Category Archives: CAM Original Articles

Teach Your Children Well

Our latest podcast, Episode 28, featured Sam Dean, husband, father of seven children, Catholic convert and former Army Officer (1988-2010). He talked about his quest to find answers to his questions about “Just War” and where that has led him. Here is a an essay he wrote which he has given me permission to share here.

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A CATHOLIC FATHERIN A PERPETUAL WAR SOCIETY REACHES OUT FOR HELP FROM THE CHURCH

by Sam Dean

I am the 50 year old father and primary catechist for my seven children and I need your help. I have come to a question on a Catholic teaching, a changeable doctrine, that I cannot answer. I’ve asked this question of my pastor, my bishop, and more than a dozen other Catholic orders, organizations, and even our Pope. I have received three responses. When I asked the question on Catholic blogs or radio the subject quickly changed or I got an answer to a different question. When I asked PhDs in Catholic seminaries I often received arrogance, obfuscation, anger, and finally and always, silence. The silence, as they say, is deafening.

What question could possibly elicit these kinds of responses? It has nothing to do with sex or the sexual abuse scandal. It has nothing to do with money or the banking scandal. It has nothing to do with some obscure doctrine that only someone who did his PhD dissertation on would know existed. The doctrine is hardly thought of at all, but is relevant to an American on a daily basis.

Before I ask you this question, I should introduce myself. I celebrated my 26th wedding anniversary this year. My wife is a cradle Catholic who married a rather poorly formed Methodist and finally, after more than a decade and a half of prayer, witnessed my entering into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006. As I noted earlier, we have seven children, but we have at least four more we hope to see in heaven. I retired from the US Army in 2010 and currently work at a small Catholic seminary as the registrar. 

That question…? How does a man in my situation come to a question that causes such discomfort? For me and this question, it was quite by accident. In our parish, we are blessed to have the Order of Preachers, Dominicans. In 2011, I was walking down a corridor of the church with a perfectly wonderful priest. I suppose the topic of discussion related to my former career and his interest in military history. That fateful moment occurred when he commented that, in his opinion, those Catholics who believe in nonviolence were “just wrong”. He proceeded to describe a scenario that would allow a preemptive war against the Plains Indians in defense of Chicago. I had recently retired from the military as an officer and I played a mental game by using the military planning steps to evaluate his scenario. I played with this scenario for quite some time. In the end, I was left with a curiosity about the Roman Catholic Just War Doctrine (JWD) as his scenario had raised more questions than it answered. I decided that I needed to understand the JWD better as my children were coming of age and would soon be eligible for military employment.  I spent 20 years in the US military and didn’t know the JWD; my children would know their Church’s teaching on war.

Over the next months and years I read many books on the JWD. I discussed the JWD with the professors who teach it at seminaries and those who give lectures on the subject. I expected that my concerns about the JWD were that I didn’t understand it and that a simple explanation would be evident. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The more I researched, the more my concerns grew. My years as a military officer required me to study military history and as I came to understand the JWD, I began to question whether the wars I fought in and those that I had studied had met the stringent JWD requirements.

It helps me to understand an idea if I understand the larger picture into which it fits. The Roman Catholic Just War Doctrine has a knowable history. The idea of a “Christian” just war was first brought into the Roman Catholic Church by Saint Ambrose in the late 4th century and by his pupil, Saint Augustine, in the early 5th century. I had expected our JWD to have its genesis from the Gospel or New Testament, but in reality it is from Cicero, a 1st century B.C. Roman political philosopher. At a time when our parish priest would still discuss the JWD with me, I asked him if he knew the origins of the JWD. He didn’t, but asked the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C.. Their response was that it was from Cicero. I still remember the uncomfortable look on his face when he related to me the answer. I wonder sometimes if he still grapples with that answer. I know I do. It is not easy for me to reconcile the fact that my Church’s JWD is not based on the New Testament, but 1st century B.C. pagan Roman political philosophy.   

Now that we know the origin of our JWD, what is its purpose? The JWD defines when a Catholic may morally participate in the mass homicidal violence we call war. According to the JWD, in order for a Catholic to participate in war, the war must be “just”. In order for a war to be just, it must meet each of the requirements of the JWD before the war is commenced (Jus ad bellum) and while it is being prosecuted (Jus in bello). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in 2309 that “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:” (emphasis mine) If any of the requirements of the JWD are not met, the war is unjust and a Catholic may not participate. Any homicide, the killing of a human, committed in an unjust war is murder. As we know, murder is intrinsically evil. In summary, Catholics may participate in a war as long as it is just and not if, at any time, it is unjust. In this aspect, the JWD is very clear and specific.

How certain do I need to be that a war is just? What I found was that the level of moral certainty to which the requirements of the JWD must be known before a Catholic may make a decision is very specific, but that it still requires a personal assessment. The CCC 2309 states, “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.” Clearly we Catholics must know that a war is just to a very high degree of certainty before we participate. A war is considered unjust until it has met and continues to meet all of the JWD requirements to a level of moral certainty that is measured with “rigorous consideration” or probabiliorism. I found it helpful to understand another moral decision that requires a level of certainty of probabiliorism – the decision to bestow holy orders on a seminarian. Our Church will only bestow holy orders on a person when it knows to a level of certainty of probabiliorism that he is prepared for priestly life. As you can imagine, this is a very important decision and one which our Church does not make haphazardly. Correspondingly, we must apply the JWD to the same level as our Church applies this certainty to its future priests. Of course, not all priests remain priests. Our Church recognizes that it cannot be perfectly certain (absolute tutiorism). We are not expected to be perfectly certain that a war is just. Our Church guards against weakening the standards of moral questions (laxism). No one wants a priest that is not prepared for the priestly life. Any attempt to weaken or apply the JWD in a manner not as strictly as the doctrine demands courts committing murder. Both absolute tutiorism and laxism are condemned by our church. In my research, I never found absolute tutiorism, but found laxism quite common with the JWD. 

