Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pope Francis, Chemical Warfare and the Judgment of God

If there is anything that can recover the language of “God’s judgment” on the nations it is the recent employment of chemical weapons in Syria. Images on the internet of deceased children- victims of chemical warfare –is enough to make our hearts break. By the sound of it, it made Pope Francis’ heart break. The Holy Father, this last weekend, lamented the loss of so many lives. He said, "My heart is profoundly wounded in these days by what is happening in Syria and I am anxious about the prospect of dramatic developments." Then he adds, “I condemn with particular force the use of chemical weapons. I still have in my mind and heart the terrible images of the past days.”

But then the Vicar of Christ used his prophetic voice and mentioned a word that hardly escapes the lips of Christians anymore. And that word is “judgment.” God’s judgment, to be exact! In fact, he warned Syria of the following: “There is judgment from God and from history on our actions that no one can escape.”

To those who have been given much, much will be required. This especially refers to political rulers and leaders. By God’s design, their position of power and authority is meant to serve the people entrusted to them. But for those despots who misuse their elevated station in life, the Lord will demand a strict accounting. And it is the duty of religious leaders, especially the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, to publicly warn the heads of State when they cross the line. In the book of Wisdom, we have a template of such a warning:

“Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels! Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you did not judge rightly, and did not keep the law, nor walk according to the will of God, Terribly and swiftly he shall come against you, because severe judgment awaits the exalted.”

Not all oppressive rulers are met with retribution before they depart from this life. But some are. Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are just a few who have.

In any event, it was refreshing to see Pope Francis use his stern prophetic voice- like so many of his predecessors of old -to remind the Syrian government that although it may enjoy the use of political and military power for evil ends- such as using chemical weapons against children -there will be a time that the tables will turn. It is entirely conceivable that those children, sitting next to our Lord, will sit in judgment against the culprits who unleashed such an ungodly warfare.

And as for those Christians who question such severe warnings, we must remind them that God’s mercy is unintelligible without his justice. It could even be said that more people today are indifferent towards God’s mercy because we who represent his Church never speak of his justice. After all, it’s impolite to do so.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ recent comments reminds us that in order to be a beneficiary of Divine Mercy, we must first realize that we are candidates for his justice. St. Francis de Sales once said that to presume God's mercy is to provoke his justice. There are indeed too many in power who, if they think about God's mercy at all, presume that it applies to them.