Category Archives: Just War

A Catholic Return in the Third Millennium

by Doug Fuda

“I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.” — Father Brown in The Queer Feet by G. K. Chesterton.

The year 2008 was a very eventful year in my life. For the first time ever I was genuinely interested in Presidential politics due to my enthusiasm for the candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul. I registered as a Republican in Massachusetts because I wanted to vote for him in the primary. I was working with several like-minded friends and we endorsed him on our website. I marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston with an enthusiastic contingent carrying a Ron Paul banner.

Dr. Paul’s campaign uniquely and courageously emphasized two issues that had always been most important in my mind — abortion and war. He condemned abortion because it violated the right to life (as protected by the Constitution) of innocent babies and what’s more he had a practical plan for how to actually curtail it based on states’ rights. In addition Ron Paul was an anti-interventionist advocate of peace at a time when the U.S. government was hyper-interventionist and aggressively warlike.

Of course, Dr. Paul did not win the nomination, but in November 2008, for the first time in my life, I cast a vote for President by writing in his name on my ballot.

But something else happened that year which is even more significant to me, even astonishing, and the two events are connected. I decided suddenly and unexpectedly to return to the Catholic Church, after an absence of about 40 years, when I read an article on the website by a Dr. G. C. Dilsaver.

At this point some background information is necessary.

continue reading at

“from the darkest hour arises the brightest hope”

The New Domestic Christendom

From Doc Dilsaver writing at, we now have an inspiring and realistically militant battle plan for a Christian restoration in the third millennium. One thing you can say about Doc is that he certainly doesn’t pull any punches! Technarcistic Man take heed!

Be sure to spread the word about this article and also the new book from which it is derived. Then let’s figure out how to unlock the lockdowns and unmask ourselves and our children so we can get back to doing our duty to God and to our families.

Here are some excerpts that are particularly relevant for those who understand the need to oppose all Catholic collaboration with the militaristic and decadent American Empire.

“Thus the erstwhile Christian nations no longer have the meaning they once did, for they have apostatized, are devoid of God, and are thus illegitimate.”

“This means that the third millennium is a time where Christian patriotism can no longer be properly equated with nationalism but rather only with true piety, or love and honor of God and parents. That is, a righteous patriotism then derives solely from the inseparable love of, and wholehearted allegiance to, faith and family.”

“Christians must not give their hearts to a State. Again, they are called to be patriots only in so far as they are called to be pious. A Christian’s allegiance should be both familial and universal, not national and political….. But when a people’s allegiance is national and political the flower of their own nation’s familial foundation is inexorably conscripted and exterminated, while the families of opposing politics or nations are likewise afflicted.”

“Rather, in this third millennium, the Holy Faith must find both its dynamic leadership, primary identification, and impactive dynamics in the Christian family. This will entail creating nothing less than a grassroots Christian order that is a separate and self-sufficient power structure unto itself, with values, laws, and governance that transcends, and truly countermands, that of the perverse popular culture and the Satanic State.”

P.S. — Joe Gallagher and David Gordon did an excellent interview recently with Dr. G. C. Dilsaver on the Church Militant Resistance Podcast:

Fr. George Zabelka

Don’t miss the latest CAM podcast: Episode 50!

I know, I know — it’s almost three hours long! But it is the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and this episode provides a great “behind the scenes” oral history that you won’t hear elsewhere; not to mention it acts as a great testimony to the way God works in human lives and human history, carrying out his plans in ways we can’t even see or could ever possibly plan.

