By Christopher Gunty
In Hagerstown, a parishioner reflected on Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Sept. 7, and Archbishop William E. Lori’s homily on the theme at her parish, St. Mary’s: “Pray more. That’s all we can do. We have no power, just powerful prayer,” Patsy Hose said.
That sentiment seems prevalent. And it seems to have worked.
Last week, many in Washington, from the president to Congress, seemed hell-bent on some kind of military strike in Syria. The “limited action” would attempt to take out the nation’s chemical weapon stockpiles, after the government there, under President Bashar Al-Assad, used gas on its own people, causing at least 1,400 deaths. As President Obama took his case to the news networks and to the American people, many people expressed their concern about whether Congress and the president are listening to the people. They might do better talking to God – perhaps the Prince of Peace can get across the message better.
However, as the Catholic Review goes to press, Congressional representatives are leaning against approving President Obama’s request for military action in Syria, and the mood in the Senate is more mixed, with four in 10 undecided as of Sept. 10, before the planned vote.
No sane person condones the use of deadly gas on people. But prudent people can disagree on whether a military strike is the most effective and most moral response.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church enumerates traditional elements of the “just war” doctrine, noting, “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration.”
Those concurrent conditions are:
• 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 (CCC 2309).
It would seem at least two of these conditions had not been met, namely the serious prospect of success and the first use of other means. Prospects for success were dubious, as the Syrian government was rumored to be relocating materiel to schools and other civilian areas, and had plenty of time to do so. And reports early this week showed other means in progress – without a use of force – as Russia and Syria reached an agreement to turn control of the weapons over to Russia. At the same time, France and other nations are encouraging use of a UN Security Council resolution on the matter, with serious consequences for Syria if it violates the resolution.
Perhaps that day of fasting and prayer – as Hose called it, “just powerful prayer” – made a difference. And it must continue to do so.
The same weekend that folks around the world prayed for peace was another violent weekend in the city of Baltimore, with at least four gun deaths.
As Archbishop Lori noted in his Sept. 7 homily at St. Mary’s, when we seek first the kingdom of God, all is well. On the other hand, “when we allow fourth or fifth things to become first, and our priorities – our loves, our attentions, our energies – are wrongly ordered, then there is chaos within us, since we, as human persons, are ‘hard-wired’ to know and love the living God,” the archbishop said. “When that priority is inverted, then chaos within us manifests itself in discord, discord which ripples out from our hearts, and into our homes, and out into the world.”
Poisoning one’s own citizens is as symptomatic of chaos as is citizens gunning down each other on the street corner. If we are to be people of peace, it cannot be just about what’s happening in the Middle East. It has to be here, too. Let’s keep praying for that.
To read more editorials by Christopher Gunty, click here.