Friday, November 11, 2011
The Sacrifice of a Soldier & the Pain of War
“A Christian does not look on war in the same way as one who lives by the spirit of the world…The unbeliever can explain the tormentor in war, but he cannot explain the sacrifice of the soldier or the martyr. The believer in God can explain both.”
Fulton Sheen, 1940 Address
“The great French Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.”
Fulton Sheen, Wartime Prayer Book
Address delivered on December 29, 1940, by Msgr. Fulton Sheen
A Christian does not look on war in the same way as one who lives by the spirit of the world. His point of view is different in two respects: First, he has a set of basic principles grounded on the Eternal Law of God by which he judges a given situation or problem, as distinguished from those who change their principles to suit a situation or who are guided solely by emotion; second, he believes in a Divine Purpose in history, as distinguished from those who feel the cosmos is the plaything of chance.
There are some who believe in God who will go part way with a Christian belief that a beneficent Providence presides over the universe. They would admit this Providence in the trivialities of life and might even quote the words of our Lord, "Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them” (Matthew 6:26). But in practice they forget that the same Divine Providence is even more solicitous for men: ”Are not you of much more value than they?" "And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith” (Matthew 6:30). To such people God is behind the beautiful things of life like the song of a bird and the innocence of a lily; but storms and disasters, which even insurance agents call an "act of God," are considered by moderns as outside Providence or even as the defeat of Providence.
This exclusion of Divinity from the darker aspects of life the true believers in God refuse to accept. Precisely because we do believe that God’s purposes extend even to the fall of nations and the momentary defeat of the good, we are made the object of reproach if not of ridicule in times of war. As nation rises against nation, and as the innocent suffer on all sides we are asked: "Where is your God now?"
That question has been asked in mockery at all periods of adversity. Of old, the prophet Joel pictured the Jewish priests on the one hand praying to God, and the Gentiles, on the other, sneering at their faith. "Between the porch and the altar, the priests the Lord’s ministers shall weep and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God” (Joel 2:17). And before Joel, King David prayed to be saved from the reproach of unbelievers: ”Help us, O God, our saviour: and for the glory of thy name, O Lord, deliver us: and forgive us our sins for thy name’s sake: Lest they should say among the Gentiles: Where is their God?” (Psalm 78:9-10). "Not to us, O Lord, not to us: but to thy name give glory. For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake: lest the Gentiles should say: Where is their God?” (Psalm 113:1-2).
The taunts of the Gentiles against the Jews who, in Old Testament times, kept their faith in God amidst chaos and defeat, is re-echoed today by atheists, humanists, pagans, and diluted Christians, who at the return of barbarism and the violation of justice, turn to us and sneer as of old: "Where is your God now?" H. G. Wells is their spokesman as he writes: "If I thought there was an omnipotent God who looked down on battles and deaths and all the waste and horror of this war – able to prevent things – doing this to amuse himself, I would spit in his empty face."
To those who are of the spirit of Wells, who deny Providence because sins no longer go unpunished, or because the myth of progress has been exploded, I now address myself. You say: "If there is a God, why does He permit this war?" I should say, for exactly the same reason God allows you to cut your fingers if you wantonly clutch at a razor. Your bleeding fingers are the red witness to your rebellion against the laws of reason, for reason should have told you the razor would cut. Multiply that rebellion against the Divine Reason by millions and you have this war.
But you ask: "Thy does God not stop this war?" Who started this war anyway? Why does God not stop your headache when you over-drink? Why does God not suspend you in mid-air if you throw yourself from the top of the Empire State building? You want God to let you go on violating His laws, but to stop visiting upon you the consequences of your violations. You want God to let you break your promise to love someone until death do you part, but to stop Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini from breaking their promises to live in peace with Albania, Finland, or Austria. Is our government indifferent to the violation of law? Shall we expect God to be indifferent to His laws? You want to put your hand over fire and not be burned ? You want to sow cockle and reap wheat? You want men to forget the Fatherhood of God, and then blame God because they do not act like brothers? If we want to find out who started this war, let us not go to God, but to our consciences, for all nations, in varying degrees, are guilty – for all of us have abandoned God.
As Seneca once told Lucilius: ”No wonder there is so much sickness. Look at all the cooks!” In like manner, man may cook up his own evil; this war may well be the broth of our own making, made from the bitter herbs of our alienation from Divinity.
"Well, why does God not work a miracle and stop the war?” It is indeed curious that you who never before believed in a miracle, not even the Resurrection of the Son of God from the dead, now ask for a miracle! Do you who boasted a few years ago of the omnipotence of science, now want your science to be nullified by a miracle destroying all the laws of nature, so that gunpowder will not explode, ships will not sink, bombs will not fall, and cannons will not shoot? Do you who boasted of freedom as the right to do whatever you please, now want God to take your freedom away? You reproach Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini for destroying personality by uprooting freedom. Do you want God to do the same? That is what He would be doing if He stopped this war in the way you want it stopped. God gave you gas, oil, iron - and now, because those things are used by ungrateful men to destroy one another, you blame God for not miraculously subverting the very uses to which man freely put them. And if the miracle were worked and God stopped this war, what would you do? Go on living as you were before? Would America in gratitude to God break off its relations with anti-God governments like Russia and Germany? Would we in return for the miracle raise our children in the next generation in the love of Him who so preserves us? Would we restore the sanctity of marriage to our national life? The kind of miracle you ask would not save us. Only our conversion to God by prayer and penance can do that - and that would be the real miracle.
