A Stain Like Rust On Our Hearts

We watched it all unfold on television. Again. Another terrorist attack on hundreds of innocent people, just going about their lives. This time it was in Paris. Like it was last January when the Charlie Hebdo office was hit. But we’ve seen this before. Of course, in New York, but also in London and Madrid, in Sweden and Jerusalem and so many other places. We’ve seen the videos of men dressed in black with their victims on their knees, about to be martyred. We saw even worse happen to our ambassador at the raid in Benghazi. In Paris, it happened at a concert hall filled with young people, in cafes, and at a packed soccer stadium with the President of France in the stands. ISIS has claimed responsibility and they’ve reportedly said their reason was because France “carries the banner of the Cross in Europe.” They’ve said they’re coming to London, and Munich, and Rome, and Moscow. And Washington, D.C. And I believe them.

It seems we’re on a collision course with Islamic terrorism. When we see so many innocent victims slaughtered and raped and tortured, we get angry. How many more of these attacks do we have to endure? Are we going to stand by wringing our hands until those men dressed in black show up on our own front doors? In America? Isn’t it time we took this war to them? After all, we’ve fought Muslim armies before, and on their own turf. Remember the Crusades? And the Ottoman Empire?

How did those wars work out for the Christian West? Temporary victories in many cases. We see the shape the Middle East is in today. And the decline of the Ottoman Empire was a long, slow, ethnic slaughter that devolved into World War I. A war today would guarantee an extraordinary loss of life on both sides. So what do we do? As Christians, what can we do to defeat ISIS?

As individuals, we pray. We pray for peace and conversion. We pray for our political leaders, that they’ll protect us and keep our country safe. As a Church, we continue to preach the Gospel and show love and mercy to the least of our brothers. We continue to send out missionaries who are called to be Christ to anyone who needs to hear it. Including ISIS. Europe and the Americas were made Christian by the examples of our missionaries (sorry, Conquistadors).  

Does being a follower of Christ mean that we never take up arms to defend innocent life? No. For thousands of years, the Church has understood and taught that there are legitimate reasons to fight. This is called the “just war doctrine.” I’m no theologian, but I understand it like this: Violence should never be the first option. War must be carried out by the legitimate civil authority which seeks the common good. War must be in self-defense and to stop further violence. It must carry a reasonable possibility of success. The terms of war must be proportional to the threat. The people must support the action. War can’t target innocents or kill hostages. War is the last resort, when all efforts at dialogue and negotiation has failed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church details this teaching in paragraph 2509. No matter how you define it, one of my all-time least-favorite people got it right when General Sherman said: “War is hell.”

So here is where we find ourselves. Watching a growing, concerted and effective terrorist army declare war on the West, and on Christians in particular. Innocent people, including babies, are being murdered every day in many countries. Hundreds of thousands are fleeing the very parts of the world where ISIS is coming to power and they want to be our neighbors. Can we let them in, and still be safe? Can we turn them away and still be Christian? Is a war our next step to stop the terrorists who have declared that we are in their crosshairs? We’re less than a year away from electing our next President in what will be an historic election for our country. And every day we hear the call of Christ in our hearts: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God”(Matthew 5:9). I don’t have the answers. I just know that we have to protect the innocent without forgetting the Gospel. And we’re running out of time, standing in a river of blood, praying for peace.  

“The purpose of all wars is peace.”

              —St. Augustine 

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