The Words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Our subject is war. First of all, a word about the frequency of wars or the history of wars. Some years ago a learned professor of Brussels studied all the wars from 1496 B.C. to A.D. 1861. That was equivalent to 3,357 years of history. Out of those 3,357 years, how many years of war do you suppose there were?
3,130 years of war! Or only 227 years of peace. The ratio of war to peace was over fourteen years of war for every one year of peace.
Another interesting fact is the rapidity of war in modern times. The interval is becoming closer and closer between wars. The interval between the Napoleonic and the Franco-Prussian Wars was fifty-five years. The interval between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I was forty-three years. The interval between World War I and World War II was twenty-one years. Fifty-five, forty-three, twenty-one this at a time when man was supposed to have all the material conditions essential for his happiness. And now we live under the threat of cosmic suicide.
Now, consider the problem of the machinery of peace to stop war. Consider the treaties of peace that were made by the League of Nations between 1920 and 1939, the year of the outbreak of World War II. In nineteen years, 4,568 treaties of peace were signed! In the eleven months preceding the outbreak of World War II, 211 treaties of peace were signed. Were these treaties of peace written on paper, or were they written in the hearts of men? And we must ask ourselves as we hear of treaties being written today, whether the treaties of the UN are written with the full cognizance of the fact that those who sign them are responsible before God? Nations signing such treaties are often like husband and wife who call one another “dearie” when out to a cocktail party and “brute” in their own home. There may be some justification for those who ask whether modern peace is nothing but an interval between wars.
Next, let us investigate the causes of war.
There are actually two causes of war, the external and the internal. The external causes of war, according to William Penn, are three: to keep, to add, and to recover.
Of the internal causes of war, Saint James gives the best explanation.
What leads to war, what leads to quarrelling among you? I will tell you what leads to them; the appetites which infest your mortal bodies.
Wars come from egotism and selfishness. Every macrocosmic or world war has its origin in microcosmic wars going on inside of millions and millions of individuals.
(excerpt from Life is Worth Living)
Reflection on the Archbishop's Words by Father Andrew Apostoli
Today’s meditation of the Archbishop touches on a topic that is most dear to the human heart. It is the topic of peace. We human beings were made for peace. God intended peace for the human family. The very opening pages of Scripture shows that our first parents enjoyed great peace: peace with God because they spoke to Him as friend to Friend; peace with each other, for there was no shame nor concupiscence; peace with nature, for work would be a pleasure, not a drudgery. All this stemmed from a deep peace in the human heart because they were initially fulfilling God’s will. As the poet Dante put it, “In His Will is our peace.” Sin destroyed this tranquility of peace and left in its wake tension, turmoil and conflict. Archbishop Sheen points out that in over 3,000 years of human history, there has been only one year of peace for ever 14 years of war.
Why is there no peace? The Archbishop points out that even external factors of war, namely “to keep, to add, and to recover,” are really routed in man’s internal desire for power, greed and domination. The human heart is filled with all kinds of lusts and evil desires which, if not controlled, will come out in aggressive ways towards others. Then, imagine these forces of anger, greed, pride and the like, going out from the heart and reaching out to the four corners of the earth. They become an ever expanding circle of evil, like the waves produced when one throws a rock into a calm body of water.
Ultimately, what began in the interior hiddeness of one human heart takes on a world-wide influence of domination, destruction and human degradation. One need only think of such evil dictators as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to see what evil was produced in the world from an evil that began unseen in a human heart. As someone put it well, “If World War III begins tomorrow, it will be because I hated my brother or sister today!” Jesus said that it is not what goes into a man that makes him evil, but what comes out of the human heart: “From the mind [=heart] stem evil designs murder, adulterous conduct, fornication, stealing, false witness, blasphemy. These are the things that make a man impure” (Mt 15:19-20).
We see this in our society today. At the present moment as I write, America is involved in a conflict in the Middle East. Why then is the peace that is so desired by the human heart also so elusive? I believe it is because we are conflicted in our approach to peace. For example, we want peace as the end of hostility, but we also want abortion so that we can give free reign to our lust and license. Yet as someone with great wisdom put it: “Peace begins in the womb.” Furthermore, despite our stated desire for peace, we also want euthanasia so that our lives will be made more convenient. We can do away with people who are sick, infirm, aged, mentally disabled or the like. We have forgotten that the blood of these innocent ones are like the blood of Abel crying out for vengeance from God (cf. Gn 4:11). War is, after all, a punishment for sin and selfishness.
The road to true peace begins when, with the help of God’s grace, we die to the evil desires in our own heart by self-discipline, mortification and the practice of virtue. Once these passions of the human heart have been brought under control, then all that we do will have a love that proceeds from true freedom in the heart. This love builds up peace within the human family. We are building what Pope John Paul II called the “civilization of love” because we are now the family of God Who is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16). Then and only then will we have true and lasting peace.