"Why does not God punish the Nazis and Fascists and Communists?” This is like the request John made of Our Lord, to "Rain down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans.” God will not destroy them for two reasons: First, all the evil is not in them, and all the goodness is not in us - the cockle was not sown on the right side of the field and the wheat on the left, but together; second, the final adjustments of Divine Justice take place not in time, but at its end. "Suffer both (the wheat and the cockle) to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
Of those who ask "Where is God now?" may I ask: Where are your gods now? Where is your god of science? Your god of progress? Your god of man? In them you trusted, but not in the true God of Justice and Mercy. Did you ever think of God before this war started? Did you just begin to think of Him because you wanted someone to blame? Did you, in the days when He blessed you with prosperity, ever thank Him? Did you ever pray to Him? Did you ever acknowledge your dependence on His sovereign Power? Do you think of Him now only because your heart aches? And do you blame Him now for the heartache that comes naturally because, in better days, you were not clean of heart? But even though you think of God now He will not reject you: "If you turn to the Lord with all your heart, put away the strange gods from among you . . . and he will deliver you . . . ” (1 Kings 7:3).
Finally, you ask: "Why does not your Church do something about the war?" Well, why did you not pay attention to the red light before the auto struck you? Did you accept Leo XIII’s warning over fifty years ago, about Liberalism leading to collectivism and socialism? Did you not do everything you could to prevent the Church’s influence, and now complain because it is not more influential? Did you not try to keep the Church weak by saying religion was for the individual, not for society? Now you blame the Church because it has no control over society. When you say, Now is the Church’s opportunity, you really mean, Let the Church clean up the dirty mess which our godless existence has brought us so that we can go back to our godless living once again. This is not the Church’s opportunity to do something: It is yours!
The same God who permitted nations to be visited with their iniquities, who suffered others to be invaded for their needful reparation, is still the Lord of the Universe, the King of Kings. His wisdom transcends our understanding more than music transcends the sense knowledge of a mouse hidden in a piano. What makes us rise up against God in misfortune is our pride. For the last two decades in our secular education and in our press we have seen the familiar theme: "I cannot accept a God who . . . ” At the close of the last war one professor in a commencement address in a well-known theological school gave fourteen points upon which God would be acceptable to a democracy. If this insane blasphemy became generalized we should soon have the wood telling the carpenter the fourteen conditions upon which it would become a door. Would God mean anything if He were our creation? Is a mother a mother if she is born of us? I am not going to expose the fallacy of such pride, except to express a fear that such blasphemy on the part of some of our educators may - if it becomes common in our national life - draw upon us a humiliation in which God will save us in His way, rather than ours.
Our Declaration of Independence affirms that this country trusts in God. Let us Americans take it literally and never relinquish an absolute trust in the Providence of God even in adversity, sorrow, depression, catastrophe, and war. With Job we cry out: "Although he should kill me, I will trust in him: but yet I will reprove my ways in his sight” (Job 13:15). Starting from this basic trust in God, certain conclusions follow:
We will not start with the assumption that we are innocent, and therefore assert that all our misfortune is undeserved.
Henceforth, instead of asking, "On whose side is God?" we shall look into our own souls and say: ”On whose side are we?"
We shall constantly keep before our minds that the greatest tragedy of war is not economic loss or physical suffering but acquiescence in evil: ”And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
The unbeliever can explain the tormentor in war, but he cannot explain the sacrifice of the soldier or the martyr. The believer in God can explain both. Suffering in all forms is, for the Christian, a mystery not a problem. To get a square peg into a round hole is a problem because one fact does not fit the other fact. Suffering is not like that. It fulfills a purpose; even sin may be a "happy fault” if it brings Redemption.
Given the spectacle of the Son of God Incarnate stretched on a Cross through the corporate evil of men, and yet conquering their hate and sin by rising to a new life and pouring out forgiveness and pardon — I say, given that vision on Calvary, suffering and war and evil can be faced without losing hope either in humanity or in God. It was the prosperous Solomon who complained of the emptiness of life, not the suffering Job. The Cross could once more marry us to God.
Thus we are brought back to the general theme of this series of broadcasts: America must return to God humbly and penitently, f or if we forsake God, God will forsake us. He is not only the God of Mercy, but the God of Justice, and though He suffers some to sneer, "Where is your God now?", He in His turn will answer, "Where are their gods, in whom they trusted . . . let them arise and help you” (Deut. 32:37-28). We will be under Providence either by free response to His love or by submission to His Justice.
-This address was published courtesy of fultonsheen.com. A heartfelt thanks to all of our U.S. veterans from Sky View!
Posted by Joe at 7:32 AM