What is the Catholic stance on war? To answer that question, I could tell you about Jesus’ actions during the Passion, as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. At one point, Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane by a group bearing swords and clubs. Out of a desire to defend Jesus, one of his disciples takes out a sword and cuts off the ear of a guard. Jesus tells him, “Put your sword away. For those who live by the sword die by the sword.” In Luke’s Gospel, he then heals the man. Thus, Jesus’ final miracle before his Resurrection was one of reconciliation, after someone attacked him.
Or I could tell you about St. Francis of Assisi who, during the Crusades in the 13th century, accompanied the armies of western Europe to Egypt. Francis hoped to speak peacefully with Muslim leaders, even if it meant dying as a martyr. He crossed battle lines and was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil, known as a wise ruler. They recognized in one another their mutual humanity, spoke about God, and after many days of dialogue, the sultan gave Francis an ivory gift, which is today in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Theirs was a model of not only interreligious dialogue but a dialogue of peace.
Or I could tell you about St. Paul VI before the United Nations, seven centuries later, in 1965, at the height of the Cold War. “It is enough,” Pope Paul said, “to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: Never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!”
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With thanks to Fr James Martin SJ and America Magazine where this article was first published.