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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Blessed are the Weapons Experts

This question from a reader has had me stewing in my own juice for days. I have had it on the back burner since before Halloween and now that the stove is finally clean again and the candy fog and election frenzy has passed, I'm ready to tackle it.

Brace yourself. Ironically, some people will be angry at my response.

Here's my question: in an email exchange with my uncle, he brought up the idea that the Church can not support a "just war" and follow a pacifist Jesus. I know that we are supposed to live nonviolent lives. But I wonder, is Jesus a pacifist?

The easy answer: Yes, of course Jesus was a pacifist. What about the myriad things Jesus said about love, healing, turning the other cheek, meek people inheriting the earth, loving one's ENEMIES ( not tolerating, loving as God loves them), telling Peter to put down his sword, changing "Thou Shalt Not Kill" to include "thou shalt not harbor anger", don't people understand?

The Church, by the way, does support a Just War. I'll let you go read up on that. Use the Google. It's in the internet tubes.

I just want to talk about Jesus the pacifist. Every time this topic comes up, somebody will drag
out the Gospel of John and wave it in our faces. During His last week, Jesus got really upset about the money changers at the temple. What was that about?

The Romans made everyone they conquered use Roman currency. The Jewish people had to use their own currency at the Temple according to Jewish law. Here you have people showing up at the Temple from miles around to make an animal sacrifice of some type (a dove, or whatever). They are carrying Roman currency because they have to do that according to Roman law. They can't drag the animals they are going to sacrifice with them from whence they came.

So the Jews show up at the Temple, change their currency, purchase a dove or whatever and head in to the Temple.

What was Jesus so mad about? First of all, the moneychangers were right on the Temple steps. They didn't even have the good taste to go down the block. On top of that, the money changers were charging a fee. Like an ATM. Think about an big old ATM in the back of the church and you'll get an idea of how Jesus was feeling. I have heard that there are ATM's at the back of some churches. Who are people kidding with that?

So in two of the Gospels, Jesus throws a fit and flips over the tables and tells everyone to get out.

But in the Gospel of John that I have waved in my face (by people who apparently love to think of Jesus with an AK 47 and won't hear otherwise), Jesus actually makes himself a whip and drives the money changers out.

"And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables." (John 2:14-15)

So Jesus has a weapon. We can't pretend He didn't have a weapon.

You might notice, however, that the Gospel doesn't say he beat anyone. He drove them out. He probably never even hit anyone with the whip.

Jesus' whip did not fly through the air and kill anyone. It didn't drop out of the sky and take out a family having dinner. It merely drove out the money changers. They lived to tell the tale. They probably came back and set up their tables as soon as Jesus left. They are there as we speak, collecting ATM fees.

Are we really going to sit here and pretend that one incident trumps every thing else Jesus did and said about how He would like us to behave toward each other. Please.

Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read it over and over and over again. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Not enough evidence? There were people that walked the earth with Jesus. Most of them were eventually hauled off and killed. No one rose up as a mighty army and tried to stop that from happening. Not Peter, not Paul, not St. Iganitius. They followed the path of Jesus, who stopped His disciples from fighting for His life. The legency continued. St. Agnes and St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Stephen and St. Sebastian, young people and old people torn to shreds by lions, hanged upside down, burned as human torches, beheaded, drowned, beaten and tortured.

No one ever fought. No one. Why? They were followers of Jesus. Jesus asked that His followers turn the other cheek and pray for their enemies, so they did. Then they were torn to shreds by lions and made into human torches.

Were they all just stupid and naive? Poor things.

It seems people can't deal with the idea that peace and love are powerful. Strange, since at the basis of all the great faiths is the idea that love is more powerful than hate. Good is more powerful than evil.

Don't believe me. Here's what the Pope had to say about Jesus and the money changers:

The power Jesus demonstrated was the power of love, which heals and reconciles, Pope Benedict XVI said. "He did not come as one who destroys; he did not come with the revolutionary's sword. He came with the gift of healing," the pope said March 16 as he celebrated Mass on Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square.

You might want to wave that statement at your uncle, since he seems to believe that the church does not want Jesus to seem as though He is a pacifist. I beg to differ.

Here is today's nun.
Sr. Mary Cabrini (Brown Josephite) from West Wallsend, NSW

Jumpin' Jehosephite!


