Tuesday, August 14, 2007

There Will Be Wars...

I woke up this morning to Garrison Keller's radio program on National Public Radio The Writer's Almanac. He began by reminds us that,

Today is the anniversary of the day on which President Harry Truman announced that the Second World War had come to an end. You might argue that more human beings were happy on this day in 1945 than on any other day in history.

It was the worst war in history. An estimated 60 million people died; about two-thirds of them were civilians. In the United States, the war had been going on for three years and eight months. About one in every eight Americans served in the war—more than 16 million American soldiers. Virtually every American family had at least one member overseas. With 400,000 Americans killed, most families knew somebody who had died in the war, and the most American casualties had come in the last year of the war.
He goes on to recount that until President Truman's announcements most Americans "believed that the war was far from over" and so were taken by complete surprise at its end. "There were," he says, "spontaneous celebrations and parades in every major city in America." In New York City alone, "more than a million people filled the streets, overflowing Times Square, the crowd stretching from 40th all the way up to 52nd street. Factories blew their whistles. Air raid sirens went off. Ships and trains and cars honked their horns. Churches tolled their bells."

But what was most noteworthy was not what people did or said, but what was not said. According to "commentators . . . at the time . . . nobody shouted, 'We've won the war!' or anything about triumph. They simply shouted, 'The war is over!'"

While wars are sometimes, often in fact, necessary, there are from the Christian viewpoint no victors. It is easy to forget that, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, until the final coming of the Kingdom of God
And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Mt 24.6-7).
The conflict that rages between nations, in the war in Iraq for example, is rooted ultimately reflects not politics or economics, but in the conflict that divides each human heart. We are at war with each other because we are each of us at war with ourself and ultimately God. Even if in this fallen world war is sometimes necessary, and even a relatively good thing, it also represent the depth to which we have fallen

Jesus situates His comments about war between a warning of the coming of the anti-Christs (v. 4: ""And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." and of natural disasters (v. 7: "And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places"). The conflict that infects the human heart and human relationships, then, extends beyond us to include nature as well.

The task of Christians is twofold.

One the one hand, certainly we are to work for peace and the justice that brings peace. And this not only on the political level, but especially on the personal level. Above all the Church is meant to be the living sign of the peaceable Kingdom that the human heart longs for, even if we often give expression to that desire in less then peaceful ways.

But on the other hand, we must also maintain a certain reserve and even skepticism relative to the work of peacemaking, No matter how hard we work, and we should work hard, conflict will remain in the human community until Christ returns in Glory.

Garrison Keller's poem for this morning was "The Worriers' Guild," by Philip F. Deaver, from How Men Pray ©. Anhinga Press (buy now).

Today there is a meeting of the
Worriers' Guild,
and I'll be there.
The problems of Earth are
to be discussed
at length
end to end
for five days
end to end
with 1100 countries represented
all with an equal voice
some wearing turbans and smocks
and all the men will speak
and the women
with or without notes
in 38 languages
and nine different species of logic.
Outside in the autumn
the squirrels will be
chattering and scampering
directionless throughout the town
they aren't organized yet.

If there is something to be said for working to end the "problems of Earth," there is also something to be said for remembering that, no matter how hard we work, the "squirrels wil be chattering and scampering directionless" indifferent to our best efforts.

"Work as if everything depended upon you," St Augustine counsels, "but pray as if everything depended upon God."

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory