ADVENT A.D. 2015

Catholic Peace Fellowship

Deacon Tom Cornell

The Catholic Church is the largest and oldest organizationally ordered body of people on earth in all of history (Others such as Hindus and Buddhists have been around longer but they don’t have an organized corporate entity such as ours).  In two thousand years’ time, over so vast an area with so many people, we’ve had the opportunity to make just about every mistake conceivable.  It’s no wonder there have been scandals.  It’s painful.  So why love this corrupt institution?

First of all, the Church is not corrupt, not in itself.  Some of its representatives have been, yes!  But the Church remains the Mystical Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit will never desert us.  “The gates of hell will not prevail.”  Members might fail, some very badly, but the Church remains what it is, bringing us Jesus in word and sacrament.  If it were not for the Church not many people on earth would ever have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Lord and Savior.  Jesus would be lost to history were it not that his followers kept together and developed, from New Testament times, the basic hierarchical structure of the Church, East and West, with bishops, priests and deacons, the same structure and the same seven sacraments throughout the far-flung ancient world up to the present day.

Here we have the biblical readings every Sunday revealing God’s plan of salvation.  Then there are the saints.  If we have villains, we have the most marvelous heroes too.  Their memorials, their stories, their feasts, are strategically placed throughout the year.  Their lives tell us what authentic Christian discipleship is all about.  We must admit, their stories are often sanitized for mass consumption and dumbed down, sorry to say.  The details of their lives are censored to suit certain constituencies.  Take Saints Francis and Anthony, for instance.  Francis rocked both the Church and the state.  We don’t hear much about that today.  He not only excoriated wealth and privilege but the political life of his day.  He fought in a battle of Assisi against Perugia before his conversion, but thereafter he refused further military service.  His Rule for the lay Third Order forbade members to bear arms under any circumstances.  Hundreds, then thousands of men joined the Third Order in Italy rather than serve in the military.  The princes didn’t like that at all.  They pressured the Pope and that section of the Rule was dropped.  They had their way.  Money talks, even in Rome!

St. Anthony was a hell-raiser; he wasn’t just the sweet guy walking around in a brown robe with the Baby Jesus sitting on a Bible in his right hand and  and a big white lily in his left.  People called him “Il Martello,” “The Hammer.”  He hammered away at the bankers of his day.  He’d have had a fine time at Occupy Wall Street.  He’d fit right in!  The bishops took him seriously at last and condemned usury at a Church synod.  The Church today has taken the same stand, essentially in line with Occupy Wall Street.  But who hears about that from the pulpit?  Nevertheless, our Church is truly a champion of the poor and oppressed and of peace.  Pope Francis has brought that right to the fore.  And he is probably the best loved man on earth.

We just celebrated the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, “patron of soldiers,” as he is called.  As the son of a Roman army officer, Martin was forced, conscripted into the army for a twenty-five year term.  The persecution of the Church was over by his time and Christianity was now the state religion.  But when Martin was baptized he refused further military service and sat out the next war in a prison cell for a year.  It was after his release from prison and the army that he cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar.  St. Martin should be publicly invoked as “patron saint of conscientious objectors” at least as well as soldiers. We have to ask, why isn’t he?  The patron and model for parish priests is the Cure of Ars, Saint Jean Batiste Vianney.  He was an army deserter and hid out in the woods for over a year.

We of the Catholic Peace Fellowship propose active nonviolence for defense against tyranny and oppression of any and every kind.  But those who protect the freedom and security of their fellow citizens honorably in the military deserve our respect and support too.  When their patriotism and bravery are abused, when they are sent to unjust war and useless slaughter, then we must protest in the name of God.  Patriotic rhetoric will not make up for the abuse of our soldiers or comfort them when they feel they can not resign after four and five and six deployments because there are no jobs for them back home.  It should make us all pause – more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed suicide than were killed in battle.  The Veterans Administration makes a mockery of the chauvinistic cant, “Support Our Troops”!  Treatment is so poor and so delayed that many simply walk away.

There are things worth dying for, I haven’t the slightest doubt: for instance, our faith, “a faith to die for,” as Michael Baxter put it.  The age of martyrs is not over.  Ancient Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and in Jesus’ homeland are being decimated now, Christians accepting death rather than renunciation of our faith.  Let their witness strengthen ours.

We are a family, our Church, and like any other family, with a rascal or worse here and there, but a Mother Teresa, a Damian the Leper, an Ignatius Loyola, a Francis Xavier, a Therese of Lisieux, a Dorothy Day, a Franz Jägerstätter, a Francis, a Clare and an Anthony.  They are our brothers and sisters and our examples.  They give us heart.

The world we know today is faced with more grave threats than ever before in history, threats to our very existence.  If we are to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with climate change and global warming, with endemic poverty and the just revolutionary claims of the world’s disinherited, with terrorism, and massive dislocation of peoples, know that the Catholic Church is a voice of sanity in this insanity, this  chaos.  We have all we need.  We have the Book and the table and we have examples to show the way, Dorothy Day not the least among them.

Was it a sign?  Dorothy Day died just as the sun set on the last day of the liturgical year 1980.  This is a new day, a new liturgical year.  Take heart!  If we learn from her example and have the courage that the Holy Spirit offers us, neither unrestrained capitalism nor the sovereign national state will survive the 21st Century.

Take heart, and take part! Ω