I think two explicit examples from our Church may help us fully understand the gravity of this aspect of the JWD. Saint Pope John Paul II stated in his encyclical The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Spendor), “Like the natural law itself and all practical knowledge, the judgment of conscience also has an imperative character: man must act in accordance with it. If man acts against this judgment or, in a case where he lacks certainty about the rightness and goodness of a determined act, still performs that act, he stands condemned by his own conscience…”

The CCC 2242 states, “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men”:”

What are the specific requirements of the JWD? Again, our CCC 2309 gives the requirements to initiate a just war as: 

  • the war must be defensive;
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The CCC states the following requirements for conducting a war:

  • 2312  The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. “The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.”
  • 2313    Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.
  • 2314    “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons—especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons—to commit such crimes.

You can see, as I did, that it is extraordinarily difficult for a Catholic to justly participate in a war, as the requirements for the JWD are demanding. The JWD is not difficult to understand and shouldn’t be difficult to apply. I could see quite plainly that even the first requirement, that a war be defensive, would eliminate over half of all wars. Both sides of a war cannot wage a defensive war (certainly not to a level of moral certainty of probabiliorism), which eliminates one side of any conflict outright. In many wars, neither side is defensive. Because of the other requirements and the level of rigorousness of the JWD, reaching the level of “just” is nearly impossible. Remember, if ANY of the requirements are not met, a war is unjust and a Catholic may not participate or must stop participating. I felt confident that I could teach my children the Roman Catholic Just War Doctrine. Now what I needed were some concrete examples of our Church applying its 1600 year old doctrine. 

My search for that historical example was where the wheels came off of the bus, so to speak. As I searched, I asked the following question many times. 

In the approximately 16 centuries since the Roman Catholic Church adopted the JWD, when have the leadership of the Church within a state’s boundaries ever declared their politician’s or Caesar’s war unjust?

For the JWD to have any moral force, answers such as the following should be so numerous as to require many volumes to contain it. “Dear Prime Minister/President/Caesar, though we remain obedient subjects, we Catholics will not be able to participate in your war as it does not meet our doctrine for just wars.”  The only example I found was a pastoral letter published by Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Church. I would highly recommend reading his letter at (http://www.centerforchristiannonviolence.org/action-against-violence/). He understands and employs the Roman Catholic Church’s Just War Doctrine and passes his pastoral judgement on to his flock.

If well over half of all wars must be unjust from only one requirement, that is a stunning verdict on the JWD and those entrusted with the shepherding of the souls of their flocks. That is my question that elicits the responses that I described earlier in my article. Do you understand my predicament, fellow Catholics? If I am to catechize my family, the men of the Church owe me/us an answer.

My question for you readers, fathers, mothers, clergy, Catholics, is how can this be? If we are a “Just War” church, how can our doctrine always give us war? As a parent and primary catechist for my seven children, what do I teach them?

As I researched the JWD and searched for examples of our Church following her own doctrine, I came across a few noteworthy descriptions, responses, observations, and interactions. What I offer next may help you understand the pervasiveness and depth of the problem. 

The curriculum at most Catholic seminaries for the Master of Divinity degree includes one or two basic Catholic moral theology courses, one course on medical morality, one course on sexual morality, and one on the Church’s social teachings. The JWD is not covered in the basic moral theology course(s). The JWD, the Church’s moral doctrine governing the mass killing of humans is taught in the Catholic Social Teaching course. This seems somewhat out of place considering the intrinsically evil nature of murder and the “rigorous consideration” we demand for a just war. I would never have imagined that the moral ins and outs of sex would receive an entire semester course, but mass homicide would receive a few hours along with discussions on wages and housing. Could the fruits of this priority be seen in our Church? Many of our laity see sex as a social event and are nearly all completely ignorant of their Church’s requirement for justified human slaughter – the JWD.   

In 25 years of attending Catholic Mass, I have never heard a homily on the JWD. I’ve received many homilies on illicit sex, abortion, homosexuality, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, and many others, but never one on the JWD. I have learned that my experience is not uncommon.

I sent the letter to my pastor. He eventually commented to me that he had received the letter and that he would eventually respond once he learned more about the JWD. How could he have successfully passed through six years of Dominican seminary, many years as a priest, and become the pastor of a parish and not know the JWD? The United States has been at war in more years than it has existed and we have clergy who are unfamiliar with the precise doctrine that must guide our decision to participate in justifiable or murderous killing?   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My family visited a Catholic seminary for a tour. On that tour, they were shown a statue and a painting of the founder, a monsignor. On the monsignor’s cassock are ribbons from his time in the Prussian military during the mid- to late-19th century before he became a priest. He fought in the 1864 war with Denmark and the 1865-66 war with Austria. These wars were not “just” according to the Catholic JWD. Each was a war of aggression and could have easily been avoided. That he participated in these wars is unfortunate; that he displayed the accouterments from these unjust wars on his clerical clothing is a scandal. That our Church still displays these ribbons perpetuates a laxist understanding of the conditions that must be met for a Catholic to justly slaughter humans in war. If he, instead of military ribbons, wore ribbons with the names of women he bedded (was victorious over) before he became a priest, would he have been permitted to continue once a bishop found out? I suspect he would have been censured and the ribbons removed. There would be no paintings or statues to perpetuate what the Church is willing to admit is scandal.   

The quote below is from an email response I received from a moral theology professor at a Catholic major seminary. This professor is a priest and is loved and respected by the faculty and the seminarians. In spite of his extensive education, years of teaching, and position of influence over future priests, he argues for a JWD that is measured by laxism. 

