A more recent, quiet but powerful witness to the sacredness of all human life in his refusal to bear arms in war against people was Joshua Casteel, of whom I write with teary eyes of his touching witness and recent death at a young age. He was a Catholic U.S. Marine interrogator who turned pacifist during this most recent war in Iraq. He was challenged to take seriously the new command of Christ to love your enemies and do [only] good to those who hate you. He became a conscientious objector while still in uniform. He died this summer of an extremely rare lung cancer begun by burning the U.S. trash pits in Iraq, and constantly worried until his death about the Iraqi families having inhaled all of this toxic smoke as well. This pollution of the U.S., combined with the destruction of many buildings and infrastructure in Iraq, are reminders of the differences between the works of mercy and the works of war, of which Dorothy Day so eloquently wrote (Works of War: destroy crops and land, seize food supplies, destroy homes, scatter families, inflict wounds and burns, kill the living, etc,).
How did she keep such a stance of pure pacifism when much of society and the world were caught up in very differing ways than this? Where does this pacifism come from? Believe it or not, it comes from Jesus, His Apostles (in this apostolic Church), and all Christ-followers for the first three hundred years - longer than the U.S. has even been a country. Besides numerous writings from the mouth of Jesus and many prophecies in the Old Testament foreshadowing what was to come, some are from Tertullian, Maxmillian, Origen, and St. Justin the Martyr, to name a few.
But what about the centurion who we so often quote during mass and who Jesus revered in his depth of faith: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed"? Centurions were equivalent to a police force keeping law and order among civilians locally. They were on the street corners, so to speak, to stop someone from getting robbed or raped, or to arrest someone and remove them from society temporarily or permanently. These were not the soldiers trained and ready, at the stroke of a quill or order of a king, to decimate an entire city of people. Also, Jesus did not stamp his approval on his profession, only his faith.
It is not normal for a person to want to kill another person. Soldiers and terrorists are born sweet and innocent babies predisposed to love. No, this is accepted and learned behavior in prospective cultures. My father, the pacifist peace activist, used to say how his Navy training temporarily turned him into "an attack dog," ready to kill instantly, whoever they would order you to kill, on command, without questioning or even thinking. Joshua Casteel had recently addressed the training aspect of taking a young teenager who is not born or even inclined to kill people, and making him or her capable of doing so, as in his Marine training. He had to shout back and forth with is superior officer the following:
"What are we supposed to DO?!"
"KILL! KILL! KILL!"
"What makes the grass GROW GREEN?!"
"BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!"
Soldiering is painted in photographs as very different from the grisliness it actually entails in time of war. It is sort of like the amnesia of pro-abortion people who package it as simply a "choice," or deep respect for a woman's body and her personal right to choose things over her own body. What it actually does, though, is slaughter a separate human life that happens to be within her body. A woman may have a justification in her mind like, "I am at my wits end, with four other children to care for and my husband only coming around long enough to steal my welfare checks. I must do this to give what little food and diapers I can to the others, to protect and support the others." We have our reasons to justify killing people as well.
In war, as it is defined by Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J., who taught peace studies at Georgetown University for 25+ years, it is this destruction of human life, only on a grander scale: "War is inter-group lethal conflict involving the massive loss of human life, and ALWAYS taking on a momentum and life of its own leading to unplanned savagery [beyond what is planned]." This is not a reflection upon those young teenagers themselves, who typically are very sacrificial and noble (and still very impressionable), wanting to serve their country to the level of putting themselves in harm's way. No, the grisly and barbaric realities are from warring itself - submersing oneself in a situation of killing, maiming, poisoning, and harming human bodies.
Mark Twain describes well what we are actually praying for when we pray for our soldiers (and therefore soldiering acts) in "The War Prayer," as it has become called:
One cannot reduce the command to love our enemies only to those people in your life who cause you problems, like neighbors, coworkers, or extended family members. When I was growing up, one of the Gospels had the actual wording: "Before it was said that you must love your countrymen and hate your enemies. But I say to love your enemies ..." putting it at the country and country's enemy level. To pacifists, killing human beings, or sacred human life, is as far from love as you can possibly get. It wipes out any options of reconciliation or repentence with God for that person you just killed. In fact, it is as far from God as one can get, usurping His role as the Sole One who alone is Author of life and death, as is said in scriptures. We play God when we take the life of another person who is someone's brother, nephew, dad, uncle, or cousin. They are as much made in God's own image and likeness as we are. Is there such a thing as human life not being sacred? Do we believe unequivocally that every human life in all life stages is sacred or do we not? Who are we to play God?
