The Gospel text (Jn 14:23-29) is excerpted from John’s account of the Lord’s “Last Supper Discourses.” Jesus is preparing his friends for a future they cannot anticipate. Not only is Jesus about to die a criminal’s death but in time, the Apostles themselves are going to be hunted down and all but one die violent deaths themselves … the lone exception will suffer permanent exile from his homeland.
The world has always afforded human beings plenty of both good and ill; and Jesus tells his friends to expect more of both … in spades. On the earthly, visible surface nothing appears to have been changed for us by Christ’s sacrifice unto death or by his Resurrection to new life. Living in saved creation still brings humankind the very same good and ill experienced by every other person in every other age, even in those ages that preceded the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
From that standpoint, it is not surprising many people are skeptical of Christian claims or reject Gospel truths altogether. One God? Why not several gods or many gods for all the difference it seems to make? Creator? That implies a plan and an order to life that by most accounts appeared accidentally and proceeds arbitrarily, even – so we are told – mixing boys up in girls’ bodies and girls up in boys’ bodies. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man? Always existing and being born? Saving humankind by dying? Coming back to life though now nowhere to be seen? None of that’s logical. It all sounds made up. This Jesus will come back to earth? If he hasn’t come back by now, why spend any more time expecting him? And he will judge us? God isn’t going to judge anybody; everything is acceptable … there’s no such thing as sin … no one has a right to judge me. I’m okay and you’re okay … everybody is okay. A Spirit that talks through people? You mean like channeling the dead at a séance? Or do you mean like a schizophrenic hearing voices? Someone with multiple personalities, one talking to another? A Church that is one, holy, universal, and apostolic? How can all the Christian denominations, with all their differences, still be one Church? Holy? With all those abuses? And the exclusion of women from ordination? Universal? Aren’t gays and lesbians excluded … their marriages not recognized? Weren’t the Crusades wars against Muslims? And didn’t the Church demonize the Jews? Baptism forgives sins? There’s no such thing as Original Sin … it’s a fiction with which Augustine of Hippo saddled the faithful, to everyone’s detriment. Resurrection of the dead? When you’re dead, you’re dead … there’s no afterlife. Believers are in denial because they can’t face the truth.
The Christian Creed might be thought problematic or naïve: all because the world appears unchanged by Christ.
Take war, for instance. Lancaster, Ohio native and Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “I am tired and sick of war. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” Yet wars continue and proliferate. Has mankind taken Christ seriously enough? Is armed conflict ever consistent with Christianity?
St. Augustine was one of the first to articulate the Just War Doctrine. Yet he approached a just war theory cautiously, writing in 418, “Peace should be the object of your desire. … Even in waging a war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace. …. As violence is used toward him who rebels and resists, so mercy is due the vanquished or captive.” More recently, in 1983, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter on War and Peace, saying, “Faced with the fact of attack on the innocent, the presumption that we do no harm, even to our enemy, yielded to the command of love understood as the need to restrain an enemy who would injure the innocent.”
In order for a war to be considered just, morally permissible, strict conditions must exist. All these must be met for use of military force to prove legitimate. (1) The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain. (2) All other means of putting an end to aggression must be shown to be impractical or ineffective. (3) There must be serious prospects of success to go to war. (4) The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
The Church’s teachings are clear when innocent lives are at stake. According to the Catechism, “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.”
Tomorrow the United States honors all those who died serving in all the country’s wars. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day because it was first designated for the purpose of decorating the graves of those who died in defense of their country.
To honor our war dead, I want to close reading a poem Catholic children of my parents’ generation were required to memorize in school: “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. Major McCrae of the Canadian Army wrote this poem on the battlefield the evening of May 2, 1915 while mourning the death of his friend, 22-year-old Alexis Helmer, killed only hours before.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Fr. Mark S. Summers
Pastor, St. Peter Roman Catholic Church HIS HEART, OUR HOME