The Church in War

This Sunday’s liturgy has a most curious juxtaposition. On the one hand we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Papal Archbasilica of Christ, St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist at the Lateran, “the Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City [of Rome] and of the World”, that is, the Cathedral of Rome. In a sense we celebrate with grandeur the feast of the Universal Church herself.

On the other hand, we also celebrate remembrance Sunday, calling to mind and praying for all those who have given their lives in warfare. Those terrible episodes in human history are all too present still today.

This should give us pause to consider how the Church whose feast we celebrate relates to the horrors of the wars which we remember.

There is a tension here. The Church proclaims justice, and exhorts us to defend those who cannot defend themselves. On occasion it is necessary and appropriate to use force to do so. At the same time the Church proclaims a Gospel of peace; her head and founder is the lamb who went meekly to the slaughter (cf. Acts 8:32 and Isaiah 53:7). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9); and yet blessed too “are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”, by all legitimate means, “for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Whether or not a particular war can be justified, and whether or not it is fought in a just manner, the Church is rightly there in the midst of war. She is there praying for peace. She is there ministering to those who must fight. She is there ministering to those who suffer. She is there to proclaim Christ’s final victory even in the midst of the most pointless of wars.

We say that “she”, the Church, is doing all these things; not the Lateran Basilica, but a building made of living stones, made of us. We must do all these things. Pray for peace. Minister to combatants and the suffering. But above all proclaim Christ who conquers all and calls all to the heavenly liturgy which which we but glimpse today.

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