Anonymous said...

Sister Mary Martha,

Was Jesus a pacifist? Whilst your arguments are convincing I just don’t think they tell the whole story. To start I think I am safe in supposing we agree that Jesus is the same Jesus in the beginning, now and forever not changing, there is a serious school of thought that thinks it was Jesus who made many of the angelic walk on parts of the O/T, be that as it may, no one can say that the many acts of Devine Retribution in the O/T were benign. I’m not considering the justice behind them, just that they occurred and were, let’s face it, violent acts carried out on the victims from the divine Jesus. In short the same Jesus who suffered the most grievous violence of the cross was not adverse to inflicting it when He saw fit..

As for the Martyrs, they didn’t want to die, they didn’t volunteer for death (well some did, St Maximilian Kolbe but they are the exception) and as you said, they didn’t raise a hand in their own defence, but they died because they would not deny Christ, not through inaction to defend the lives of others. And that is the knotty question. Would Jesus the pacifist condemn someone for defending their own life, even at the expense of the attackers’ life? If murder is prohibited, is it right to prevent it when attacked by the use of violence or should one submit to ones own death without resistance for no better reason that being a pacifist. And what if defending another from attack, a family member say, did Jesus intend us to stand by a let it happen and not use violence if that is the only way to intervene in their defence, and not judge others for murder lest we be judged.

You see I can’t see Jesus the King of Life, who died so that we can all have life, the Jesus who, when it was his will, killed so many in the O/T, changing so much in N/T terms, it just doesn’t make sense. For example is Matthew 10:34, historical, prophecy, parable or allusions, whatever, it’s not very pacifist. So you see I just don’t think you have covered all the bases on this, not that I dare contradict a Nun, no sir I’m not that brave.

Thanks for your Bloggins. Mark (UK)

messy bessy said...

A very helpful and enlightening post. But my question now is, in what sense as citizens can we approve of our country's prudential decision to go to war, while still working to promote peace? I ask this earnestly.

There are many people who seem to protest all war, as if they had all the same information that the top gov't officials have; the Church seems to say that there might be cases where actively fighting is required, and that it would be the duty of the people elected for that purpose to determine when those cases occur.

In short, most of us -- war protesters or hawks -- don't have much knowledge of how much danger any international situation presents, at least in relation to the knowledge of the president and Congress. And the major media doesn't always present us with balanced reportage.

Smiley said...

Just War = Lepanto.
Read up church history on this grand battle. Yes there i such a thing as just war.
As for Peace, Jesus himself said:

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled: nor let it be afraid. - This indicates that the peace of Christ is unlike the worlds concept of peace.

Mathhew 34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; 36 and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' F46 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I was raised atheist and never read this passage until I was in my mid-20s, but I always thought that Jesus made the scourge (whip) to get the cattle out of the temple. His words were enough to drive out the people -- and as you said, He never hit a person with it. He may never have hit the cattle with it, but only waved it around to spook them into going in the correct direction.

Anonymous said...

that picture of Jesus and the snipper is very interesting. I dont think I would ever picture our protector in that way.

Anonymous said...

Peace and love ARE powerful - so is your blog - I especially appreciate your sense of humor (not necessarily in this post, but the one before, for sure).

Jade Dunlop said...

So, can you be a Catholic and be in the army? If you are a Catholic and are in the army and your country tries to get involved in a war that the Vatican has deemed 'unjust' can you withdraw your services on religious grounds?

Anonymous said...


Nice blog u got here sister...chk out mine too

Baron Korf said...

I'm afraid this might be an over simplification of things. First, pacifism connotes doing nothing. As I heard it once said (might have been Fr. Corapi but don't quote me on that) Being 'nice' is not being Christian, but being 'good' is. 'Nice' wants to be liked, 'good' does what is right.

For the money changers, the gospel doesn't say either way, so we have a freedom to believe either way. I don't see a discontinuity if he did hit them.

This bigger concern for me is the example of Peter in the garden. I believe that is neither here nor there on this issue. Christ had already told him what was going to happen and rebuked Peter for trying to stop it. This scene is just a continuation of that rebuke. So I doubt it was a matter of being a pacifist as much as the Crucifixition was the reason Christ came into the world.

