If it is true that during His Crucifixion Christ assumed the sins of all the world for all time, then at some point He must have felt the agony of the pain generated by today's bombings in London. No doubt He will also have noted the response, whatever that may prove to be.
As I mentioned earlier this week, it's not always easy to pray for peace, whether it be peace in the world or peace in our own hearts. Clearly there are those in this world who are dedicated to making this an even more difficult task. It does not mean we should stop, although I believe this to be one of their goals; we need to redouble our efforts, to strengthen the faith which they so thoroughly despise. However, we need to do more.
There has been much discussion over the war in Iraq, and the war in terrorism in general. A lot of orthodox Catholic publications such as The Wanderer and the New Oxford Review have been skeptical, if not downright hostile, to the war. Speaking frankly, the time has come to ask whether or not it makes any difference now if the war was a just one.
Our enemies (and make no mistake, that is what they are) want to destroy us. Plain and simple. I don't particularly give them credit for trying to overthrow the West, to create a global Islamic dictatorship - I don't think their thoughts are that complex. They aren't trying to destabilize our economy, through our government into chaos, force us into a cocoon. They want to kill us. They'd probably like to force us out of the Middle East, but I'm not sure if even that would be sufficient for them. They want to kill us.
Look, maybe the war in Iraq was unjust, although this is not a position that comes naturally to me. From the first, I had my doubts; I thought Iran and Syria were more immediate concerns, and I felt our main focus ought to have been on tracking down Bin Laden before getting involved in anything else. I've somewhat grudgingly supported the war, because I think pulling out would be even more disasterous. It's clear that we need some kind of concrete strategy for setting a goal, accomplishing it, and disengaging.
But when you find yourself being shot at, it's probably a good idea to not waste too much time wondering just how you got in that position. The important thing is to protect yourself and others by removing the threat. Running is futile; the enemy wants you dead, and it's clear he'll go to long lengths to accomplish that deed. No, the best way to eliminate the threat is to disarm the enemy. How else to do it now except by eliminating him?
What I'm trying to say is this: I don't care right now whether or not our policy in the Middle East is right. I don't care if our grounds for invading Iraq were legitimate. We can and should debate the niceties of our future policy later. What I see right now is an enemy hell-bent (literally) on killing us, and there's only one way to respond to that: with a determination for total victory.
Bill Maher came under a great deal of criticism after September 11 for suggesting that the terrorists were not cowards because they were willing to put their money where their mouths were by giving up their lives for their cause. I suppose there's something to that, but they were cowards nonetheless. Any guerilla army is by definition cowardly, for refusing to meet their opponent in open battle where a clear victory by one side or the other can be accomplished. Some might argue that by that definition Washington and his army were cowards for using hit-and-run tactics to defeat the British. But there's a big difference: Washington and his men weren't indiscriminately murdering innocent British citizens while hiding behind the skirts of their own women and children. It may seem absurd to argue that war should have rules like this, but remember that Pope Urban II banned the use of the crossbow, which "many rightly saw. . . as morally suspect. It defied the chivalric code, which said you must face your enemy and make your intentions clear — that is, declare the equivalent of war."
Sometimes the guardians of peace must carry a sword to ensure the safety of those whom they are sworn to protect. In praying for peace we must not be blind to those obligations.
We should pray that our conduct in this war, a war which we did not seek, be in line with God's will. That means we do not seek the mindless, indiscriminate destruction of all in the Middle East. That means we do not persecute all who may be different from us simply because they are different. But it also means understanding that when evildoers use innocent men, women and children as shields, the moral burden of those innocent deaths is on them, not us.
Nor should we stop praying for the conversion of our enemies, that their hearts will no longer be hardened and their eyes no longer be blinded to the reality of what they are doing. We must realize that in fighting this war, we also act in charity, trying to correct the behavior of others by showing them a peaceful alternative, and by demonstrating the consequences of their continued violent acts.
And of our own role in this we should not be blind. By this I don't mean the question of just war; it goes deeper than that. We must look long and hard at our own country: a country that sanctions the murder of unborn children and elderly and infirm adults, a country that shows an increasing hostility to God and His followers; a country that continues to strip away the dignity of the individual by reducing him to a unit of economic currency. We cannot be blind to the likelihood that we are undergoing a chastisement by Our Lord, designed to make us consider our own behavior. Should we emerge victorious in this war, it will be meaningless if it does not prompt a change in our American culture. If we keep slipping into the moral abyss, it will soon be too late for us to see our way out - if it isn't already too late. Lincoln famously said that his concern was not that God was on our side, but that we were on His. We need to redouble our prayers that this may be so.
Running away will not keep others safe. Only standing and fighting will accomplish that. What we are seeing now is undiluted evil, dedicated to nothing other than spreading further evil through death and distruction. We must pray for the victims of that evil, and the consequences which it unleashes. But that enemy must be crushed, pure and simple, and in doing so we must also pray that our efforts be just and righteous ones.