A wonderful reflection on Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the subject of the new film A Hidden Life.
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.
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.
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.
The following was written by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy:
Again and again it must be stated that the universal ‘big lie’ of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches is that war, violence and enmity are activities in which Christians can participate and still be following Jesus and doing the will of God as Jesus reveals that will to humanity. To plant and perpetuate this blatant falsehood in the minds of Christians from birth to death has been one of the specific objectives of all the Christian Churches and their leaderships for the last 1700 years. Not one of the mainline institutional Churches that exists today or that has existed for most of the last 1700 years could exists as it exists without the use and justification of violence and enmity in the name of Jesus. Yet, there is not a scintilla of evidence in the Gospels for anything other than that Jesus by word and deed rejected, without reservation, violence and enmity as His Way and as the Way for those whom He chose to be His disciples. Nevertheless, around the world on a daily basis, in tens of thousands of Catholic, Orthodox ad Protestant niches, this anti-Gospel word goes out, “Violence, war and enmity are compatible with the teaching of Jesus.”
On Saturday, October 7, 2017, the designated worldwide Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Roman Catholic Church, I happened into one of these anti-Gospel proclamation niches. Attending Mass that day I heard the priest in the pulpit fill the minds of the Christians in the congregation with a mishmash of historical facts, embedded Catholic fables and outright theological untruth, the purpose of which was to promulgate the idea that God and Mary were on the Catholic side, supporting the Catholic killers in a homicidal political-economic-religious naval battle against Islam i.e. the Battle of Lapanto on October 7, 1571.
The priest began by stating the historical fact that Pope Saint Pius V sent and blessed the Holy League Navy, the Catholic Navy, which included the Papal Navy, out to destroy the Muslim navy in the Gulf of Lapanto. Although greatly outnumbered he said, (the actual number was 280 ships to 212) the Catholics won the battle, which Pope Saint Pius V attributed to the Rosary being prayed in Rome for a victory. Pope Saint Pius V—who before becoming Pope had worked himself up to being the Inquisitor General of the Roman Catholic Church—declared October 7 to be the Feast Day of Our Lady of Victories because of her part in bringing a homicidal victory to the Catholic Holy League. After his death the next Pope changed the name of the feast to Our Lady of the Rosary, which it remains to this day. However the change of name did not change the message that the leaders of the Church—to this very day—universally communicate to Catholics about the meaning of the feast, namely, prayers to Mary, especially the Rosary, can procured a victory by homicidal violence over an enemy. And by simple logical extension, praying to Mary can obtain a violent victory over the enemies of Poland, France, Italy, Russia, the United States, etc.
Yet, the official teaching of the Church which is never mentioned in such homilies is “While the characteristics of the shalom of the Old Testament are present in the New Testament tradition, all discussion of war and peace in the New Testament must be seen within the context of the unique revelation of God that is Jesus Christ and of the reign of God which Jesus proclaimed and inaugurated. There is no notion of God who will lead the people in an historical victory over its enemies in the New Testament.” (The Challenge of Peace: A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1983, §39, 40).
There is not a speck of violence and/or enmity in Mary in Gospels. Mary is an explicit witness to the truth that Jesus proclaims. Her last public words in the Gospels are, “Do whatever He tells you.” There cannot be an inkling of dissonance between the what the Mary of the Gospels sees and teaches as the will of God and what the Jesus of the Gospels sees and teaches as the will of God—and Jesus sees and teaches by word and deed a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies as the Will and Way of God.
Mary is not God. She can only intercede with God through her Son, Jesus, who is the Incarnation of God. It is absurdity in the extreme to teach that the Nonviolent Mary of the Gospels will intercede with her Nonviolent Son of the Gospels to help one partisan homicidal groups kill and maim more human beings than another homicidal group that it calls “the enemy,” and thereby win a glorious homicidal and “historical victory over its enemies.” Such an understanding of Jesus and Mary and their relationship to each other and to each and every son and daughter of the “Father of all” is loathsome and revolting.