I have grappled with the issue of Just War, pacifism, and violence in general for many years. I do not claim to have the answers but I have a certain perspective on it. The Christian soldier does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. Also the image of a shepherd is one of a protector against predators as much as it is a leader of lambs. There are spiritual beasts out there like Lucifer trying to kill the spirit, but he also employs physical beasts to destroy the body. While we should not fear those who cannot kill the soul, it cannot be denied that when we see others killed or harmed, it often weakens the spirits of others, if not our own.

A father should defend his home and family; a country should defend its citizens. We should not hate our enemies, and we should find the most peaceful way of resolving issues. At the same time, its it loving our neighbor to let them fall prey to the jackals of the world when we can do something about it?

Janelle said...

Just a quick suggestion for the Peter in the garden problem: When the sons of Zebedee (Mk 10) and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt 20) ask Jesus for places of honor, Jesus implies their martyrdom.

Unknown said...


I am not a Catholic, and couldn't pretend to be if I tried, but I have always been very attracted to the Catholic faith. The use of symbolism and ritual has always been beautiful to me, and I have been lucky enough to attend mass with friends of mine a few times. I just wanted to say hello and that I absolutely love your blog. You give Catholics a wonderful name :) This entry in particular is fabulous!

Anonymous said...

well not even the Vatican is privy to top secret info that the govt possesses, and the govt doesn't share for national security reasons, so I don't think anyone could say with certainty that a war wasn't just unless the govt made a statement that they were going to war for their own amusement.

Anonymous said...

Baron Korf-

Wonderfully put. Read Chesterton by any chance?

Mark and smiley-

Great points as well.

Does anyone remember the story of the newly formed Christians having just this debate in the O/T? They're holed up in the mountains, and people are coming en masse to kill them for their beliefs. They argue Jesus' stance on whether they should be passive, and allow their own martyrdoms, or fight back. They're indecisive until one of them makes the very logical point that, (at that time there weren't many Christians), if they were to simply succumb, they weren't doing Christ any favors by letting any followers of his be obliterated without even a fight. They decided they would do more good in continuing on, and spreading Christ's message rather than keeping it for themselves in martyrdom.

Think the Crusades. Think Lepanto. Read the Catechism. There are absolutely good grounds for war and violence, if those grounds are actually morally driven, for a moral end.

Anonymous said...

The more I think about it, the more complex the situation seems. Jesus lived at a time when the Jews were suffering under Roman occupation. Some of the Jews, including maybe Judas, and certainly Barabbas, wanted to mount an armed rebellion to overthow the Romans. This had been attempted earlier, and as a result, a lot of the insurgents were crucified. Then, it was tried a few years after Jesus' death/resurrection, and the result was a complete disaster, with the destruction of the Temple. So, I can see why Jesus didn't think the rebellion was a prudent idea. But how much can you apply that to later historical events? Does that mean we shouldn't have had an armed struggle against British rule? I think the Church is right to try to give us some Just War criteria to work with.

Having said that, the Popes (Benedict as well as John Paul) disgreed with some of the US military ventures, but they also said that we have a responsibility to the countries we've occupied to stay long enough to stablize them. Like I said, it seems to me like there's no easy answer.

On a completely different topic, can you discuss Black Madonnas? I've heard of Our Lady of Czestojova (I know I spelled that wrong. I mean the Polish one.) Why would Poland have a Black Madonna? Was she always black? I've heard there are others, elsewhere in Europe. What's up with that?


Anonymous said...

Thanks be to G_d! There's more than a little common sense left in this world, as well as a truly Christ-inspired internet access to Christian teaching!
Mary Augustine

The Ironic Catholic said...

Sister, this is great. As a professor who teaches this subject, you nailed the "driving out the moneychangers" thing pretty well. And it is the thing people bring up constantly.

One addition, implied in your answer--the driving out whip cord was commonly used for herding (interesting that The Shepherd uses it, hmm?)--it's not like it's a Saturday night special.

Folks, you want Just War Theory, poor sister is going to have to write a book, not a post!

Janelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karina Fabian said...

This was the reading today, as I'm sure you know. Our priest said that Jesus's indignation came from the fact that they moneychangers and the oxen and dove traders had set up shop in the gentile prayer area of the temple.

Anonymous said...