God had a plan for George’s life. Find out more about:

  • What he did as a Catholic chaplain in 1945 at Tinian Island
  • Why he “blessed the bombs” of the 509th composite group, the group that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan
  • How belligerent Fr. Zabelka was when he first showed up at Fr. McCarthy’s retreats in the mid-70s. (“Are you telling me Jesus wouldn’t enjoy a good boxing match?!”)
  • His eventual conversion.
  • How his story came to be known around the world, despite Catholic media having no interest in it whatsoever.
  • How his story helped to spark the movement on the part of the U.S. bishops that eventually led to the writing and publishing of their 1983 pastoral “The Challenge of Peace” (which was a really big deal back in its day)
  • Why Zabelka is “considered a saint” in some circles of Japanese Christianity

To me, the story of George is unimaginably important. The story of why there are hardly any Catholics who know about George is equally important. It’s a great story, one about conversation, repentance, peace. Why were so few media outlets in the United States, both American and Catholic, so disinterested in telling it?

Don’t forget to watch the documentary about George as well, “The Reluctant Prophet”:

Fr George Zabelka, The Reluctant Prophet from GNV Team on Vimeo.

Moral Equivocation 101

Father Raymond J. de Souza wrote “The Morality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 75 Years Later” at The National Catholic Register:

In it, he said: “It is beyond dispute that nuclear weapons — a single bomb capable of killing 140,000 in Hiroshima and 75,000 in Nagasaki — changed the military dimension of the war. The atomic bomb made it clear that every major city in Japan could be obliterated with a few dozen American sorties. The unconditional surrender of Japan thus followed swiftly.”

He is wrong. Maybe he should listen to members of the military at the time, some with titles like Admiral and General and names like MacArthur, Eisenhower and Nimitz, to understand the “military dimension” of the use of the nuclear bombs on Japan.

It’s sad when we have to rely on the LameStream news of Yahoo/LA Times to help us unequivocally understand the horrors of war, over the FakeNews of a supposedly Catholic publication:

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.



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 ( 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?

Email from a reader

I love your website and all that you do. 
If you like the following anecdote, please feel free to put it on your blog.

Yesterday, a good friend and devote Catholic was talking about how President Trump had Iranian General Soleimani killed. She praised the president and lamented that non-Catholics oppose Catholicism and President Trump. This woman is very knowledgeable and devout and an all-around great person. But even among the greatest of Catholics, militarism and patriotism override their Catholicism. I see no Catholics anywhere, in magazines or speaking from the altar, condemning this as an act of murder for which the president shows no signs of remorse. Not even the most skilled sophists could rationalize this as “just war theory” in any possible way. I understand that Donald Trump has appointed some pro-life Supreme Court justices, but that is no reason to turn our backs on calling out grave mortal sin for what it is. Do we need to be reminded not to trust in princes (Psalm 146:3)?    

Thank you so much, Steve W., for sharing your thoughts.

What about Franz?

Thoughts on conscientious objection and the new film “A Hidden Life”

by Ellen Finnigan

This article was first published at

On November 24 I gave a presentation in the basement of my church in Colorado about two Catholic conscientious objectors. The first was Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer, husband, and father who refused to fight for Hitler during World War II. I was hoping that his witness, memorialized in the upcoming film by Terrence Malick, might be a stepping stone for people to consider the life of Ben Salmon, a Catholic man from Denver who refused to fight in World War I. Jägerstätter has been declared a martyr and “Blessed” in the Catholic Church, which is one step away from being canonized, or declared a saint, and some of us are trying to put Ben Salmon on that same path. President Kennedy once wrote: “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today.” By spreading the word about the film A Hidden Life and advocating for Ben Salmon’s cause for sainthood, some American Catholics are trying to bring that day a bit closer. (In case you don’t make it to the end of the article, you can help us by going here, reading about Ben Salmon’s life, and signing the petition!) 

Christ the King

November 24 happened to be the Feast of Christ the King. I was hoping that the priest’s homily would be a good primer for my presentation, pointing out the differences between that which we associate with worldly kingship — wealth, war, servants, subjects, thrones, political power, military might — and the kingship of Christ, the Prince of Peace, who was born in a manger, raised in nowhere Nazareth, rode into Jerusalem on an ass and came to serve rather than to be served. The two kingdoms are not necessarily opposed. As Pope Pius XI writes in his encyclical Quas Primas: “[Christ’s] kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness.” But the Feast Day of Holy Innocents which takes place a few days after Christmas reminds us that they can be opposed and, I would add, most often are: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under…” (Mt 2:16). 

