Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marking Veteran's Day

This morning, Mudpuppy and I joined several others at the Veteran's Memorial on the campus of Saint Mary's University for an informal period of reflection and prayer to mark Veteran's Day. As I sat there with Mudpuppy in my lap, I thought of the young men remembered by the memorial, most of whom never returned from World War II. I thought of my grandfather, a young man fighting through southern Italy, watching a distant battle from the second story of a building and wondering why men fight. I thought of my brother-in-law, anxiously waiting out mortar attacks in Baghdad. I thought of the many veterans I've shared meals with over the years at the Winona Catholic Worker; many of them saw combat in Vietnam.

So many generations of young men. And I looked down at the baby in my lap and wondered whether he would join their number.

We ask young men to risk their lives and to do horrific things that leave them with nightmares for the rest of their lives, and then we throw big stones in the ground, fly the flag, and tell them how grateful we are. Perhaps as an afterthought we mourn war as a "necessary evil."

Just as people have been doing, generation after generation, for thousands of years.

Instead of perpetuating this tradition, maybe it's time that we honored our veterans by admitting that the evil of war is never necessary, that it is always a failure of humanity. Perhaps if we could admit that, without castigating ourselves for that failure, perhaps then we could begin to imagine a different path.

Here is what we read, quietly, at the prayer vigil. This is a selection from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, chapter 11:

494. Peace is a value and a universal duty  founded on a rational and moral order of society that has its roots in God himself, "the first source of being, the essential truth and the supreme good".[1017] Peace is not merely the absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity.
Peace is the fruit of justice, (cf. Is 32:17) understood in the broad sense as the respect for the equilibrium of every dimension of the human person. Peace is threatened when man is not given all that is due him as a human person, when his dignity is not respected and when civil life is not directed to the common good. The defence and promotion of human rights is essential for the building up of a peaceful society and the integral development of individuals, peoples and nations.
Peace is also the fruit of love. "True and lasting peace is more a matter of love than of justice, because the function of justice is merely to do away with obstacles to peace: the injury done or the damage caused. Peace itself, however, is an act and results only from love".
495. Peace is built up day after day in the pursuit of an order willed by God and can flourish only when all recognize that everyone is responsible for promoting it. To prevent conflicts and violence, it is absolutely necessary that peace begin to take root as a value rooted deep within the heart of every person. In this way it can spread to families and to the different associations within society until the whole of the political community is involved. In a climate permeated with harmony and respect for justice, an authentic culture of peace can grow and can even pervade the entire international community. Peace is, consequently, the fruit of "that harmony structured into human society by its Divine Founder and which must be actualized by men as they aspire for ever greater justice". Such an ideal of peace "cannot be obtained on earth unless the welfare of man is safeguarded and people freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their minds and their talents".
496. Violence is never a proper response. With the conviction of her faith in Christ and with the awareness of her mission, the Church proclaims "that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings".
The contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule. "Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defence available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risk of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death".
 Let us pray that our children will become prophets of peace.