The fact that the rulers of the various Churches in every nation and in every ethnic group permit, and indeed foster, around the globe in the lives of ordinary Christians such a monstrous belief about Mary deserves universal publicity and universal condemnation from the top down and from the bottom up. If there is to be a Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and I think there should be, remove it from the October 7th date, where it can be and is subverted into a piece of Marian military jingoism. Place it on a date where only the Christlike holiness, peace, love, trust and universal compassion—of the Mother of a Son murdered by state and religious rulers and the Mother of a Son Resurrected in love, by love and for love—shine forth the truth and glory of God.
Failure to take this definitive step of totally separating the Marian Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary from October 7 and the Battle of Lapanto will for certain result in solidifying the status quo. The Nonviolent Mother of the Nonviolent Jesus will continue worldwide to be invoked, not to help one love his or her enemies as Jesus loved His enemies, but rather to help one kill his or her enemies more efficiently than his or her enemies can kill. Bishops, priests, ministers and religious educators will continue to propagate, Mary Slayer of Muslim, e.g. in pre-school to adult pious books, magazines, sermons, Catholic art, Church windows, etc. And, as happened in the little niche of Christianity I was in on October 7, 2017, the relation will be drawn between invoking Mary for a victory at the Battle of Lapanto—which the priest erroneously claimed saved the Church—and fighting ISIS today!
Here is an example of one of the tens of thousands of Catholic niches glorifying the Battle of Lapanto and Mary Slayer of Muslim. This is a stained glass window immediately to the right of the main alter at the Papal designated Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Mary with the Baby Jesus presides over the Battle of Lapant in the upper left corner.
CAM started a few years ago when we wanted to speak out against the first ever collection for the Archdiocese of Military Services and we suggested putting a paper of protest in the collection basket.
Bob Woldrop of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City prepared a similar statement this year. It can be found here: http://www.justpeace.org/mscollection.pdf
Though this happened on November 5 and 6 this year, and we forgot to tell you about it, it is still good to read the statements and ponder them and keep this small boycott in mind for next year.
Fr. Emmanuel McCarthy writes: “I have added a few words to it to make it fully consistent with my conscience. But ninety-nine percent of what is written is Bob’s work.”
Here is the text of the statement slightly tweaked by Fr. McCarthy:
I am not giving to the 2016 Archdiocese for Military Services Collection on the weekend of November 5-6.The bishops of the Archdiocese for Military Services, together with nearly all of their brother United States Bishops, are guilty of material cooperation with the objective evil of unjust war. In 2003, both Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Benedict XVI, condemned our attack on Iraq as an unjust war. In spite of the Pope’s opposition, the Most Rev. Edwin O’Brien, then Archbishop for the Military Services advised Catholic members of the US Armed Forces: “Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments and therefore
to carry out their military duties in good conscience.”
Subsequent events have sadly proven the truth, wisdom, and prudence of Pope John Paul II’s judgment, and the fallacy and danger of the moral relativism embraced by the Bishops of the Archdiocese for Military Services and most of the other US Catholic Bishops regarding unjust war.
The consequences cascading from our invasion brought death and injury and social dislocation to hundreds of thousands and devastated the historic Christian communities of Iraq and subsequently Syria. It may fairly be said that those who enabled and supported the war on the people of Iraq are “secondary terrorists” in that they created the support system and the objective conditions on the ground in the Middle East that are driving the extreme forms of terrorism currently prevalent in the region.
Evil actions have evil consequences and those who propose the actions must own the evil consequences —and repent.
Therefore, because of these issues, and the overriding issue that Jesus absolutely rejected violence and enmity and taught His disciples to do the same, I am not giving to the collection for the Archdiocese of Military Services.