Worldly kingdoms are founded on violence. They are obsessed with counting, spying, surveilling, and keeping track. They demand, for example, that their subjects be accounted for in censuses so that they can tax them or draft them to fight in wars, even if this means a very pregnant woman must ride for for days on a donkey along dangerous, bandit-ridden roads to report to her Roman overlords. The state assumes the power to threaten, intimidate, imprison, torture, bomb, electrocute, assassinate, poison, and in the case of Franz Jägerstätter”, gruesomely behead. In contrast, Cyril of Alexandria writes: “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.” The Kingdom of Heaven is founded on love. Jesus assures us: “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted” (Lk 12:7). You see God counts too, but not in the same way or for the same purposes.

The feast day of Christ the King was established only relatively recently, in 1925. World War I had ended seven years before and was called “the war to end all wars,” but of course it only planted the seeds for the next one. Franz Jägerstätter had lost his biological father in the Great War. Though he had always had an interest in spiritual reading, he wasn’t yet any kind of Christian radical. In 1925, he was just a seventeen-year-old kid who would soon be working in the mines and earning a badge of honor by being the first person in his village to own a motorcycle. 

In his encyclical of 1925, Pope Pius XI reminds us that the establishment of a new feast day isn’t random but has something to do with the state of the world. At that time nationalism and secularism were on the rise. He writes: “The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected…the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions…It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God’s religion a natural religion…There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God…The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences.”

He was writing all of this in the year after Lenin died and Stalin came to power, the year Hitler published the first volume of Mein Kampf, and the yearMussolini gave a speech marking the beginning of his dictatorship. Who could have guessed that the kid riding on his motorcycle in the middle of the mountains of nowhere Austria would turn out to be the kind of Catholic the Pope hoped to see, one who, without “station” or “authority” would nonetheless “bear the torch of truth”. He writes:

We firmly hope…that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth.This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.

By 1938, when Germany began the annexation of Austria, Franz had inherited a farm and married a devout Catholic, with whom he’d have three children, and largely because of her influence, he studied the Bible and became active in his village parish. When he was drafted in 1940, he did report to his Nazi overlords and went through six months of military training. That same year he became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. In the years following he would no longer cooperate with Hitler and his troops in any fashion. He would not swear an oath to Hitler, nor would he opt for some form of alternative service, such as working in a hospital. In his decision to refuse cooperation with what he believed to be evil, he was not supported by country, community, or church. 

Things Hidden

Standing at the lectern after Mass, I asked how many people had ever heard of Franz. Only one person out of about three hundred raised his hand. This is one reason why Terrence Malick’s film is called A Hidden Life.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God, and when Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col 3:2-4). 

For a long time nobody knew about the heroic resistance of Franz. He was a source of shame to many of those who did.We must ask: Why is Franz still mostly unknown, especially among Catholics, when his story has been out there for decades? Gordon Zahn discovered the story and wrote a book about him called “In Solitary Witness” in 1964. In 1968 Thomas Merton wrote a chapter about him in Faith and Violence, the last book to bepublished before his mysterious death (allegedly by electrocution). Daniel Ellsberg said it was Franz Jägerstätter who inspired him to release the Pentagon papers. (You can hear more about this in an episode of my podcast called “A Friend of Franz and Ben.”) In 1971 the Austrian government produced a film about Franz called The Refusal, which aired on Austrian television. It’s been over thirteen years since Franz was declared a martyr and beatified. 