“As for the question of a just war. The Church has spelled out rather carefully the necessary conditions for a just war both in its initiation and in its prosecution. These are predicated on the idea that individuals and groups have an absolute right to defend against having their lives taken by unjust aggressors, and that it is morally permissible to save life, my own or that of other innocents, even by using lethal force if necessary. People can and do have differing opinions about whether these conditions are met in particular situations. There were in my view, too many people who were willing to state that they were not met in the Iraq war and that it was therefore an unjust war. They were never able to prove this claim and so what is gratuitously proposed can be dismissed.” 

Of course, a war must be proven to be “just” BEFORE a Catholic may participate and continue to be proven “just” each moment. For but one moment of unjust prosecution of the war and it is “unjust” according to the JWD. How can a priest, a teacher of moral theology, a holder of such an influential and learned position, so easily fall into a condemned form of moral justification (laxism)? 

I’ve included an excerpt from each of the three responses I received to the many letters I wrote. Each had a slightly different focus, but each had a theme that I found common to my overall research.  

– “I think you have answered your question regarding JWD. Through your research of this topic you could not find a clear answer to what makes a just war. Yes, the catechism gives some guideline to follow and questions that must be asked. However, in any conflict be that war or a family dispute there are no clear answers available; each individual is charged with the obligation to seek peace and restore harmony and for this to take place forgiveness is necessary.”

– “Applying the just war doctrine to a particular war is not easy. The just war criteria are very subjective. Over the years, the just war doctrine was applied to many wars, all of which were declared “just”. It is difficult to objectively define what is “grave”, “certain”, “impractical”, “ineffective”, “serious prospects of success”, or “disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.”

– “…the application of any moral norm is always subject to interpretation. What does it mean, in the practical order, to be just, for instance? We may all hold justice as a value and have every good intent to live justly, but that in no way means what we all view a specific activity in the same way. What one person views as a just solution to an issue may appear unjust to another. We live in a gray world.”

If a Catholic does not know to a level of probabiliorism that a war is just, he cannot participate. That is our doctrine and has been for 1600 years. If our clergy do not have confidence in the doctrine, why do we pretend?

I called into EWTN’s Open Line Friday radio show on September 12, 2014. The topic was the Just War Doctrine and I was able to ask my question. The answer was a frantic hodgepodge of comments that avoided the question. I was told that the Church didn’t dare oppose the state and gave the example of what happened to the Dutch churches when they openly opposed the German wartime actions against the Jews in Holland. I was also told that Jesus had no problem with military action because He didn’t lecture the Roman centurion when He was asked to heal the Roman’s slave. And finally, that it wasn’t the role of the Church to make the decision of whether a war was just, but was the responsibility of the state. Let those sink in for a moment. We shouldn’t oppose the state because something bad might happen… so we are a Church of cowards? Jesus didn’t lecture the Centurion for his being a soldier therefore his conduct must have been licit…and what of the other sinners in the Gospels who didn’t have their sins lectured on? Are we to accept their conduct as licit? The state determines the morality of its own actions and we Catholics must blindly obey… abortion, anyone? Sadly, this episode of Open Line Friday is missing from EWTN’s saved episodes. Perhaps they will find it so you can listen to what it is like to ask that question. 

When I ask that question and the person remains in the conversation for more than a few minutes, he invariably offers the wars against Hitler or Mussolini as good examples of the JWD in action. Of course, if you read my question closely you realize that this too avoids the question. It is easy to state that some other country is pursuing an unjust war. Clearly, both Germany and Italy pursued unjust wars in the 1930s and 40s. The problem is that in 1940 40% of Germans were Catholic and 50% Protestant. If we Christians didn’t murder for the state, Hitler has no army, SS, Gestapo, or camp guards. When Bl. Franz Jagerstatter refused to fight for the German army he was confronted with priests and bishops all demanding that he drop his moral arguments and support the German state’s demands. He was martyred in 1943 for his stand; without the support of his “Just War” Church.     

The political ally of Hitler, Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia in 1935-1936. During this offensive war, the Italian military used poison gas on the Ethiopian military and civilians. This was a war that was completely and obviously in violation of the JWD. Why didn’t the Italian bishops instruct their flocks to remove themselves from this mass murder? Can we find the letter from the Bishop of Rome to his flock or to Mussolini informing him of our JWD? Italy was almost completely Catholic during this mass murder. Who does Mussolini command if the Catholics of Italy will not murder?

I’ll end with an excerpt from The Civilization of Christianity by Fr. John L. McKenzie, who is considered one of the preeminent biblical scholars of the 20th century. 

“Like all my contemporaries on seminary faculties, I had been reared on the ethics of the just war… We were all taught the traditional Catholic morality that while killing a person is morally neutral, bedding him or her is intrinsically evil. We may find reasons for doing away with a person, but we can never find a moral justification for bedding the person, except marriage. There is something fallacious about the thinking which finds illicit sexual relations intrinsically evil but killing people morally neutral: all you need is a sufficiently good reason. Why that does not work for sexual intercourse I do not know….(But) I never thought I would live long enough to see carnal intercourse become as morally neutral as killing. Modern science and philosophy have made of carnal intercourse a ‘meaningful interpersonal relations.’ To me the ‘meaningful interpersonal relations’ is just as phony a piece of morality as the just war theory. I call them both phony.” (p. 11)

Will my pastor, my bishop, or any of the many Church leaders ever step forward and answer a father’s question? Do they even care?

