In this time of Advent, and with the Winter Solstice just a day away, I find myself looking for light in everyday encounters and finding the center wherever it presents itself. I learned from Ciaron O’Reilly that just this morning Fr. Martin Newell was released from Pentonville/London after serving a sentence for cutting into Northwood Headquarters on the Feast of Innocents 2008 in resistance to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.
I subsequently checked in on Ciaron’s blog to see what else is going on and found a post by the title Mixing it with the Catholic Chaplain for British Military Land Forces. It was, for me, the perfect antidote to the sanitized institutional church activities that take up the better part of this time of year.
In this season in which we prepare for the birth of the Prince of Peace while simultaneously embracing the societal/cultural messages of violence, Ciaron summarized for us the essential,central problem(s) of the Church from a historical context (which the Church ignores at its own peril or perhaps at the risk of losing what is left of its soul). Here are what he points out are the 3 responses to the issues of war and violence in church history.
1. Pacifism for the first 3 centuries, practised and taught by Jesus living under the Roman colonisers and the Herodian collaborators – embraced by the Catholic Worker movement and other remnants of radical discipleship.
2. The Just War theory thought up by Augustine after the 3rd. century Constantine shift when the church was legalised, patronised by the emperor and was fasttracked to become basic to Roman citizenship. This “Constantine Shift” turned christian ethics on its head. The ethical question of how do you run the Roman (British, Portugese, Spanish, any empire ) in a Christian way? should never have been our problem…like how do you run a firing squad in a christian way? is not our problem either.
Both recent popes have mused that given the nature of modern warfare technology the a just war may now be an impossibilty (eg. you’re not supposed to kill civilians for starters!)
3. Crusades – “kill em all and let God sort them out”. Theologically discredited in the Catholic tradition but is very much the theology of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment which is basic to the present wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
For me, Ciaron’s post is an important reminder to us that although the Church is supposed to be the conscience of the society (rather than the tool of the Empire), we as people of the light must be the conscience of the Church. And who knows where – such as Ciaron O’Reilly’s “debate” with a military chaplain – opportunities might arise to remind the Church of its errant path for the past roughly 1700 years.
May we continue to seek light in these dark days, and may it help us remember our way.