Granted, there are a lot of saints out there, new ones being canonized all the time, but one would think that in an age when Adolf Hitler has become the “super villain” of the twentieth century, when the History Channel runs an almost continuous stream of content elucidating the sinister activities of the Third Reich, when any suggestion that Christians might be called to be peacemakers instead wagers-of-war is met with the inevitable question “What about Hitler?”, we might have heard something about one of the few Christians who actively resisted him, who was willing to pay the price, the price Jesus said His followers would have to pay. But most of us haven’t. So I didn’t bother asking my parish whether anyone had heard of Ben Salmon. I invited people down for the presentation and yes, coffee and donuts.


A Hidden Life is a stunningly beautiful achievement, one of those films that paralyzes you. When it’s over, you sit there immersed in the music until the last credit has rolled, the lights have been turned on, and a teenager is standing in back with a broom waiting for you to leave. When I left, the manager asked me if I was alright. I nodded and slipped into the restroom. Mascara: everywhere. A woman who also appeared raccoon-like whispered: “That is a movie you never forget.”

“Indeed,” I thought as I blinked my way out into the cold, disoriented. It was like trying to find my car at the airport after a long trip. I had parked so very long ago. 

On the drive home I thought about that kid with the broom, no different essentially from Franz. Will he ride home on his new motorcycle or in his new car with his windows rolled down, loving the feeling of driving at night with nobody on the road? Will he fall in love, get married? What will he do when he turns 18 and has to sign up for the Selective Service? What about when (not if) the wagers-of-war decide to launch the next one, which might be happening as I write this essay, against Iran? Does he go to church? Would his church even talk about the war and any moral dilemma it might pose to Christians or would they just applaud vaguely “all those in uniform” and send them on their way — to kill, to die? Would anyone tell him he could say “no”? Would anyone understand if he did?

Sometimes I think we prefer to attribute the support of Hitler among Christians of that time to, in the words of Pope Pius XI,“a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict.” We assume they must have been ignorant of what was happening or maybe, if they did see the powers of darkness at play, they were simply too weak or fearful to stand up to it. God have mercy on them. But Thomas Merton, in his essay on Franz, presents us with another way of understanding the people of that time: 

“[Franz’s] Austrian Catholic friends understood that he was unwilling to fight for Hitler’s Germany, but they argued that the war was justified because they hoped it would lead to the destruction of Bolshevism and therefore to the preservation of ‘European Christianity.’ He was therefore refusing to defend his faith.” 

What if the Christians in that time and place, instead of being fearful or weak, when they took the oath, trained and enlisted, believed themselves to be, in the words of Pope Pius XI, “fighting courageously under the banner of Christ their King,” “fired with apostolic zeal,” “valiantly defending His rights”? 

How many Christians before Hitler or since then have fought in wars waged by worldly kings because they thought it was justified if it would lead to the defeat of some “-ism,” or because they thought they were fighting the enemies of the Church, or preserving Christianity?

What happened to the priests in Hitler’s Germany? How many Christians existed in the Middle East before September 11, 2001? How many exist there now?

Pope Benedict XVI writes in his book Jesus of Nazareth about Christ’s third temptation: “…throughout history [the third temptation] is constantly taking on new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.” 

Interestingly enough, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) actually grew up about an hour from Franz Jägerstätter’s village of St. Radegund, across the Salzach River, in Bavaria. He took the oath that Jägerstätter refused to take and joined Hitler’s youth corps when it became mandatory, but he was only about thirteen at the time. In 1938, Franz was no longer a kid. He was a 31-year-old man. And he thought like a 31-year-old man. By that point in his life, he’d had the time to read the Bible, to get to know Jesus, to grow in his faith. 

The questions Franz asks in the film are so universal they must surely resonate with us, the viewers. In one scene Franz says: 

“We’re killing innocent people, raiding other countries, preying on the weak. And the priests call them heroes, even saints, the soldiers, the doers. It might be that the other ones are the heroes, the ones who defend their homes against the invaders.”