Swords into Plowshares, and tea caddies

Until Lew Rockwell posted Ellen’s interview with Andrew Bacevich, whom I have long deeply admired, I knew nothing about CAM. I also knew nothing about Kings Bay Plowshares. I am working through that ignorance, and gained further insight listening to Episode 15 of these podcasts. Coincidentally, I am reading “Pacific” by Simon Winchester. I came across this paragraph of actually turning swords into ploughshares in immediate post-World War II Japan.

“Factories that had been weeks before making war materials switched their production lines to start making items needed not by generals and admirals, but the bone-tired civilians and by the ragged menfolk returning from the battlefields. So bomb casings became charcoal burners, sitting nearly upright on their tail fins and helping households get through that first bitter winter. Large-caliber brass shell cases were modified as rice containers, while tea caddies were fashioned from their smaller shiny cousins.”

Searchlight mirrors were “beaten” into Tokyo windows, and a fighter plane engine factory started making water pumps. What could the United States do if we beat the nukes at Kings Bay into productive use? Hopefully, at the least, the Kings Bay 7 beat their rap.

We Are Family

Why are some people so opposed to refugees coming into our country? Why do some see them as a threat and believe that it is acceptable to treat them as somehow less than fully human?

These questions point to a source of major suffering in our world now.

There is something of a mythology associated with the perceived threat posed by frightened, desperate people entering our country.

The deeper problem, though, is that we are clinging to a far too limited and frankly obsolete understanding of what a family is. It is this narrow vision of what makes a family that is keeping us stuck in fear of whoever we perceive as “different” and conflating “different” with dangerous.

We need to radically expand what we mean by the word “family.” Our definition of what makes a family has been far too narrow for far too long. There has been a strong tendency to think of family in terms of those who are our blood relatives as well as those who we are related to through marriages. This has been our means of determining who “we” are and who “they” are.

Although a traditional extended family is more expansive and inclusive than the traditional nuclear family of biological parents and their children, it still leaves us with a perspective that invites us to see everyone else as non-family. In others words: not one of us. As soon as we recognize someone as “one of us” or “not one of us” we quickly decide how we will treat that person based on which category we place them in. We human beings have a long history of social programming that predisposes us to give preferential treatment to those we see as “one of us” and a heightened sense of suspicion toward everyone else.

There are, of course, additional dimensions of the “one of us” family paradigm. We may identify with our professional colleagues as our “work family.” We can also attribute a family-like affiliation to various other kinds of groups that we have at some time been a part of: schools, sports teams, the military, political parties, clubs, fraternities, sororities, etc.

So there are some added circles of inclusion with respect to who we regard as family but even so, there are always those “others” who are outside those circles who do not get included in any way as part of “us.”

Have we reached the limit of expanding our definition of family or is there still somewhere else to go with it?

Although it may seem that we have reached a dead end with respect to how we understand the meaning of family, we have actually come to a closed door rather than a solid wall. This door can be opened and we can step through it and enter what lies beyond it.

Stepping through this door requires the proverbial leap of faith. This step is the acceptance of the idea that everyone and everything is our family. There is no one and nothing that isn’t a family member. There is no human being anywhere on this planet that isn’t your brother or sister. There is no animal or plant that isn’t a relative. The land, the water, and the air are members of the same family to which we all belong.

This is actually quite realistic and practical when we remember that a central truth common to all families is that every family shares a common point of origin. They all start somewhere at a particular time. Maybe this is why lovers reminisce about where and when they first met. It matters.

Human beings all share a common point of origin on our little blue planet. We have been referring to her as Mother Earth for a very long time. This is where we all started. We human beings all share 99.9% of the same DNA. That’s how much we are all more alike than different from each other. If we allow our vision to be a bit more expansive, our home planet and our home solar system all originated from the same recycled stardust. On a cosmic level we all come from the same raw material.

So much changes when we realize that we are all part of the same family.

We realize that “othering” a family member just doesn’t work. We cannot escape our relatedness. Competing with and defeating a family member just doesn’t feel right. Competition somehow becomes less interesting while cooperation becomes very interesting.

We realize that generosity and compassion are sensible and natural. Giving something good to a family member becomes an act of giving to oneself. Receiving from a family member is a gift back to the giver.

We have no need to be afraid of refugees. It is they who come to us afraid and needing our help. They are our brothers and sisters.

We are all children of the Ultimate Mystery. We are all members of the same family.

“it’s the Americans who started it”

This is on page 10 of Levinson Wood’s 2018 book “An Arabian Journey”. Wood, a former British paratrooper and now travel writer, has just met Bassam, an Arab computer science student who left Raqqa to get away from ISIS and headed to this Kurdish, and largely Christian town (with a mosque peacefully next door to the church), in northeast Syria. Bassam wanted to make sure Wood was not an American, and he stated the headline. He further stated: “They [the people of Syria] know [the Americans started] it. The revolution was a joke. This whole war is just a game between the big countries. Iran, Israel, America, Russia and Saudi Arabia. They just come and screw around with things until they get what they want.” We can assume what “they” want is not the salvation of souls. The next person Wood meets, Yasim, checks him into his hotel. Wood notices Yasim has a tattoo on his biceps of the face of the Prince of Peace and some hands praying, surrounded by a rosary. Bomb ’em all, and let God sort ’em out?

The Church Militant?

Maybe not in Mexico, where we were a few weeks ago. During the Prayers of the Faithful, there was nothing for the Federales or Military keeping Mexican Catholics safe and free. Returning stateside to Orlando, the Mass prayed for those people, despite being in the Happiest (so probably safest) Place on Earth. I guess the lesson of Subsidiarity is lost in one of its greatest examples, where Walt Disney was smart enough to demand his own government for his new property in the Orlando-area. Nationwide and International wars are anti-ethical to our lost Social Teaching of Subsidiarity, by the way. Walt didn’t want to fight Orlando and Orange County, which ended up benefiting both him and the people there. Peace is more productive morally and financially than war.

