Some people think that religion is irrelevant when it comes to decisions about war or peace or economic matters. In fact, some say that religion should be kept out of any decision you make, big or small. But our readings for Mass today may indicate religion can say plenty about things big and small.
Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom offers some cautionary words about all human decisions. We’re not the smartest people when it comes to deciding things, even if we think we are. That’s true about all we decide, small or big, but it may be especially true about war and peace or the economy or politics. Here’s what the Book of Wisdom says:
Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;
but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight. (Wisdom 9,13-18)
That’s a pretty pessimistic appraisal of how we humans grasp things. We’re not too good at getting things right, here on earth or about the things of heaven. We need a lot of divine help.
Luke’s gospel today (Luke 14, 25-33) seems particularly relevant to our present situation. Jesus talks about building a house and going to war.
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”
Better be sure you have funds and resources to finish what you’re building, whether it’s the world or your own personal lives. Otherwise, you may be left with nothing. The rest of Jesus’ words are about war:
“Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?”
Better think hard before going to war.
There’s more to Jesus’ words than simple advice about having enough money for doing what you’re doing, or having a successful battle plan or exit strategy for war. We need to keep in mind the mystery of suffering. We also need to purify our ideas and motives.
That’s why the pope called for a day of prayer and fasting last Saturday. We need to pray that God’s kingdom come, not ours; that God’s will be done, not ours. We can so easily get in the way of God’s plan, slow as we are to understand things.
We need to fast too, but not from food. We need to fast from the automatic thinking we’re so used to as individuals and as a people. We need to get rid of violent thinking, violent actions, violent plans. Violence is so prevalent in our world today. We need to get rid of it, abstain from it, pray to God to exorcize it.
The pope also urged that we consider suffering and the human toll it’s taking on our world. Let me quote him:
“My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!”
We have a wonderful statue of Dorothy Day sitting on a bench outside the church where I was today. I urged the people to take a look at her as they left Mass. She believed strongly in the principles of non-violence. She spoke out against war when it was unpopular to do it. She kept close to the poor and knew the mystery of suffering.
If saints are an antidote to the poison of their time, she’s an antidote to the poison of our time. Dorothy Day, pray for us.