Beyond Just War

For two months he faced the grim life of captivity and privation. In the prison camp one guard beat him daily with a crude wooden baton the size of a baseball bat, and with bad food and poor treatment he developed a stomach problem that lasted till his death.

Weeks later when the war ended the Japanese guards surrendered to their American prisoners. In a plea for mercy Frank's guard gave him the baton used in the daily beatings. It became one of the mementos Frank brought home from the war.

Afterwards Frank became a Glenmary priest assigned over the years to small parishes in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. To each assignment he brought his baton. The wood of his torture became for him a sacramental. Reflecting on the baton he gradually grew more non-violent as he recognized the hideous cycle of violence and the futility of war.

Father Frank's spiritual journey took him past unquestioned patriotic duty to a meditation on the spirit of Jesus. “You have heard it said…'You shall not kill'…But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21.) “Offer no resistence to one who is evil” (Matt. 5:39.) As simplistic as some Gospel sayings appear, they command the conversion of heart, ever journeying from an instinctive violent response to the graced light of compassion and forgiveness.

“No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness,” said John Paul II in this year's World Day of Peace message. He did not mean that forgiveness overlooks the need to right a wrong. Rather, forgiveness represents the opposite of resentment and revenge. It “heals and rebuilds troubled human relations from their foundations.” To John Paul II forgiveness is the fullness of justice, and both justice and forgiveness flow together to heal the human spirit.

The just war theory, part of the church's tradition since the time of St. Augustine, never envisioned the horrors of modern warfare. Just war advocates today must whittle away the square corners of the theory to fit today's global reality. Modern warfare means non-combatants suffer more losses than soldiers, the environment sustains widespread and ongoing problems and impoverished countries must postpone economic development till the clearing of buried munitions. Wars are never over with the secession of hostilities. They endure till personal trauma and the devastation of God's creation find healing.

“The War Against Afghanistan Must Stop,” a statement signed by some 70 U.S. Catholic leaders in December, plainly calls for “a new paradigm for judging questions of war and peace today.” At the same time Catholic theology affirms the legitimate stance of those professing “a position of principled nonviolence.” While pacifism may not represent a call for all, its prophetic spirit acts in dynamic tension with accepting the inevitability of war.

Father Frank Gardner preached tirelessly against the Gulf War shortly before his death in 1991. He joined John Paul II in questioning the war's morality. While Father Frank never declared himself an absolute pacifist, he looked for creative solutions beyond the theory of just war. That spiritual journey took him from the experience of his own torture to imagining a world where disputes could be resolved more creatively.

Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

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