Prayers for the Warrior Caste

In my parish and many others, during the Prayers of the Faithful I often hear: “For the military, first responders, and police, and all who keep us safe, we pray to the Lord.” I personally believe the first and second parts are in many ways mutually exclusive, that (leaving out paramedics and fire fighters) US foreign policy and militarized policing do not “keep us safe”, but in many ways make us less safe. If we are praying for specific occupations, why not for engineers, factory workers, pilots, garbage collectors, teachers, data entry clerks, government bureaucrats, corporate middle managers, billionaire tech executives, mail carriers, sewer workers, waiters, cooks, movie stars, cowboys? Or is the US Catholic Church part of the problem with promoting violence?

Knights of Christ or of Clinton/Bush/Obama/Trump

I recently received my newest edition of “Columbia” magazine by the Knights of Columbus. An article was about a Knight who received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, besides a little about the prayer life of the man who received the medal, the Knights did not delve deeper on the morality and justness of the war in Afghanistan, especially after Osama bin Laden was killed (of course, in Pakistan and not Afghanistan), which is when the events occurred for this sailor to receive the award. Instead, we just got platitudes about defending freedom and doing your duty. Are my brother Knights of the Prince of Peace or Knights of the Military–Industrial Complex? Christ told us it would be hard to follow Him; it is too easy to go along to get along in general society, which celebrates militarism and war.

The Miracle of Edith Stein

Today’s podcast is about St. Edith Stein and the miracle that led to her canonization on Oct. 11, 1998. That miracle happened back in 1987 to the daughter of our frequent guest on the podcast, Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. Twenty-one years ago today, Fr. McCarthy con-celebrated the canonization Mass of Edith Stein in Rome with Pope Saint John Paul II (pictured below). I am excited to share this story of a miracle, which is always a story of hope. Moreover, my wish is that this story has the same affect on you that it did on me: It prompted me to take another look at Fr. McCarthy’s life and his life’s work, and to take more seriously that message of nonviolent love of friends and enemies which he has spent his life trying to communicate to the Church.

In an interview with EWTN about her book Edith Stein: A Spiritual Portrait, author Diane Marie Tartlet says: “[Edith Stein’s] whole life was an adventure and she realized that our life of the faith is not boring. If we really have surrendered ourself to God, every day becomes one of surprises, one where we are realizing God’s presence in others in our lives in various situations. There are no coincidences.

The story of the miracle of Edith Stein illustrates in a vivid and compelling way these truths about “the life of the faith,” specifically the life of faith of Emmanuel McCarthy. Listen to the podcast today and you will understand that the story of the miracle of Edith Stein begins years if not decades before the medical anomaly of 1987. You will walk away believing that, indeed, “there are no coincidences.” The connection between Fr. McCarthy and Edith Stein was no doubt planned, encouraged, and inspired by God, and what happened to two-year-old Theresa Benedicta McCarthy in March of 1987 was nothing less than a kind of pinnacle in, or culmination of, the life of the faith that her father had lived: The miracle seems to have been linked with Fr. McCarthy’s ability to see God at work in certain situations, and his willingness to live a life that, like Stein’s, went deep into his faith, entailing sacrifice, surrender, and surprise.

Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy after his ordination to the priesthood in 1981.

Unfortunately, in the interview with EWTN, there is no mention of the miracle that made Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. And perhaps at first glance, that is not surprising: Ms. Tartlet wrote a book about what Edith Stein did when she was on Earth. Maybe she didn’t have the time in the interview to discuss what she did from heaven. Maybe she didn’t know.

But similarly, in this lecture on Edith Stein given by Father Barron, now a Bishop in the American Catholic Church, there is no mention of the young American girl whose miraculous healing led to Edith Stein’s canonization. And maybe at first glance, that’s no surprise either. It is only a ten-minute video after all.

Now in this lecture about Edith Stein given at Boston College, the lecturer does mention (in an aside) that some of in the audience might have heard of the young girl, Benedicta McCarthy, who was miraculously healed through the intercession of Edith Stein, and that she interestingly enough lived right there in Boston at the time; but he does not mention the fact that her father was a Catholic priest, also born and raised in Boston, who had given his life to preaching and teaching the ways of peace, just as Edith Stein had said she wanted to give her life for peace. He had even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. You would think that background to the miracle might be, well, something of note.

Icon of Edith Stein from Poland.

If you have been listening to the podcast since we started publishing it back in May, you know that we frequently talk about Gospel Nonviolence with Fr. McCarthy, and the fact that this message — the message of Jesus’ nonviolent love of friends and enemies, which Jesus preached by word and by deed — seems unwelcome in the institutional Church. Many times on the podcast we have discussed the strange ways (which become obvious once you have “eyes to see”) that the institutional Church de-emphasizes, minimizes, or cuts out this message of nonviolent love entirely, leaving most Catholics ignorant of it, if not outright hostile to it.

Seen in this light, the act of omission of the background of the miracle of Edith Stein, and its connection with Fr. McCarthy, an American priest, by those Catholics who want to talk about Edith Stein seems to me — how shall I say? — not entirely coincidental or accidental. Can you imagine if the canonization of a saint resulted from the miraculous healing of the daughter of, say, the founder of 40 Days for Life? Do you think anyone on EWTN, when talking about that saint, would fail to mention that miracle?

In the podcast, Fr. McCarthy tells the story of when EWTN flat-out rejected the video below when he sent it to them years ago, because, they said explicitly, their channel only airs “Catholic content.” The video below is a conversation between a Catholic priest in good standing with the Church (Fr. McCarthy), another Catholic priest in good standing who was the Catholic Chaplain to the bomb crews who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Fr. George Zabelka), and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize recipient — a pretty stellar line-up! The description is as follows: “Coming from different backgrounds and witnessing injustice and violence first hand, each participant describes how they were converted to Gospel Nonviolence. They also discuss the urgent need for the Christian Churches, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, to return to Jesus’ teaching of nonviolent love of friend and enemy.”

