully before declaring war through negotiation, mediation or even embargoes. Here, we ask if twelve years of Hussein's antics have been sufficient time to wait. It seems that all of these negotiations have been rendered impractical or ineffective. How many last chances should the international community give Saddam? In a statement issued last week, the Holy Father reminds us that war should be the very last option. In fact, he is sending a top cardinal to Baghdad this week in an attempt to get Hussein to cooperate with the international community.
5. PROPORTIONALITY - The good to be achieved by war must not be outweighed by the harm. Clearly, the United States would not use weapons of mass destruction to settle this potential conflict. Many think that terminating Saddam's regime would be good for the people of Iraq. That remains to be seen.
6. PROBABILITY OF SUCCESS - The achievement of the war's purpose must have a reasonable chance of success. There is little question here. The United States has superior weaponry and technology that many say would make the chance of victory rather certain.
It is also incumbent upon those issuing a war that is just to only engage armed combatants in the conflict. In other words, women, children and other civilians who are unarmed are not to be targets of aggression. Finally, combatants should use only those means that are necessary to realize their objectives.
Now, I want us to be clear that I am not endorsing war, nor did I invent the six criteria that I just presented. In no way am I advocating that we go to war. What I am saying is that if we do go to war and that can still be avoided at this juncture, then we need to have a clearly defined way of understanding how we can support such an action.
Peace is what we all pray for but peace is not merely the absence of war. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that peace is both the realization of order and tranquility. Neither order nor tranquility can exist in a world where terrorists and political regimes that endorse and support them can run wild with no one to check them. It is a matter of justice that we confront evil and repel it. No one in the world community complained when we pursued the Taliban after 9-11. Everyone in the world had a sense that we needed to fight evil. Again, perhaps one way to look at a potential military conflict with Iraq is not to see it as preventive war but rather - another phase in our ongoing struggle against terrorism and political regimes that sponsor it.
At this point in time, war can still be avoided and for this we must earnestly pray. The Holy Father reminds us that war is not inevitable. There is still time to pray and a breakthrough for peace can still happen. Thus, I would suggest that each of us commits to praying for peace - let us make visits to the Tabernacle, especially on Sunday afternoons when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration and implore our Lord to help us to avoid conflict. Let us commit to fasting and acts of mortification for the sake of world peace. And, if you'll join me, right now, let's take a moment to pray for world peace - for real order and tranquility in the world. Let us bow our heads in prayer...
Heavenly Father, creator of all that is good and true in the world, you endowed man with an intellect and will to be used for your greater glory. Help nations to heal the divisions that exist between us - inspire our leaders to avoid war and to promote peace and justice for all. Protect our military personnel who are serving our country overseas and may each of us, by our prayers and sacrifices contribute daily to the building of the Kingdom of God in our country and in our world. Amen.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!