Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Father Joe: a look at war and peace, love and hate

My older brother (giver of good books) recently entrusted me with a copy of Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul -- one of his favorite texts. The book recounts a powerful journey of faith, but most of all, it demonstrates the awesome, subtle, and transforming power of love.

About halfway through the book, Tony Hendra (the author) and Father Joe discuss militarism and the destructive power of hate. Hendra is a teenager at the time, and filled with a teenager's black-and-white conviction. I think I hear myself (a little too much) in his anger and his judgment:
"Father Joe, I believe that war is not just some neutral thing that happens, like the weather. War is sin committed by certain people. A certain kind of person will always try to find ways around the Fifth Commandment because of their terrible need to kill. These men are called 'soldiers.' They exist in any tribe, nation, empire, or superpower, and wherever they're found, they're the same murderous parasites. People whose lives can only be fulfilled by crushing the life out of another. They call themselves heroes but they're actually diabolical lunatics who arrogate to themselves the power that belongs to God alone -- the power to end life."

"You could be right, Tony dear, about military men and their motives. But you must remember: military men too are children of God, loved by God, candidates for salvation. Even mass murderers, if they want forgiveness and reach out for it, can be forgiven."

"They don't want forgiveness, Father Joe. They hate forgiveness. It prevents war. They're a brotherhood that cuts across all beliefs, all causes, all interests, all politics, all patriotisms. Their greatest enemy is not, as they argue, another nation's military, for it is another nation's miliary that gives them their raison d'etre. Their true enemy is us, people of peace, like this boy called Piggy in The Lord of the Flies who resists death and embraces life, who doesn't want to murder or to die. And whom the soldiers of the tribe therefore murder . . ."

"Tony, dear, you sound angry. Very angry. Like a military man speaking with hate of his enemy. War involves terrible sins, and it arises more often than not from hate. But you can't conquer one sin with another, hate with more hate. It only makes hate stronger. Love alone can conquer hate."

He took my hand between his. The usual warmth flowed into me, and as I relaxed I realized how pumped up I'd been, how cold and hard and alien I had made myself to get my point across. How in some way I could not discern, dishonest.

". . . Remember: God's grief at the unspeakable things we do to one another is beyond measuring, but so is his mercy. It might seem a terrible thing to say to people who've lost and suffered so much at the hands of hatred and violence. But true courage is not to hate our enemy, any more than to fight and kill him. To love him, to love in the teeth of his hate -- that is real bravery. That ought to earn people m-m-medals."

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