Every U.S. president over the last 28 years has ordered the bombing of Iraq. Something like a million Iraqis have died during the past three decades as a consequence of U.S. occupation, bombings and sanctions. The decision to launch new air strikes recently ignited nationwide resistance by Iraqis who want the U.S. out of their country and do not want Iraq to be used in a U.S. war on Iran. A veteran that I interviewed expressed that he “didn’t see the light on the sinfulness of American militarism and foreign policy until he was an active participant in it, while wearing a US Army uniform in Kuwait in 2009 and being told the Kuwaitis no longer thank us for our service.”

At one point Franz asks: Does it even matter if this war is just?

Many of us ask this question today! One of the tenets of a “just war” is that it must be waged by proper authority. There has been no declaration of war by Congress since the Korean War! My fellow blogger noted that in the November issue of Columbia magazine, published by the Knights of Columbus, they dedicated a whole article to a Navy SEAL who was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan. My fellow blogger writes: “The Knights did not delve deeper on the morality and justness of the war in Afghanistan, especially after Osama bin Laden was killed…which is when the events occurred for this sailor to receive the award.” Even if the Knights had published the article a month later, after the release of “The Afghanistan Papers,” I doubt they would have acknowledged this sticky point. In the words of Caitlin Johnstone:  “from the very beginning [Afghanistan] was an unwinnable conflict, initiated in a region nobody understood, without anyone being able to so much as articulate what victory would even look like.…” But that wasn’t exactly a bombshell. Everybody already knew this! There was no “reasonable chance of success” from the beginning, and that too is a tenet of the Just War Theory that must be “strictly applied.” I’m with Franz in thinking: Does the question of whether a war is just even matter to most Catholics? 

The questions Franz asks in the film, however, about just war, do not seem meant to challenge the beliefs of his his neighbors and friends, or to condemn them; rather they show that he is puzzling out the issue for himself. He did not believe Germany’s was a “just war.” However, there is reason to think that by the time he died in 1943, after languishing in jail, after much prayer, meditation, and suffering, he objected to all killing in any war. In other words, the formation of his conscience, the solidification of his beliefs, did not happen overnight. For Franz, and for most conscientious objectors I would guess, it is a process, a gradual process of revelation, as they come to see what they didn’t before, and sometimes it takes years. Christ said he would “announce things lain hidden since the foundation of the world” (Mt 13:35). Sadly the institutional church seems to have played very little role, if any, in that process of revelation for Franz. In fact if anything, they seem to have been a hindrance, an impediment, a stumbling block. 

Similarities between Franz and Ben

About thirty people showed up in the basement of the church, which we considered a success. We showed the group the trailer for A Hidden Life, and one of two short documentaries about Ben Salmon. We explained a few of the similarities between these two men: 

  1. Both men decided when ordered to serve their country in a time of war to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Like Franz, Ben was older, about 30 when the draft was instated and he refused to complete a Selective Service questionnaire.
  2. They both suffered greatly for their choice, Franz being sent to prison and eventually the guillotine, Ben being sent to jail and then a mental hospital. (Ben died very young at the age of 43, most likely as a result of his damaged health from the treatment he received while being a ward of the state). 
  3. They were both motivated by their Catholic faith and we can come to understand their beliefs and position through their writing: Franz wrote many letters to his wife Franziska from jail and Ben wrote a 200-page manuscript on a typewriter from his hospital room explaining his beliefs, using only a Bible and the Catholic encyclopedia for reference. 
  4. They were both family men, Franz a husband and father of three girls, Ben a husband and father of one son at the time he was incarcerated. 
  5. Their choice was not supported either by their country or their church. Franz’s bishop told him it was is duty to serve his country and a priest actually refused to give Ben Holy Communion to punish him for the stance that he took. Ben was also expelled from the Knights of Columbus, Denver Council, for having edited and published an anti-war article and was attacked by them publicly and privately. 
  6. Both seem to exemplify Jesus’s words: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” Franz was seen as a traitor for a long time by the people in his village, and his wife and children were ostracized and scorned; Ben was considered to be a source of shame for the family, called a scoundrel and a slacker by the press, and practically disowned by his in-laws. 