According to EWTN, this is “not Catholic.”

In my opinion, this is “a problem.”

Part of the story of the miraculous healing of Fr. McCarthy’s daughter Benedicta through the intercession of Edith Stein (Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross) must include the ways in which the Catholic media has chosen not to explore this side of the miracle: the fact that it happened to the daughter of a Catholic priest who has been more or less ostracized by the institutional Church for teaching Christian nonviolence — for decades — and the ways in which that Church fails to educate people about this aspect of the Catholic faith.

As a result, we did not have enough time in the podcast to talk about Edith Stein herself to the extent that I wanted to, though we did talk about her life a bit. In the end though, there are many resources, books, websites, videos, for learning more about the holy person of St. Edith Stein, her radiant intellect, her painful conversion (in the sense that it upset her mother), her empathetic heart, the adventure of her life and her tragic death at the hands of Nazis. (Many if not most of those Nazis, we must not forget, considered themselves Christians, and for some reason never had eyes to see the glaring contradiction between following the Prince of Peace and supporting the atrocities of the Third Reich, either by their words, their deeds, or their silence. Must we not ask ourselves if Edith Stein’s martyrdom was not one result, of similar millions, of the Catholic Church’s failure to preach Jesus’s message of nonviolent love of friends and enemies for 1,700 years?). I suppose I felt I had to use the time on the podcast to try to address the strange and enduring lacuna: that part of the story of the miracle that is rarely, if ever, told, the “before” of the miracle — the decades worth of a life lived in faith which led to that moment of healing and the glorification right here on Earth of God’s omnipotence and His infinite mercy.

There is an “after” to the miracle, too, which seems to me a bit sad and disappointing. Yes, Fr. McCarthy did have the opportunity to con-celebrate the canonization Mass with Pope Saint John Paul II in 1998, but the miracle has not opened the eyes, ears and hearts of many Catholics in the way it could — in the way that it opened mine, or I should say the miracle has not been allowed to open the eyes, ears, and hearts of many Catholics in the way that it could, mainly because the Catholic press, especially in America, has been and continues to be absolutely uninterested in reporting on it, and continues to treat nonviolent love, which was the love of Edith Stein, which was the love of Jesus Christ, as merely an odd, infrequent and eccentric choice on the part of exceptional or exemplary Christians rather than as a central tenet of Jesus’s teaching, not to mention the oldest tradition and teaching on violence in the Catholic Church.

It wasn’t until I saw the ABC News Special called “It Takes a Miracle” that I began to wonder if I shouldn’t pay a bit more attention to this Father McCarthy character. It remains sad to me that I had to find out about this miracle, and its connection with this priest, through a secular media outlet, and from an old bootlegged copy of the ABC special on a CD in a dusty jacket, handed to me by a friend of Fr. McCarthy’s, rather from my own Church. At the time of this writing, the YouTube video of the ABC special only has 184 views, and the dynamite conversation (rejected by EWTN as “not Catholic”) only 277! Imagine what would happen if EWTN and National Catholic Register and other such outlets would merely allow its viewers to consider the tradition of Gospel Nonviolence in a serious and studious way!

In addition to listening to the podcast, I highly recommend watching the ABC News special (above) as well as reading the one thing Fr. McCarthy ever wrote about the miracle: “Pondering a Miracle and the Living Mystery Beyond It” (below). More resources on Edith Stein can also be found here at the Center for Christian Nonviolence.

Finally, below are some photographs that Fr. McCarthy has allowed me to share with you. In her interview with EWTN, Tartlet says:

“[Edith Stein’s] whole life was an adventure and she realized that our life of the faith is not boring. If we really have surrendered ourself to God, every day becomes one of surprises, one where we are realizing God’s presence in others in our lives in various situations. There are no coincidences. She almost says it’s a pity for those who are content to live a life of superficiality. Because once you start going deep, life becomes an adventure.”

The interviewer nods and responds: “But many people are afraid to go deep because they are afraid of what their adventure might be.”

One wonders if, by omitting, minimizing, or flat-out rejecting Jesus’ teaching of nonviolent love of friends and enemies, EWTN and other mainstream Catholic media outlets are themselves spreading a “superficial” Christianity because they are “afraid to go deep,” and afraid of what that adventure might be.

Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us! Pray that we can follow your example in ceaselessly seeking the truth, that we never be satisfied with anything less than the truth, and that the Christian Churches will return to Jesus’ teaching of nonviolent love of friends and enemies, and thereby find the true peace of Christ, and bring that peace to the world.

Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at the gates of Auschwitz on August 9, 1992.
Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at Auschwitz on August 9, 1992.
Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at Auschwitz on August 9, 1992.
Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at the ovens at Auschwitz on August 9, 1992.
Auschwitz, August 9, 1992.
Saint Edith Stein / Saint Theresa Benedict of the Cross
Reflection on the Icon of Saint Teresa Benedict of the Crosshttps://www.centerforchristiannonviolence.org/sites/default/files/media/resources/EdithStein/GuidingReflections_3.pdf

Befriending Strangers

How are we to deal with people who come to us from the homes they have left behind?

These people are strangers to us at first. He or she is the Unknown Person and at this point we know practically nothing about this Stranger. Maybe we know something of his or her homeland’s reputation or maybe all we know is what this person looks like to us. Until there is initial contact there is no real knowing of the person and no meaningful shift can begin toward “de-strangerizing” the Unknown Person. Before we can actually know the Stranger as a fellow human being it is all too easy to project our own fears onto that person.