Pacifists have the mentality of Brother Christian (from the movie, Of Gods and Men), one of the martyred (1990's) French-speaking Trappist monks in Algeria who left a note to his Muslim terrorist would-be executioner that read something like: "Oh happy thief, today you will be with me in paradise because I will pray for you to get to heaven and be with our Lord," mirroring Christ's own words during the crucifixion aimed squarely at these brutal, hate-filled, killing people: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
If Christ was pacifist, why then, when the soldier asked Jesus, "What must I do?" He did not reiterate to "Love your enemy and only do good to him. You cannot love and kill the same person at the same time. That is impossible." Instead he simply said to "Be content with your pay." Twice in Scriptures Jesus is confronted with a question that could have had him immediately beheaded by the Romans if He went directly against them - this question (which He side-stepped with the pay answer instead of saying to leave soldiering) and the question of paying taxes to Caesar or not. He was destined not to die by the sword though, but to have his hands and feet pierced in a crucifixion as Scriptures foretold.
The Amish, the Mennonite, and the Quakers "absolutely refuse to bear arms against another human being," meaning, to kill them in war. Mahatma Ghandi, an Oxford educated lawyer and in the Brahaman class of the Hindu of India, stumbled upon the New Testament at Oxford and asked a Catholic if they believed the parts of Matthew's Gospel on loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, etc. The reply was, "Well, we don't take that seriously." His response was, "Well, I do!" He eventually led the movement that overthrew the British with total nonviolence, who had far more tight and sophisticated a control over India than England ever had over the U.S. colonies.
What about, "No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends" popularly used at military funerals? The sacrifice of soldiers is great indeed, but there is a world of difference in accidentally dying (in a very dangerous situation) while killing others and, like the early Church martyrs of the first three centuries, to lovingly (and physically) lay down one's life for God or for love of enemy. Can you picture anyone in the early Church who is being martyred jumping up, overpowering the small band there to arrest (and eventually kill) them, and killing those people to escape? Or killing any of their persecutors? This would never have crossed one's mind. Ghandi put it eloquently when he said, "There is a cause for which I would give my life, but no cause for which I am prepared to kill." Ghandi was once asked, "Why in the world do you not become a Christian? You read the words of Christ daily, you quote from Christ more than any other, and you live it perfectly - in a humble community, pooling all your resources, caring for the sick and poor in joyful poverty." He replied, "I would become one if I met one."
I once asked our beloved Bishop Campbell about the appropriate amount to pray for militarism (militaristic people, and therefore militaristic actions involving killing people), during the holy sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, and on the holy altar. This was especially so in lieu of our involvement in the recent Iraqi war that was "not legally or morally justified," according to Pope John Paul II, and that killed over 40 times 9-11 - over 200,000 people, mostly innocent civilians. He replied that it should be balanced out with the other. Using songs like "Let There be Peace on Earth (and let it begin with me)" and "Make me a Channel of Your Peace" do not balance this out at all. They can even be misconstrued as backing this illegal and immoral war, instead of having nothing to do with it. The Church has no say whatsoever in the targets, small and large goals for an area, strategies, maneuvers, and decisions of the military in war time or other. Why have we been led to follow and support them blindly, as thought they were the Church, and as though they were not going against our true moral leader in this prolonged recent war? How can we pray them onward against our Pope?
Hitler had ordered to be put on his soldiers belt buckles, "In God We Trust." To Hitler though, human lives were expendable and not sacred. Thinking of terrorists, you can picture many of them having a very fervent, prayerful time before they perform actions that they deem are for Allah ("Allah" is their word for god) and against immoral and unholy people and governments, as they see them. They could be bowed at head, arm in arm, humble and obedient to "god." The litmus test in any such group including Americans, would be that which can call them children of the living God - do they cherish all human life, without exception, never killing human beings and even loving their enemies? Or, are people and peoples' lives expendable to them no matter how holy and prayerful they may look, huddled together in pictures? The terrorists are huddled together in prayer too. Should our actions as Christ-followers be different than theirs?
So, as many - not all - Catholic parishes pray for the military several times a year, for Veteran's and Memorial Day, etc., we must make sure to have the same (or more) number of other days to have in our petitions and bulletins prayers and pictures to FULLY balance this out of and for pacifists and pacifism. One thing that Jesus was and is very passionate about is keeping the "Temple" - His Father's house where the consecration of His actual Body and Blood take place - holy. We must make absolute certain that what we pray over and for align with Him, with His way, His example, and His new commands. Adding pacifists to our prayers, then, is the only way to keep it balanced, as our bishop has asked, and not be confusing or hollow-sounding in our peace songs.