At the end of our presentation, one man whom I recognized, who was very involved in the church came up to us and said: “I respect what these guys did and all. But my view is that, if everyone did what they did, we’d all be speaking German.” 

Speaking Versus Silence

 Franz once wrote: “If the Church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?” Franz wanted to “break the silence” of the Catholic Church, and yet, in the film, his resistance is largely silent. One of the most glorious things about A Hidden Life isthe sparse use of dialogue. You leave the film with the impression of having listened for most of the film to the sounds of the natural world — wind in the grasses, children playing in the fields, scythes cutting down hay, carts rolling over dirt, and the plodding of an ox. Franz, the protagonist, doesn’t speak much. Almost everyone else in the film seems to have more lines than him, and it is almost as if the Devil is speaking to Franz through the people around him, trying to get him to question his stance, second guess his decision, compromise. None of these people are evil or possessed! To us they might sound rather practical, but for Franz they are the equivalent of a chorus of reasoning demons.

Pope Benedict XVI writes in his book Jesus of Nazareth: “The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes.” And our essential purposes would include, we believe, survival, the well-being of one’s family. In the film Franz is so very alone, like Jesus in the desert, and he is being tempted. 

Thomas Merton wrote in his essay on Franz: 

“Franz Jägerstättersurrendered his life rather than take the lives of others in what he believed to be an ‘unjust war’. He clung to this belief in the fact of every possible objection not only on the part of the army and the state, but also from his fellow Catholics, the Catholic clergy and of course his own family. He had to meet practically every ‘Christian’ argument that is advanced in favor of war. He was treated as a rebel, disobedient to lawful authority, a traitor to his country. He was accused of being selfish, self-willed, not considering his family, neglecting his duty to his children. 

…He was also told that he was not sufficiently informed to judge whether or not the war was just. That he had an obligation to submit to the ‘higher wisdom’ of the state. The government and the Fuehrer know best. Thousand of Catholics, including many priests, were serving in the armies, and therefore he should not try to be ‘more Catholic than the Church.’

He was even reminded that the bishops had not protested against this war, and in fact not only his pastor but even his bishop tried to persuade him to give us his resistance because it was ‘futile.’ One priest represented to him that he would have innumerable opportunities to practice Christian virtue and exercise an ‘apostolate of good example’ in the armed forces. All these are very familiar arguments frequently met with in our present situation, and they are still assumed to be so conclusive that few Catholics dare to risk the disapproval they would incur by conscientious objection and dissent.” 

The people around Franz present him with arguments. The arguments they make to Franz however never turn into arguments with Franz, because the character of Franz hardly ever responds, except by listening. Sometimes he appears pricked, pained, but never angered. He never rebuts or retaliates. The actor’s expressions give one the feeling that Franz wants badly to engage the person who is speaking to him but he knows there is nothing he could say that could make them understand. He can speak only through his actions. He seems submerged in himself, in something deep, quiet. It reminds you of “a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep silent before the sheerers, who opens not his mouth” (Is 53:7). 

The sparse use of dialogue is a hallmark of Terrence Malick’s style, but it works in this particular film on  a few different levels. For one, it says something about the Catholic world in which Jägerstätter lived. In the past sixty years, the Catholic Church has clarified its teachings on conscience. It was a major topic at the Second Vatican Council, especially in its final document, Gaudium et spes, butat the time of the first and second World Wars, many Catholics thought it was a sin not to fight in a war for your country. You can now find the term “Conscientious Objectors” in the index of the Catechism. Even in political circles people talk of “religious liberty.” But in Franz’s time, I’m not sure they had this kind of vocabulary or explicit Catholic teaching to appeal or refer to. 