Perhaps the most common thing to imagine, as well as perhaps the most understandable, is to see the Stranger as a threat. This is a bit of ancient survival programming we have inherited courtesy of our distant ancestors. We modern people might be tempted to Boo and Hiss at our primitive ancestors for burdening us with this innate fearfulness but let’s not. Instead let’s honor them because the truth is that without their survival skills we wouldn’t be here to reflect on this issue. We, their descendants, need to recognize that bit of ancient programming for what it is: A once-upon-a-time necessity. The mistake that we must avoid now is to use this relic of human programming as if it is today’s cutting edge technology.

One of our characteristics as human beings is our inherent capacity to transcend our primitive instincts. We are built to learn and grow from our mistakes and slowly evolve toward becoming more enlightened beings. As a species, we are a work-in-progress, thousands of years into a process that is still quite incomplete.

Growing up requires us to move beyond our primitive Fear-based orientation to life. We need to mature into a Love-based orientation to living in our world. Embracing a Love-based mode of being and interacting does not mean that we no longer get scared. We cannot simply delete the old programming. Like it or not, it is part of who we are. What it means is that we no longer have to be limited by fear as we live our lives. As we increasingly move into a more mature level of consciousness we have greater access to our intrinsic capacity for Love-based interactions with others.

None of this means that we suddenly throw all caution to the wind. It means that we move through our situations with appropriate care based on a rationality that naturally emerges from healthy love.

As we return to our hypothetical Stranger, we need to make contact with this as yet Unknown Person in order to have actual observations to take the place of our primitive fear-based fantasies. A meaningful question to consider is: How shall we choose to initiate contact with the Stranger?

The most reasonable way to make contact with Strangers is to welcome them as potential friends. Yes, we still need to be aware of possible dangers and observe proper caution as we start making contact but this choice represents the best way to utilize our own freedom for maximum advantage. If we initiate our encounter with the Stranger in a benevolent fashion the probability is that the Stranger will reciprocate. If we treat him or her as a threat it is likely that he or she will respond to our fear with fear of their own and start seeing us as a threat as well. This ultimately leads to preparation for the anticipated attack.

Perhaps our greatest “sin” is our willingness to de-humanize and demonize our fellow human beings. Under the right conditions it becomes tempting to reduce the Different Other to some sort of Offending Impediment to our way of life. Part of this temptation may also include a component of righteousness that can (and too often does) reach the level of the Arrogant Assumption that one is “doing God’s will” by de-humanizing the Different One. There is, however, something vitally important that needs to be recognized: It is entirely possible to escape from the prison of fearing and hating the Different One and emerge into what can legitimately be called a state of recovery. This involves an initial process of step-back-from Untruth and then a step of move-toward Truth. At first this recovery can be understood as a growing awareness and conscious rejection of the lies previously assumed to be truths: the mental-trap illusion of “Us vs. Them” and the associated false belief that there just isn’t enough of what we all need so someone will have to do without (“and it’s not gonna be us!”). It is also becomes a process of discovering what is actually true and consciously moving in that direction: every one of us is very human and we are not nearly so different or separate from each other as we once thought. There is also enough for all of us if we are willing to let go of our fear and the greed that emerges from it.

Our fear of the Stranger is solvable and it is solved by becoming aware of the Truth. The Truth, in this case, comes as the answer to the question of who we and the Stranger really are. In each case the answer is the same. Each of us, without exception, is a Sacred Child of the Ultimate Mystery. We all come from the same Original Source of Creation regardless of whether one prefers to think of this as the story of the cosmic “Big Bang”, the Genesis story or any of the countless creation stories human beings have been sharing with each other for thousands of years. If we can accept this perspective, the Stranger is nothing more than someone at a costume party who has not yet taken off their mask and allowed us to see their true face. It may help them to do so if we are willing to show them our true face first.

Finally, it is not so much a question of who the Stranger is but rather a question of who we are and what kind of people we want to be in relation to that Stranger. What are our intentions? Do we want them to be afraid or do we want them to feel welcome?

How would we want to be treated if we were the Strangers?

That Which Divides Us

That we are a divided people is not breaking news.

Our divisions are reflected back to us every day. We are consistently presented with the forced-choice of our social, political and religious identities. One belongs to a particular social class and not others. One is either a “conservative” or a “liberal”. One is a “Christian” or a “Jew” or a “Muslim” or a “Hindu” or a “Buddhist” or some other religious label. These are just a few of the ways we identify ourselves. Somehow it became very important to label ourselves and each other. Perhaps this helps us stay with the illusion of “knowing” who we are.

There is another form of division that transcends the “usual suspects” of the various labels already described. This is the division between the opposing agendas of materialism and spirituality. One of the central features of these differing agendas is the question of whether or not violence is deemed acceptable as a means of solving problems. This question also correlates with the contrasting views of separation and connection. Materialism emphasizes the separateness between each of us while realistic spirituality focuses on the connections we share with each other and our world.

The materialistic perspective attributes the highest priority to creating, selling and acquiring Things. This view asserts that the centrality of Things is what life is really all about. In this framework, people are a means to an end. This is sometimes known as “productivity”. If one is “productive” in the proper way then one is recognized as a valuable person. One is considered an “asset”.

The spiritual perspective embraces a very different orientation. It holds to the belief that it is not things that have significant value but rather it is Love and Life itself that is truly valuable. People are to be loved and things are to be used. This perspective is grounded in the belief that all life is inter-connected and inter-related rather than separate and in a state of competition.