It is a sad and scandalous day when a people’s religious leaders fail them so egregiously. I promise to pray for the conversion of the Military Services hierarchy and clergy, and for the moral and physical protection and conversion of the members of the U.S. Military, and of all members of all militaries who are our sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, and children.
They deserve religious leaders who will courageously preach and teach the entire Gospel of Christ, not just that which is acceptable to the United States Government.
Copyright © 2016 Ellen Finnigan
Originally published on November 4, 2016 on LewRockwell.com.
A Sheep Among Wolves
Desmond Doss was a real man but he seems more like the stuff of legend. Being a bit of a loner, small in stature, and meek, he was probably the last person anyone would ever peg for a potential war hero. He enlisted in the Army during the second world war because he believed in the cause. He only had one condition: He would not carry a gun. Make that two: He would not work on Saturdays. Though he did not receive an extensive formal education as a young man in West Virginia, he did receive excellent spiritual formation as a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church: He took the Ten Commandments seriously, all of them, without exception or qualification, including “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” He wanted to serve his country but a way that was consistent with the Way (the Truth and the Life). He wanted to be a medic. The military assigned him to a rifle company, naturally, figuring the heat of peer pressure would iron him out. Clearly they did not know the depths of character, courage, and conviction in Desmond Doss. They could not yet imagine how a man who refused to touch a gun could put up such a fight!
The incredible Hacksaw Ridge, the new film directed by Mel Gibson, tells amazing story of Desmond Doss, his decision to enlist, his difficult training and his unbelievable feats on the battlefield, for which he was eventually awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. I attended an advanced screening of the film and had dangerously high expectations. I’m a Gibson fan, and I’d heard the film had received a 10-minute long standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. I had watched the 2006 documentary based on Doss’s life, The Conscientious Objector (available on YouTube), and enthusiastically assigned it to my honors students after we read The Iliad and the The Aeneid this fall, thinking I had found the perfect thing with which they could compare-and-contrast the pagan idea of heroism.
With a few small reservations, I thought the film was excellent, but I have a few predictions as to how it will be received by the Catholic media, which has disappointed me in the past. My prediction is that the Catholic “Right” will promote this film under the banner of “religious liberty”, the Catholic “Left” under the cause of “conscientious objection,” but I believe both are reductive and shortchange the complexity of the film and the person of Desmond Doss. The “religious liberty” camp thinks that the great postmodern struggle is between Christians and secular society, but it was not the atheists, socialists, humanists, or communists who put Desmond Doss through hell in the military, who insulted him, persecuted him, and uttered every kind of evil against him, falsely. It was his fellow God-fearing, red-blooded Americans, whom we can assume were mostly Christians. While the other men were flipping through nudie mags in the barracks, Doss was studying Scripture. At first they dismissed him as a hick, a prude, a coward; grown men would throw shoes at his head while he was trying to pray. He was eventually ostracized, humiliated, harassed, and even beaten. His superiors tried to get him discharged for mental illness. They court martialed him. One soldier even threatened: “If you try to go to war with me, I’ll shoot you myself!”
“I don’t think I could have taken it,” said one man who knew Desmond Doss at boot camp. “I would have told them all to go to hell! But Doss—he never got angry.” In the documentary, his comrades recall Doss’ gentle demeanor, his lack of interest in retaliation, and his unwavering commitment to personal prayer. The actor who plays him, Andrew Garfield, should win an Oscar. He portrayed perfectly the endearing earnestness, quiet strength, and undeniable mystique of this most unusual man. Vince Vaughn adds the perfect touch of humor in his role as a sergeant who doesn’t hate Doss so much as find him incredibly exasperating. When Doss’ superiors would snarl and ask who the hell he thought he was and why he thought he was so special and why he wouldn’t just go home, Doss would respond, humbly, by saying that in a world that was falling apart, he didn’t see anything wrong with someone trying to put a small piece of it back together. He wanted to serve his country. He wanted to serve them.
