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A Note From Fr. Timothy

Opening the Catechism

I hope that many of you are taking the opportunity to go through the Catechism of the Catholic Church this year with Fr. Mike Schmitz and the Catechism in a Year Podcast through Ascension Press.  Much like the Bible in a year they did previously, it breaks what otherwise could be an intimidating book into much more manageable sections.  It combines prayer and reflection on the topics of the day with the readings themselves, and is a great way to grow deeper in our understanding of the Catholic faith.  They are still fairly early in the year, and there is plenty of time to catch up, or pick up with today’s podcast and continue with it for the rest of the year.

The Catechism itself, along with the podcast, are also meant to have practical aspects for the way we live out our faith.  It is not just academic or intellectual content, but in its spiritual and moral content helps inform and guide the decisions we face each day of our lives. 

As the world marked the one year anniversary of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, I am reminded of the section in the Catechism on Safeguarding Peace (CCC 2302-2317) which includes a clear description of what is often called “just war doctrine” that can help form our perspective on the war and our responses to it.

Just war doctrine is the criteria for determining when it is permissible (justifiable) to engage in legitimate defense by a military force.  The Church recognizes that all citizens and governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war, but that since the danger of war persists, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense once all peace efforts have failed (CCC 2308). 

Because of the seriousness of war and its many consequences, governments and their people must rigorously consider the moral legitimacy of the use of force.  CCC 2309 lays out these conditions clearly for the world’s consideration:  It is important to determine that all other means of putting an end to the aggression must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.  The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community must be lasting, grave, and certain.  There must be serious prospects of success.  And the use of violence must not produce evils more grave than the evil to be eliminated.

It is important to remember also that just because one side of conflict might not be justified (be an “unjust” aggressor), it does not automatically mean that the other side is automatically “just”.  It is possible for each party to act unjustly in a war, or for one party to justly respond to violence at the beginning of the war only to unjustly escalate or prolong it at the end.  Both sides must carefully consider these conditions for just war and continue to reflect on them as situations change. 

It is also difficult for individuals who do not have available to them all the classified information and security briefings of a nation to state with certainty a particular conflict is just or unjust.  But, by and large, these things can be applied to guide us as we address these issues in our lives or talk about them with others.  They can and should inform policy decisions.  They should inspire conversations of people and populations to speak up to curb the excesses of violence in their own nation and in the world community.

Life should be cherished, and the loss of troops and civilians should be considered tragic, even when it is at times might be necessary.  But those decisions must be tempered by reason and not revenge.   

   Fr. Timothy Gapinski