And so the youngest successful leader of a victorious army - in all of human history - never participated in a just war? St. Joan of Arc, and her sword, would beg to differ.

Christ also flung over the tables that men were doing business on. Jesus didn't gently lay those tables down, did he? He messed up all their money, making them...not happy. Do you really think that they smiled meekly and walked away? I think Jesus must have been highly emotionally charged, to put it simply.

And so can a Catholic be a pacifist? If a gunman has his weapon held to your mother's (son's, etc.) head and you've got the ability to pick up a gun and shoot him dead, do you have a moral obligation to do so?

Maybe you should speak to a military priest about this. After all, it is a soldier's own words we quote at every mass. Pacifism cannot square with the honorable, noble and valorous vocation of being part of the military.

Baron Korf said...

I haven't read as much Chesterton as I would like, but I have read some. The quote about the soldier loving what's behind him is his. So too is "War is not 'the best way of settling differences'; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you."

War is much like the death penalty. It is within the authority of the State, but should be used only in circumstances that require it in order to protect the lives of the innocent.

Jeanne G said...

Sister, I need some advice.

My daughter is gay. I love her dearly, but she has asked for my support on Proposition 8 (the one just passed that marriage is between one man and one woman). I voted yes on Prop 8.

My child is trying to get me to "see" that a civil marriage between she and her female partner is DIFFERENT than my "religious" belief - marriage is only between one man and one woman. She says I have voted for discrimination. Is there a separation of Church and state on this issue as she claims?

How do I respond without alienating her? I feel as though she's making me choose between her and God (which she denies).

Anonymous said...

Sister Mary Martha.. do you have any comments or opinions about the book and movie The Secret Life of the Bees" I LOVED them.. and especially the sister's devotion to Mary!!

Monica... you should become Catholic!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Sister Jem - I live in Ontario, where we've had the right for gays to participate in civil marriage for some time now. As per my understanding, civil marriage, whether it's between same-sex or different-sex partners is not a valid marriage in the eyes of the church anyway. My fiance was married once before, but only by a civil marriage. (Obviously, he is since divorced!) I asked my priest if we could be married in the catholic church, and he said yes, because in the eyes of God, my fiance was never technically married beforehand.

The point is, a civil marriage is different than a religious marriage - a separation of church and state. I believe that in order to be married in the Catholic faith (and many others) that the 1 man 1 woman rule should apply. However, personally, since a civil marriage is not a marriage sanctified by God to begin with, that rule need not be applied in some cases.

Anonymous said...

I have an off-topic question for you, sister:

There is a wonderful nun at our parish that has been of significant help this year. I would love to get her something, but I have no clue what she might like- is there anything you know of that nuns may appreciate which isn't religious in nature? I'm sure she has enough habits and socks :).

I'd like it to be a surprise, and that's why I'm having trouble. I like the idea of a spiritual bouquet- do you think she'd even know what it was?
Do you guys like to watch TV? I'm thinking of getting her Monk season 1, too (I realize this would probably fall under "give to order and share," that's fine with me, if she doesn't mind).
I just wonder if there is anything that people never think of you guys would really enjoy. A nice bottle of wine? Tickets to a movie? etc...

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister - This is my first visit to you blog. Very interesting... though, I have to admit I was asking myself, "is this a real sister?" Anyway, you are right, Jesus was not a pacifist and neither are Catholics. We do fight when needed. One thing to note about the times we saw Jesus' temper/anger was when there was an injustice being done to another. He didn't fight for himself. He was always willing to give for others. We see that at the temple (the injustice regarded the right-relationship with God the Father) and in other stories too like when he stood up for the woman being stoned etc. When the offense was against him - he was calm - like when he healed the ear of the solider in the garden. A good lesson to learn, I think. We often fight for ourselves and turn our back on others.

TO MARY - we would be delighted if you became Catholic. I will be praying for you!

Love in Christ,
Mary Herboth

Come and Visit us!

Anonymous said...