And this is where he doesn’t quite fit the profile of the typical “conscientious objector.” When the military tried to send him to a conscientious objector camp, he insisted on going to war! Doss believed that the United States was fighting for freedom, including religious freedom, and that it was an honor to serve his God and his country. He wanted to serve–but in a way that was consistent with his beliefs. His beliefs were very simple: He couldn’t picture Jesus killing people, but he could picture Jesus with a first aid kit. He preferred to be called a “conscientious cooperator.” He thought he could be just as good a soldier as anyone else, only: “Where other people are going to be taking life, I’m going to be saving it.”
This is what makes him a hero for our times. So many folks try to say that going to war or not going to war, which is always couched in terms of defending something or not defending something, is a choice between “doing something” and “doing nothing.” It’s the old false dichotomy of fight or flight. Either you fight, or evil runs rampant in this world. Jesus did neither and Desmond Doss shows us that a third way is possible. One of my favorite anecdotes in the documentary is when Doss says that his superiors tried to convince him of the errors of his ways by posing an age-old question, a hypothetical akin to: “What if someone was raping your grandmother and you had a gun?”
Desmond Doss replied simply: “I wouldn’t have a gun!
And that’s the truth.
To the screening they invited people from the religious community as well as the military community. The publicists who introduced the film explained, in warm, beige tones, that it was a film about faith — and heroes. Polite applause. It is understandable that marketing execs would want to cast as wide a net as possible, but to say that this is about faith is to gloss over the obvious challenge it presents to people of faith. Faith in what? In the words of Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, the central question of all religion is: What kind of god is God, and what does God expect of us, if anything? The fact that Desmond Doss answers this question differently than his fellow Christians is the very thing that creates the conflict at the center of the story; it is the engine of the drama. We don’t watch Hacksaw Ridge, rapt, in order to find out if our hero will successfully vanquish the enemy, because our hero for a change has absolutely no interest in that, either the enemies he faces on the battlefield – the “Japs” – or the enemies he creates in his own tribe. We watch to see if our hero will be defeated and defeat seems likely: Either he will stand by his convictions, run onto the battlefield, and lose his life (in this world), thereby proving he is a fool, or he will pick up the sword, save his life (in this world), and admit that his convictions were foolish. What other outcome could we reasonably expect? What other outcome could we possible imagine?
“Nobody can understand what he did on that ridge,” said one of his comrades, “nobody.” I could talk to you all day long and you could never understand it. You would never believe it.”
In Guam, stories began to circulate about a medic who would doggedly pursue the wounded and try to help them– no matter what. (He was eventually allowed to go into battle as a medic unarmed.) It didn’t matter who they were, how badly they were wounded or how badly they had treated him. Doss would help them, often ignoring the rules of triage. His motto was: “As long as there is life, there is hope.” But the depths of bravery, compassion, and fortitude in Desmond Doss weren’t fully comprehended until Okinawa, where his actions on “Hacksaw Ridge,” a 400-foot cliff so named because of the Japanese ability to chop up Allied forces and spit them out, became legendary, maybe even miraculous.
After the screening, a man who was a friend of Desmond Doss’ spoke to us and assured us of the film’s accuracy. I trust it is accurate, but it didn’t strike me as complete. Obviously, every screenplay has limitations. They can’t include everything, but there are things in the documentary that were left out of the film, or at least not highlighted in the film, and they are important to understand the full picture.
In the film, Doss is shown being incredibly brave under fire, but the filmmakers do not convey just how impossible it was for him to survive or to do what he did. He was one of three men to hang the cargo net from the ledge of the Hacksaw Ridge. He volunteered. (In the film, if I remember correctly, he arrives and the net has already been secured.) You see: to hang the net was impossible, because you would have to get up on the ledge where the Japanese had clear lines of sight from their fortified positions. To maximize your chances of survival, you had to stay low to the ground, crawl, and even then, your chances were scant. There is a photograph of Desmond Doss standing up — silhouetted — on the ridge. He didn’t get shot. The guns were silent while he was up there. Why? How? Nobody could explain it.
