By Tom Sheridan

NOW, as we enter the second decade after 9/11, we seem little closer to the peace our prayers at Mass call us to. Or to the Prince of Peace who is the central focus of our faith.

I’m not naive. I understand human conflict sometimes calls for a justified armed response. While defence can be right, neither should war be humanity’s default position. Too often, even when the definition of war is fuzzy, we experience an “unpeace” – or however you want to define the state of being belligerent towards others of your own species.

There’s too much unpeace today. Some are armed: Iraq and Afghanistan and various African nations. Some are simmering disputes: India and Pakistan, the two Koreas. Some aren’t exactly war but explosions of violence in the name of religion: Israel, Palestinians and others, and Islamic terrorists against Western society.

There’s more: economic unpeace, ethnic unpeace, political unpeace.

It’s a paradox of faith: worshipping a God of peace while accepting a god of war. But how does faith ask us to respond to war and warlike actions in our midst?

War has hardly been a stranger to Christians, from the Crusades and before, to conflicts between nations and city-states in which a flag of faith marched before the troops. Too often, we’ve been challenged to “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”.

More than once as a deacon, I’ve preached what the Church says about war only to be criticised, particularly about response to terrorism. A faith that opposes war can challenge a nation’s patriotism.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent then-Archbishop Pio Laghi to ask President George W Bush to not invade Iraq, warning that terrorism cannot be defeated solely through repressive means. Bush refused.

Cardinal Laghi later said, “Respect for human life should always be honoured and ... the struggle against terrorism does not justify the abandonment of a state of law, because the means do not justify the end.” Pope Benedict XVI has continued to warn against violence, decrying the loss of life in Afghanistan and other places of conflict.

Beyond respect for life, war is an affront to human dignity. It creates refugees, encourages corruption and waste, and threatens justice.

Peace, maintains the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is not merely the absence of war. ... Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication, ... respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. ... Peace is the work of justice”.

Despite the entreaties of faith, war continues to be an unrelenting reality. Even our veterans, who deserve our respect, are saying that this war, at least, isn’t worth the effort. Didn’t the Prince of Peace already tell us that? - CNS

Sheridan is former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, USA.


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