To Sister Jem:

I'm sorry to hear about the trouble you are having with your daughter. I don't think there is an easy answer. All I can think of to say is maybe you have to let your daughter go like the father in the story of the prodigal son, or when Jesus told Judas to do what he had to do. Ultimately the things we do either bring us closer to God or move us away from him. It takes a life time to figure out which is which! Maybe the separation you feel with your daughter will work as a sign to her of what an actively gay lifestyle does to the soul. Her choice brings a type of separation with her mom - someone she can see and someone she knows loves her. But her choice also brings a type of separation between her and God -someone she can not see. Both you and God have open arms for your daughter to return at any moment. Let her know that the bridge wouldn't be burned. In time she may return and your unity will be based on the truth of Christ. In anycase, I'm sorry for the pain and I will pray that God gives you guidance.

Oh - about the question on the separation between church and state: on a purely civil basis society has a right to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Catholic support of this definition can be made on an argument of the natural law. We can show how a standard for marriage is good for society and does not harm the good of a a homosexual couple who already have their rights protected under the law.


Anonymous said...

God helps those who helps themselves.

If that means defending yourself with a weapon, then so be it.

This whole diatribe about peace and love only works in a utopian world where you are dealing with a rational animal.

Anonymous said...

Sr Jem,

catholic education resource guide (Ithink it's called) has a fairly comprehensive answer to your question. I printed it out so I could study it but my printer cut off the last word in each line so I have to reformat it and try again. The parts I read though were very good.


I guess because I don't thing the Vatican may have all the top secret info I can't be in good standing in the church. Better get myself to confession.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I would also appreciate advice on gifts for religious. We tend toward wine and movie-theatre gift certificates, like anonymous, but we would love to have better ideas.

Anonymous said...

Lucille, my first husband and I were "only married in a civil ceremony" but when I wanted to remarry after his death I had to produce marriage certificate, divorce papers, and death certificate before I could marry in the Catholic church. I guess it depends on your pastor.

Nan said...

Sr Jem, separation of church and state is in contrast to England having a church that's part of the state, run by the state, controlled by the state, discriminating against all other religions and precipitating departure for more amenable locations. All it means is that church and state operate separately and is why there's a prohibition on ministers and priests politicking from the pulpit.

It has absolutely nothing to do with your vote. You vote in your capacity of an individual, not as a representative of the church. If your views are aligned with those of your church (which is to be expected), that's not about state.

Your daughter doesn't seem to have a complete understanding of the concept; churches are free to support and oppose individual issues. In any case, gay or straight, your vote isn't her business.

cathmom5 said...

Having been in the American military, I have seen the wonderful men and women who support their country. I don't think the issue IS one of pacifism. I don't agree with complete or extreme pacifism. I am sorry but I don't agree that Jesus would be for that form of pacifism either. I don't believe Jesus wants us to sit on our hands and do nothing about the evil in the world.

I once had an arguement with a pacifist on an online group I belong to. He equated Christians in the military to whores. He even believed that Jesus expects us to "sacrifice" our children if they are threatened by violence. We are not to defend ourselves or our children if threatened. I cannot agree that that is what Jesus wants. Sacrificing ourselves for Jesus' sake is one thing but "sacrificing" a child to a violent predator is a completely different matter.

As for just war, I cannot agree that it is in the same category with the death penalty. I am of the same mind and John Paul the Great on that issue. That it should only be used in very extreme cases--cases where the offender is so violent that his life needs to be ended so that others lives are not endangered.

However, just war is not the same as that. Defending against evil, defending those who can't defend themselves, defending our own country from being bombed...I see those as justifications for defense. I do not believe there is justification for starting a war for aggrandizement or just because we're offended by another country. But, come on, not fight an enemy so obviously evil that we see him kill innocent people every day?

What about Rwanda? Why did NO ONE go in and help all those people being hacked to death? 10s of 1000s of people were killed just because they were the wrong tribe. Why didn't anyone help those people? Because it was none of our business...sad. IF there is any justification for "just war" that was it.

As for 9/11, if we did nothing, the muslim extremists just see us a weaklings and strike again. I don't understand why people don't see that? The muslim extremists only see weak and strong. That is it. You can't ask them for peace unless you are willing to be dominated by them. You can't shake there hand unless you are willing to have it chopped off. You can't negotiate with people who are so single-minded in their hatred. Is there a better way than war? We need to ask God that. But in the meantime, that does NOT mean we roll over and let them do whatever they want--including killing, rape, torture, human bombing, etc. Talk DOES NOT stop these people--they ONLY see it is as weakness.

Satan is at his best right now. We need to meet the challenge with prayer AND action.