The net allowed the Americans to scale the cliff, from which point they could try to take the ridge. They climbed up and got driven back down twice before they succeeded. On top, it was a bloodbath. Not only did Desmond Doss run out time and time again into enemy fire, defying all odds of being shot and killed, or captured and tortured, but as a man of slight stature, he did what Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t do in his heyday: He singlehandedly dragged and/or carried 75 men from up to 125 feet away to the cliff, secured them with a special knot, and lowered them down – again, singlehandedly — over the 400-foot cliff to safety. He saved 75 men in twelve hours, which meant he saved one man every 10 minutes. Desmond Doss’ friend who spoke at the screening said that Desmond once told him that after he had carried and lowered the first three men, he had absolutely no physical strength left. None. He just kept repeating the prayer: “Please, Lord, let me get one more. Please, Lord, let me get one more.”
The speaker at the screening also told us that Andrew Garfield, who played Desmond Doss, who is a lanky guy like Doss, was taught the “fireman’s carry,” which is the way Doss would have been trained to carry big, heavy, injured, helpless men. After the first few takes, they had to call in a stunt double. He wasn’t strong enough to pull it off take after take after take. As one of Doss’ comrades pointed out, many soldiers receive the Medal of Honor for one act of extreme bravery in war; but in Doss’ case, the Medal was awarded for things he did over and over and over again. There are stories about a Japanese soldier who remembered having the American medic in his crosshairs; when he went to shoot him, the gun jammed. There are stories of Japanese soldiers being found with American bandages on them.
What was happening on that ridge? How were these things possible? Could it have something to do with what Desmond Doss, as conscientious cooperator, was cooperating with, rather than what he was objecting to?
Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy begins his book All Things Flee Thee for Thou Fleest Me* with a quote by Jacques Ellul:
“God intervenes radically only in response to a radical attitude on the part of the believer – radical not in regard to political means but in regard to faith; and the believer who is radical in his faith has rejected all means other than those of faith.”
The question of violence is a question of means. Desmond Doss probably shared many of the same ends as other soldiers of faith: to stop evil, to stop evil from spreading, to save lives, to bring about peace, to save his soul, to get to heaven. But the difference between Desmond Doss and the other soldiers is that Desmond Doss rejected all means other than those of faith, specifically faith in the God, the God who is Love. This is because the Seventh Day Adventist Church had taught Desmond Doss that the means of violence were not available to him as a Christian and were not compatible with Love. When mainstream Catholics understand this about Desmond Doss, they understand at once that he is an “other” kind of Christian, with a different faith. Is it a different faith?
This is another important question.
The epic heroes of ancient literature are warriors and they are men of faith. Achilles, Hektor, Odysseus, Aeneas: they believed in the supernatural, they had certain ideas about the nature of the divine, they engaged in religious rituals and practices meant to appease the gods and win their favor. Aeneas is described by Virgil as being “patently pious,” pietas being a Roman virtue that meant duty to man, God and country. The faithful and pious would be rewarded by the gods, often with military victories. The gods could be violent, deceptive, and vengeful; to be godlike was to partake of the awful power of the gods, to exercise might. When these heroes succeeded in battle, they believed the gods were on their side; when they lost, they assumed the gods had forsaken them. They had faith, but a certain kind of faith in a certain kind of god. The pagan gods could be drafted.