Secondly, Franz was no scholar, academic, or theologian. He was a farmer. I doubt he would have been found reading Scriptural exegesis at night. He didn’t need to. He knew was right and what was wrong in this situation, what he should do and what he should not do. His conscience told him clearly. When an S.S. officer asks him, “Do you judge me?”, Franz doesn’t start arguing the finer points of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Just War Theory. He doesn’t need to. He replies simply, gently: “No.” He adds that he doesn’t know everything; he only knows that he can’t do what he believes is wrong. I thought of: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Mt 5:37). 

Thirdly, the sparse dialogue means that the film does not try to dramatize any theological or theoretical debates. Franz, though very intelligent, is clearly motivated by something deeper than intellectual understanding. A Hidden Life is art. It doesn’t argue: It illustrates. And what it illustrates is the completely unique, never-repeatable, all too transitory beauty of one human life. It shows the bonds between people, especially families, husbands, wives, parents, and children; it immerses us in Creation, in the rich soil, the moving clouds, the rushing rivers, the mountain air. It pulls you into the rhythms of work, the motions of the body, the breath of life, the joy of play. I think the strongest “argument” made to Franz, and one of the tenderest moments in the film, is when his wife, lying next to him in a field, sweetly asks if he would like more children. 

What the film does, which is so effective, is: It shows you through simple, everyday moments, the preciousness of everything Jägerstätter had to give up. It shows you what a beautiful life he had, how much he loved, how much he had to love, and how much more he could have loved if he’d had more time on this Earth. It shows you, too, the pain and the suffering that his decision caused to the people who loved him. It shows you the cost of his choice. It makes you ask why? 

Is Jesus not pro-life? Doesn’t he want us to live?

By seeing all of this in the film, being awash in it, living it vicariously and almost viscerally, rather than intellectually, one is prompted to try to envision “the pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46)  that Franz must have found, a “pearl of great price” which cannot be illustrated in film, depicted on screen, or conveyed through argument. Maybe it cannot even be imagined by us, who may still be in the process of seeking it, discovering it. It is like when Jesus talks about the treasure that was hidden in a field and found, and the finder buries it again and sells everything in order to buy the field. In these parables of the treasure and the pearl, there is something “hidden” about the Kingdom of God. But the one who finds it is willing to give away everything, absolutely everything, to possess it. Jesus himself was hidden from the dark forces of the world when he was born. By experiencing for two hours a semblance of the life that Franz lived and gave up, and becoming familiar with everything he sacrificed, which was so beautiful, we can begin to imagine the value of what it was he was giving it up for, which only Franz knew, which only Franz could see. The word “martyr” originally meant simply “witness.” Sometimes when we can’t see something for ourselves, we need a witness testify to what he saw, and this helps us to believe. Actions, of course, speak louder than words. 

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “[Jesus] himself is the treasure; communion with him is the pearl of great price.” Jesus tells us: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.” Pope Benedict XVI tells us that the phrase “Kingdom of God” occurs 122 times in the New Testament and 90 of these texts represent the words of Jesus. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is at hand, in our midst. Not all of us, for some reason, can see it. Franz could! Christ the King reigned not in Franz’s head but in his heart, and here’s what seems most important to me: Franz knew that every good king needs not merely to be revered but obeyed. Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This was not a suggestion, a moral guideline, a best practice. It was a commandment. 

We are told by the war wagers that every war must be fought, that it is necessary to kill, for “freedom.” 

Franziska’s last words to Franz at the end of the film are at testament to that Christ-like love that wills only good, and the ultimate good, for the other. She says: “I am with you always. Do what is right.” 

What other freedom is there? 

Better Questions

When someone tells us that “we would all be speaking German” if everyone had done what Franz did, it is the same thing as saying, “What about Hitler?” (This is still the best answer I’ve ever heard to that question.) It’s a seventy-year-old question and I think it’s time we start asking better ones. What is implied here is the old adage that evil triumphs when good people do nothing. Would we call what Franz did “nothing”? If we say no to evil, and let it mean no, doesn’t that count for something? 