This division becomes most apparent in terms of those who are willing to use violence to get what they want and those who refuse to resort to violence to achieve their goals. When a person, when life itself, is seen as a means to an end it becomes acceptable, even laudable, to control, exploit or destroy if that’s what it takes to reach a goal. Domination and destruction are contradictory to the goals of healthy spirituality.
When life is considered sacred it can no longer be objectified as simply a means to an end but instead is known and related to as part of the infinite manifestation of Love.

We can belong to the World of Things or the World of Love. We cannot avoid this choice.

Why focus on the contrast between violence and nonviolence? This framing points to the question of how human problems are to be solved. It is the desire to solve our problems that unites us while it is the methods for achieving those solutions that causes us to diverge into the contrasting problem-solving forms of violence (materialistic power) and nonviolence (spiritual power).

The exercising of Materialistic Power essentially says: “Comply or die.” This “death” may be quite literal or it may be metaphorical in terms of deprivation of needed resources or basic freedoms. It is the straightforward imposing of physical force or intimidation on a person or group to induce their obedience.

The exercising of Spiritual Power, on the other hand, presents a perplexing set of refusals and active responses. When operating from a sense Spiritual Power a person refuses to “fight fire with fire” with the oppressor, refuses to run away from threatened harm, refuses to disengage from the oppressor and refuses to comply with the oppression process. Essentially a person acting from this orientation says: “I won’t fight with you on your level. I won’t run away from you. I won’t end my relationship with you and I won’t obey your unethical manipulations.” The active response is at least as perplexing. While under siege from the oppression of Materialistic Power the active response from one grounded in Spiritual Power is an unwavering “I love you.”

Violence exists as a broad spectrum of attitudes and actions. Its trademark is in its seeking to dominate and diminish the Other who is always regarded as quite separate from the perpetrator of the violence. It seeks victory by destroying or controlling the Other who is defined as a threat of some sort. Its manifestation may take the form of a physical attack with weapons designed to amplify the intended destructive power of the attacker. It may also take the form of a more subtle, non-physical attack (e.g. character assassination) that can nevertheless produce devastating results.

Violence as a process can also be understood as a projection of a person’s pain and/or fear. If one has not dealt constructively with these experiences the temptation to disown them becomes very powerful: “I will hurt you so that you will have to deal with my pain and I won’t. It will become your pain. I will scare you so that you will have to deal with my fear and I won’t. It will become your fear.”

There are those who believe in the use of violence as the method of choice to solve a broad range of human problems. If the end result is sufficiently valued then the means are considered justified. Counted among these believers are women and men, young people and old people, the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, liberals and conservatives and the full spectrum of religious labels. Those who accept this kind of problem-solving are represented across a wide range of ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. There are law-makers and law-breakers, from the local level to the international stage, who subscribe to the idea that the end justifies the means and that this is how problems get solved.

There are also people from all of the groups just named who completely reject the notion that violence is an acceptable method for solving human problems. They maintain that the means to the desired end cannot be contrary in nature of that end: War cannot create Peace, Oppression cannot create Freedom, Hatred cannot create Love. This group holds that the Means and the End are inseparable.

Nonviolence can be best understood as the active expression and demonstration of love and not as the mere absence of destructive attitudes and actions. When we speak of love it is easy to go off on some wild goose chase as to what this really means. The love conveyed in active nonviolence is a kind of sacrificial love. This is the kind of love that consciously chooses to accept and endure real suffering for the sake of another, specifically for the sake of healing the perpetrator. This kind of love does not define the perpetrator as the “enemy” who must be destroyed or defeated. Instead, Sacrificial Love seeks to help the perpetrator become aware of the truth of his or her real inter-relatedness to the person or people he or she is hurting. In traditional language, it is the deep truth that we are all brothers and sisters to each other.

No less an intellect than Albert Einstein stated: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

If we give credence to Einstein’s claim about the nature of problem-solving it becomes logically impossible to believe that the problem of violence, whether this is a problem between nations, between individuals or within ourselves, can be solved through violent methods. The time has come to free ourselves from the mental prison that holds us in the insane belief that declares: “We have to kill people who kill people to show them that killing people is wrong.”

It becomes necessary to change our way of thinking and understanding in order to solve our problems. It is necessary to shift our awareness and our perspective in order to successfully solve our problems. We cannot solve our problems with the same low-level thinking that got us into trouble in the first place. If our house is burning down we cannot save it with a flame-thrower!

The problem of violence within ourselves is a crucial one. As previously stated, if one does not successfully heal his or her inner violence and the injuries from it then one will be very likely to project this destructiveness onto someone else. It is necessary to establish this internal healing as the foundation to solving human problems on an interpersonal level as well as between various social groups.

No less a wisdom teacher than Jesus of Nazareth explained metaphorically that one must first take the wooden beam out of one’s own eye before attempting to remove the splinter out of another’s eye. (Luke 7:5)

If we are to take him at his word, this means that we need to start healing our own impairment and suffering in order to stop perpetuating violence against ourselves which is often invisible to the rest of the world but the individual (who, in this case, is both perpetrator and victim) is acutely aware of his or her own internal self-torture process (e.g. “I’m such an idiot!”, “I’ll never be good enough!”, “No one would want to be with me if they knew what I was really like.”, etc.). We need to attend to our own healing and make peace within ourselves before we start telling, coercing and demanding that the other person (or group or nation) act a certain way to put their house in order.

What divides us is a faulty perception of how separate we are from each other. This misperception supports the belief in the “win-lose” form of problem-solving in our lives. When all we see is our disconnectedness is becomes easy to assume that competition in the only way to achieve needed solutions.

We move from division to unity when we start to see that the truth of our existence is one of connection and belonging. What were once seen as major differences between one another can now be recognized as largely superficial. We begin to love more and more inclusively as we realize that any injuries we do to others we do to our selves and that the compassion we extend to others is also the compassion that we receive.