Desmond Doss was a social pariah until he became a kind of mascot. In Okinawa his Bible, his personal prayer, and his faith were no longer things to be laughed at but to be embraced and rallied behind. It is a fact that the third big siege on Hacksaw Ridge happened on a Saturday, May 5, 1945. The men asked Desmond Doss if he would go with them. Doss said maybe, but he would need time to pray about it first. The story goes that the whole unit, or company, was held up on account of Desmond Doss needing to pray. They waited, and hoped. After praying Doss decided that this was the kind of work he could do on a Saturday and he went with them. Perhaps I was being overly defensive, but in the film they almost made this decision look like a compromise. It wasn’t. Desmond Doss was tempted on various occasions to kill in defense of self or others, but he didn’t: He said that if he compromised once, he was likely to compromise again. The closest he came was when enemy troops threw a grenade into a ditch where he was trying to help some wounded men: He did pick it up and throw it back out. His decision to go with his unit on that Saturday was not a compromise: It was perfectly in line with the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath.
On that day they took the ridge. Many people attribute this victory to “faith,” either the faith of Desmond Doss or the faith he stirred in others after they began to believe that he had something like the power of God behind him. What’s wrong with this picture?
In the film, it appears that the very same God who Desmond Doss was praying to, who Doss believed would tell him, “If you love me, you won’t kill anybody,” who Doss believed he was glorifying with his works of courage, compassion, strength, and love, and who may have helped Desmond Doss to comfort, heal and save all those people, is the very same god who then turned around and helped Doss’ comrades to burn Japanese people’s faces off. If we are being honest about it, these are two different gods, and two different faiths. It is rare that they are seen in such stark relief as they are in Hacksaw Ridge.
Where one asks, “Please, Lord, just let me get one more,” and means save one more life, the other asks, “Please, Lord, let me get one more,” and means take one more life.
Where one says, “Love your enemies,” the other says, “Protect your friends.”
One says “Put down thy sword,” the other says “Pick it up.”
Where one says, “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind,” the other says, “Hate your enemy with your whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind.”
One preaches against enmity, the other assumes it.
To help the enemy in one is considered love, to help the enemy in the other is considered treason.
Where one relies on the power of prayer, trusting completely and totally in Jesus, and willing to love nonviolently both friends and enemies until death, the other relies on the power of violence, trusting in government and is willing to kill enemies even unto death.
To live in the spirit of one of these gods is to bring about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness; to live in the spirit of the other is to bring about what we see happening on Hacksaw Ridge.
The Catholic Church tries to tell us that these are the same faiths and the same gods, two sides of the same coin if you will. What makes this film so important is that it gives us a concrete portrayal of a larger conflict that has been going on within Christianity for 1,700 years, not only among different sects and churches but also within Catholicism itself. In “A Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace” (1993), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tells us: “The Christian tradition possesses two ways to address conflict: nonviolence and just war.” Where the Church sees a “dual tradition,” more and more people are beginning to see a house divided against itself. Insofar as the Catholic Church “possesses” the tradition of nonviolence, we agree with the Protestant denominations that have come to be known as the “peace churches” (The Quakers, Mennonites, etc.), but insofar as we teach what – frankly — Jesus never taught, by word or deed, namely, Just War Theory (now called Just Defense Theory), we part with them. The Catholic Church tries to tell us that there is no conflict between these two ways of dealing with conflict, that these two ways are not opposed to one another, nor is either way opposed to the Way of Jesus, in whom we Christians live, move, and have our being, that they are separate but equal, equally holy, equally good, equally acceptable. Yet, should one dare to speak out in favor of nonviolence, one would be no more welcome in the Catholic Church than Desmond Doss was in his rifle company. Trust me, I know!
This conflict is currently playing out at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. In April of 2016, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi held a conference, called “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence” and included 80 participants from around the world who represented a broad spectrum of experiences in peacebuilding and active nonviolence in the face of violence and war. The participants called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other “major teaching document,” reorienting the church’s teachings on violence. The “Just War” Christians have been freaking out ever since in fear that the Holy Catholic Church, under the “leftist” leadership of Pope Francis, will abandon the teachings on Just Defense, which everyone knows provides a crucial loophole in Jesus’ teachings, through which the Christian can ensure the earthly protection of himself, his family, his friends, his country. It would be a nightmare to deprive Christians of recourse to violence, right? They would be sitting ducks with nothing but their “faith” to protect them in a hostile and violent world. And I believe in this context the Just War camp would put “faith” in quotation marks, because what kind of faith is that stupid and foolish?