The simple truth is that Hitler would have had no power at all in the first place if more people had done the “nothing” that Franz did. You wouldn’t need everyone to do what Franz did. Let’s say just the Christians did what Franz did, or of all Christians just the Catholics, or of all Catholics just ten percent of them, or five percent. What would have happened then? We don’t know. But it’s time to start asking, instead of “What about Hitler?”, “What about Franz”?

Perhaps we prefer the question “What about Hitler?” because it helps us to justify our own violence.

War movies have always sought, through spectacle, to glorify war and those who fight in them (Saving Private Ryan) or to facilitate collective mourning for their tragedies (Born on the Fourth of July). Before movies there were murals and other works of art that accomplished the same thing. When we first meet Helen of Troy in Homer’s Iliad, she is weaving a tapestry depicting scenes from the war, wallowing in shame and regret. In The Aeneid, Aeneas arrives in Carthage to find a giant mural depicting scenes from the Trojan War, which cause him and his men to break down and weep. In The Odyssey, when Penelope first appears, she asks the singer to stop singing a song about the war, as it brings her too much pain. Humans have always lamented war through art, poetry, song, literature, and film, but most of the art we make about war seems only to provide us with an opportunity for what Aristotle called “catharsis”. Our artistic testaments to the waste, destruction, pain, suffering and futility of war rarely serve to provide wisdom, to steer people in a new direction. When it comes to war, it seems the words of the great pagan writer, Aeschylus, still ring true: “Man must suffer to be wise.” 

But is that changing? 

I believe there is a perceptible shift, especially among war movies. With time comes perspective, and with some distance from a most dark and deadly century, we can see A Hidden Life as one in a string of recent films that have paid homage to the light which the darkness hath not overcome. In 2005 came the release of Joyeux Noelle and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. The first film tells the true story of the Christmas truce of 1914, the second the true story of a group of university students who, deeply motivated by their Christian faith, distributed anti-Nazi leaflets in 1943 in hopes of awakening the consciences of their fellow men. 

We have these stories of Christian witness amidst moral collapse, and in the actual transcript of the trial of Sophie Scholl, which the film is based on, we have a twentieth century example of what Jesus seems to have meant when he said: “When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12). A young woman speaks Gospel truth to worldly kings, judges, lawyers and military commanders, men of power, who think they hold her fate in their hands. (She, through the grace of God, knows better.) Sophie was beheaded six months before Franz Jagerstatter. She was only 22. 

The blockbuster hit Hacksaw Ridge (2016), directed by Catholic Mel Gibson, tells the story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who served on the front lines as a medic in World War II and, despite the bombs, blasts, flamethrowers and machine gun fire, refused to arm himself or to kill: He ended up not only surviving but winning the Medal of Honor for his heroic (and some say miraculous) deeds. 

The next question we need to start asking is: Why didn’t more Christians do what Franz did, what Sophie did, what Desmond did, what Ben did? I’m afraid we can’t chalk it up to human fear or frailty. It’s a serious problem within the Church. Jesus told his disciples: “Go and teach them all that I have commanded you.” Are the Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church, really teaching what Jesus commanded?  

Finally, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a just war.”

For the record, Ben Salmon asked this question long ago, and answered it, before Hitler, before the nuclear age, before The Pentagon Papers, before all that. Ben Salmon said: There is No Just War. Worldly kingdoms are entirely perishable. They come and they go. They rise; they fall. Christ, on the other hand, is “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8). His kingdom is eternal and he assures us that he will be “with us until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Are we with Him? One kingdom has the power of violence; the other has the power of Christ-like love. Franz and Ben were modern day prophets. We ignore them at our peril. 

Copyright © 2020 Ellen Finnigan

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.