These could go something like this: "For those who are pacifist witnesses to Christ's and the Apostles' modeling, may they be strengthened by our support," or, "May God bless and protect those called to be pacifists and may their peacemaking mark them as children of God, sending forth Christ's true peace into and throughout the world." Another could be, "May God strengthen in perseverance those promoting the Church's teachings on the sacredness of all human life without exception in their pacifism, against the culture of death so heavy in our world." As we proceed, if some desire to offer prayers for the military during another illegal and immoral war condemned by our spiritual leader from the Chair of St. Peter again, should our prayers then be to steer our youth away from this sinful situation like we would against abortion? Should there be no confusion or misleading for our youth or for parents of these youth?
Do these make one feel uncomfortable? Even offended? The real question is, would they offend Christ? Would they offend Jesus or are they aligned with the teachings of Jesus? Do they go against Christ's Way and example, that of the perfect, unblemished Lamb, or are we clinging to such ingrained human violent tradition that we refuse to open our hearts to these most controversial teachings of Jesus? Fr. Barron opened his Catholicism series with just how radical Jesus and His teachings are! His words were many times not pleasant to hear at all, very agitative, sharper than any two-edged sword separating bone from marrow. Perhaps the best approach to prayer during the holy sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Prince of Peace is that of Mother Teresa - for peace itself, for Christ - not adding either "extreme." Minimally, we should consider opening the door far and wide to those prophetic voices God has sent us on pacifism and truly loving your enemies, alongside our militaristic-minded brothers and sisters. Pacifism and pacifists need to be fully welcome and included in petitions, bulletins, and homilies.
I recently stopped to give money to a very elderly veteran collecting at a table at Lowe's, and I told him that I always give money to veterans because they are so brave and giving, but I am a pacifist and don't believe in ever killing people. He replied: "So are most of us." I then said, "You have to get the word out! Young people don't know this. They only hear and see support of the opposite. Please try to get the word out." He just smiled, probably relieved that someone in the generation after his (me) will get the word out.
With the beatification process started for Dorothy Day, it must do Jesus' heart a great deal of good! His harder teachings have gone unheard, except for these shining examples like her, Joshua Casteel, Desmond Doss, Mahatma Ghandi, St. Francis of Assisi, and a multitude of fellow Catholic Workers across the country throughout the past 75+ years. Lord, strengthen us to follow Your way of the cross, being genuine channels of solely Your peace and Your love to the world!
Pray also for stopping the building and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapons industry), and the very real potential of using them, as mind-boggling as this may seem. Moreover, joining a nuclear-armed military is taking responsibility for all that we are capable and poised to do. Rev. Richard McSorley of Georgetown reiterated until his last breath his most famous saying: "It's a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon." He also coined: "When you choose the lesser of two evils, you soon forget you chose evil in the first place" (i.e. Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Thus, one can imagine the sin of being a part of ever using one (again). Moreover, the hideous drone program further removes human minds, hearts, consciences, and eyes from full awareness of the bloodshed these actually cause, reducing the act to the feel of a video game. This system is equivalent to having fully automated abortions where a woman would come into a machine, and it would do all the destruction of human life. Our drone program makes it even more simple to feel okay killing human life because one would be so removed from seeing the actual bloodiness of it.
Pray to the Prince of Peace Himself, for His infusion into the hearts of people, especially Catholics. Are we ready to stand before Jesus? What if our time to go was tomorrow? Will we older Catholics have an excuse if we have ignored His most difficult teachings and led others to do the same? Pray also for Mary's intercession on behalf of the world, to her beloved Son. Pray especially for the 6,000-7,000 returned veterans who kill themselves each year (although the Marines and Air Force have refused to release numbers any more, so it may be much higher). Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, pray for them and for us! The following are words from Dorothy Day's Advent, 1945 article, "Making Room for Christ:"
"...now it is with the voice of contemporaries that He speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory-workers, and children that He gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers and suburban housewives that he gives. It is the feet of soldiers and tramps that He walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that He longs for shelter."
*Note: See the movie, End of the Spear, a 2005 docudrama (true story) set in South America with indigenous tribes - very moving case for pacifism and the nonviolent cross. Especially watch after the credits have begun at the end for a brief interview.