Hacksaw Ridge is indeed a film about faith, but not in the way the publicists meant it. As Jacques Ellul puts it: “The appeal to and use of violence in Christian action increase in exact proportion to the decrease in faith…Unbelief is the true root of the Christian championship of violence.”
Let’s hope that the film Hacksaw Ridge can teach American kids what the Catholic Church has failed to teach them. One of my students, after watching the documentary, exclaimed: “And he wasn’t even a Catholic!” This sweet child imagined that someone so good and so holy could only be the product of the one, true faith. It took my whole heart, my whole strength, my whole mind to refrain from replying sarcastically: “Thank God for that, because if Desmond Doss had been raised Catholic, he would have had little to no chance of becoming Desmond Doss.”
Copyright © 2016 Ellen Finnigan
Wow. I’m speechless after watching this trailer! I can’t believe a film about Gospel nonviolence will actually be on the big screen! This is what the world needs right now.
The extraordinary true story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing a gun. Believing that the War was just but killing was nevertheless wrong, he was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon. As an army medic Doss single-handedly evacuated the wounded near enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. He was the first conscientious objector to ever win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Oh, and as long as I’m on the topic of Mel Gibson, I simply must recommend a short story (well, it’s written like a screenplay but meant to be read as a story) called Surfing With Mel, written by the insanely talented Matthew Lickona. Do you have complicated feelings about Mel Gibson? Read this. It has so much heart and so much compassion at once, without fawning, promoting, or excusing.
On April 11, 2012, TheWrap.com published a private letter from screenwriter Joe Eszterhas to director Mel Gibson. The letter chronicled, in alarming detail, their disastrous attempt to collaborate on a film version of the Biblical Book of Maccabees. The media flare-up that followed focused on Eszterhas’ characterization of Gibson as an angry, Jew-hating sociopath, but largely ignored the spiritual crisis at the story’s heart. Using the letter as a map, Surfing with Mel sets out to find some meaning within the madness, and winds up outlining a darkly satirical and deeply profane portrait of two men at war with each other, with their pasts, and with God.
About the Korrektiv Press series Lives of Famous Catholics: Writing in his journal about the celebrities of his day, the author John Cheever observed that “we have a hierarchy of demigods and heroes; they are a vital part of our lives and they should be a vital part of our literature.” We agree, which is why the Lives of Famous Catholics series seeks to explore the life of faith by the light of the famous.
I thought I would finally say something about the election.
This “Catholic meme” perfectly encapsulates pervasive misunderstandings about the Hunger Games on the part of the Christian community, which I wrote about at length here. Below is a photograph of St. Maximillian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz. He is being compared to Katniss in the Hunger Games. This is obviously a reference to the scene where Katniss volunteers to go to the “games” in place of her sister. Many Christians call Katniss a Christ-like figure because this was an act of self-sacrifice.
There is one very important difference between Katniss and St. Maximillian Kolbe: St. Maximillian Kolbe was a nonviolent individual who never, as far as I know, killed anyone. Katniss is a killer, no matter which way you slice it. Many people would surely say that the difference between them is so obvious it does not even need to be pointed out, but to borrow a line from Neko Case, the difference between these two tributes/martyrs/heroes is “so clear it is almost invisible.” And there are those who wish to make that difference invisible, so as to be better able to propagate untruths and half truths, so as to serve their own dark ends.
There is a difference between offering to suffer in place of another and offering to kill in place of another. There is also a difference between person A being willing to sacrifice his own life so that person B can live, and person A being willing to kill person C (and maybe persons D, E and F) so that person B can live, even if person A is risking his own life in the process. In a certain light, both can be seen as acts of self-sacrifice, but only the first one is Christ-like. The second is not.