Homily - Bishop Kennedy ANZAC Homily

25 April 2016 

Anzac Day                    2016 Armidale

Earlier this month a Vatican conference co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi questioned the Catholic Church's long-held teachings on “Just War Theory”, saying it has too often been used to justify violent conflicts. The participants of the event called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other "major teaching document”, to reorient the Church's teachings on war and violence. We await what the Pope might do or say.

The “Just War Theory” was originally developed by Saint Augustine in the fourth century and was quickly taken up by the Church and. It has been used by many nations for many centuries to determine whether or not to go to war. It outlines four conditions:

  1. The threat from the aggressor must be certain, serious, and lasting
  2. All other peaceful means of putting an end to the threat must be tried first
  3. There must be serious prospects of success
  4. Once at war, the use of weapons and force must not produce greater evils than those evils you are trying to eliminate by going to war.

Clearly these criteria relate to going to war to defend or protect oneself or to defend or protect someone who can’t defend or protect themselves. The 4 conditions seem pretty common sense to me and to most people I think. It goes without saying that Christianity has no tradition or teaching to cover a war of aggression, but only a war of defense. To defend oneself is natural; to attack another is irrational madness, a consequence of Original Sin and our resultant fallen human nature.

Yet, I think the people at the conference are onto something. Maybe the name “Just War” sends the wrong message. As Cardinal George Pell said in his Anzac Day homily in Rome last year: “While I and most Christians believe a just war is possible, we are compelled by the evidence to insist that war is always terrible.”

A couple of years ago, on the centenary of the outbreak of World War I Pope Francis travelled to the Northern Italian province of Gorizia whose countryside saw so much bloodshed and death in that terrible war. In his homily he said: “After experiencing the beauty of travelling throughout this region, where men and women work and raise their families, where children play and the elderly dream, I now find myself here, in this place, near this cemetery, able to say only one thing: War is madness. Whereas God carries forward the work of creation, and we men and women are called to participate in his work, war destroys. It also ruins the most beautiful work of his hands: human beings.”

I agree. War is always a tragedy. Let’s look at World War I as an example since it is the war that gave birth to Anzac Day. It was apocalyptic in terms of human casualties: 17 million people died of whom 10 million were soldiers and 7 million were civilians. At least 61,000 Australian soldiers were killed in that terrible, so called “Great” war! Given our nation’s relatively small population at the time of around four and a half million this figure represented the second highest death rate per population of all nations involved in the war. The highest death rate was suffered by New Zealand.  Such tragic loss of human life and the affect upon their families, communities, and nations, will always be hard to justify.

It will be interesting to see what Pope Francis might eventually say about the “Just War Theory”. Whatever he says, I suspect it will be in keeping with the magisterial teachings of the Church over the past 50 years which have emphasised the importance of attaining a “just and lasting peace” rather than a “just war”. The Church has been urging all nations and all individuals to work for a just and lasting peace. Central to the Church’s teachings is that we will not attain this peace without Jesus Christ, without rooting our efforts in Him. As Jesus said to us in today’s Gospel: “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give.” (John 14:27) Only Christ can give us a just and lasting peace.

We all know that Anzac Day does not glorify war; it abhors and laments war. Anzac Day is the day of the year more than any other in Australia that prompts us to remember all those who have died or who are suffering because of war and to pray for them. This is a good thing. Anzac Day is also the day more than any other in our nation which prompts Australians to pray for peace and to work for peace. This too is a good thing. And because adversity so often brings out the best in people, Anzac Day is probably also the day more than any other in Australia which prompts us to reflect on and be grateful for those positive qualities and characteristics which mark us as a nation. This too is a good thing.

Today’s Second Reading prompts me to recall just one of these Australian qualities: the ability to be able to make friends with former enemies. We read in Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “He (Jesus) is the peace between us, and has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart. … He united them both in a single body and reconciled them with God.” (Ephesians 2:14)

This passage refers to Jesus uniting together in his own self the Jews and Gentiles. He united them in his body on the cross, and in fact the early Church, the “Mystical Body of Christ” was made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

It is so easy to fall into the ‘us and them’ mentality. People may think “There is ‘us’ the Jew and then there are ‘them’, everybody else, the Gentiles”; or “There is ‘us’ the Catholics and then there are ‘them’, everybody else who are out to get us”; or again “There are ‘us’ Australians and then there are ‘them’, everybody else who are our enemies”. This ‘us and them’ mentality starts wars and keeps hostilities alive. The only way war will ever be finished with is when we all see that as God’s children there is only “us” and no “them”.

Thank God, Australia recovers from the ‘us and them’ mentality very quickly after a war. I observe that Australia as a nation enjoys good relationships with all those nations we have faced across the battlefield of war, and individual Australians also enjoy good relationships with citizens from nations who for brief periods of time have been called our “enemies”. We Australians in general do not hold a grudge. A number of these citizens from former so-called “enemy” countries even choose to live here and become Australian citizens. Thus the two become one! May we always be a nation willing and ready to be reconciled with others!

So today we pray for our fallen; we pray for the suffering; we pray for their families; we pray for peace; and we pray for reconciliation. And whilst the realist in me thinks that due to Original Sin and our fallen human nature we will always have war (in a similar way to which Jesus said “you will always have the poor” (Matthew 26:11) we still strive, act, and pray for a world in which a ‘just war’ will never again be needed.

Apple Google Play