In light of all the increased violence in the world today and the current war in Kosovo, those words above from Palm Sunday's Gospel reading of Matthew hit home. We're referring to the passage in which Jesus rebukes one of His disciples to forsake violence when the Roman soldiers arrest Our Lord after Judas the Iscariot had betrayed his Master in the Garden of Gethsemane. Today's DAILY LITURGY highlights the value of living what Christ asks lest we might become Judases in our own way. It brings to light all the Holy Father is saying today as we experience a Holy Week full of chaos all around us. It's what Christ foretold would occur, it's what Jesus was subjected to - violence and hate. In nearly two thousand years very little has changed. In this week when we pay special attention to the suffering the Savior of the world was subjected to and why, we must take account of our own mindset in this last year of the second millennium when it seems all hell is breaking loose.
Pope John Paul II as usual remains the one sane voice of reason in a sea of insanity, calling for peace in Kosovo and remaining the lone voice crying in the wilderness in repeating Christ's words "Put back thy sword into its sheath" (Matthew 27: 52) The Roman Pontiff today is the one man who can effect peace. He's done it before and he can do it again because God doesn't get tired! John Paul II insists on keeping open communication and diplomatic relations with Belgrade and Moscow because therein lie the key to returning to the peace table. Who knows, Rome could play a critical role in ending the current war. Many may say that is unrealistic and that the only way to stop the atrocities is by throwing more atrocities on those committing the atrocities. Hurling bad upon bad is being unrealistic and unwise. Yet most of the world consider the Pope unrealistic! Was Jesus unrealistic when He ordered His disciple to put away his sword? No, because as Our Lord said, "Dost thou suppose that I cannot entreat My Father, and He will even now furnish me with more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 27: 53) And so the Holy Father continues his unyielding crusade for the culture of life against all odds. Yesterday he called for all Europe to forsake the death penalty, just as he has entreated the United States to little avail. Even though he was able to effect the stay of execution for convicted killer Darrell Mease by imploring personally to Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan it had little effect for Carnahan, when petitioned by the Pope a month later, ignored the Holy Father's plea and allowed another man to face death by execution. Perhaps it wasn't politically expedient for the latter, but in the former case of Mease it was a photo op and the press and public opinion would have crucified Carnahan's political career had he said 'no' to the Pope then.
That seems to be the crux of killing and violence today - is it politically correct and expedient to political gain? This is the case throughout South America from Guatamala where nearly a year has passed and the murderer of human rights advocate and auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera has yet to be ferreted out; where the Paraguayan president was forced to resign in shame after his vice president was killed last week and questions abound as to the former's involvement. This is the case everywhere in Africa where civil strife strikes at more than half of the newer nations of the dark continent - from the Congo to the Sudan, from Angola to Sierra Leone - violence and murders are occurring at alarming rates and many religious are being caught in the crossfire, many being used as hostages by one side or the other. This is the case in India, Indonesia and the Philippines where Christians are under fire by Hindu and Muslim radicals and where Christians retaliate with the sword, making them no better than their non-Christian counterparts. This is the case in the mideast where centuries of distrust and culture clash have prevented saner, wiser minds from meeting at the peace table. The same goes for the Balkans where resentment has run deep for the past 700 years. This all comes in the aftermath of the bitter four-year war in Bosnia and Croatia where hundreds of churches and mosques were destroyed and countless civilians - Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim were displaced or murdered. Despite all the resentment these peoples of Slavic origin hold for each other, there is even more toward outside interference; even though internally peoples on all sides have suffered, especially today in tiny Kosovo. For one - the Kosovo Albanians who, by and large proclaim Islam as their faith from the Turkish influence, claim they are being eradicated by "crazy Serbs" in a massive ethnic cleansing. The Serbs, on the other side, claim Albanian atrocities and that Kosovo's roots belong to the Yugoslavs which is mostly Russian and Greek Orthodox; in fact, they consider Kosovo their "Jerusalem." Like the crusades and the wars of Europe over the centuries that involved Popes and the papal states, Catholic king against Catholic king, and the Catholic-Protestant wars that continue to this day in Northern Ireland despite the one-year-old peace accord last Good Friday, the problems world-wide stem from cultural differences that strongly incorporate religion. In other words, in the name of God, men are slaying each other oblivious to God's law that commands "Thou shalt not kill."
And now the "new kid on the block" is muscling in on the violence: America. Regardless of the fact that the United States has been recognized this century as the "peacekeeper" as in enforcer of such, our generation of tomorrow's leaders have been weaned on violence and the sword. They have come to accept violence as common place without even wincing. This editor doesn't have to go far to discover how we have become desensitized to violence and pain. Look at the professional sports, the NFL, NHL and NBA and then there's the WWF and WCW. For those not familiar with cable or who have been spending most of their time before the Tabernacle of Jesus rather than the tabernacle of satan, the WWF stands for the World Wrestling Federation which incorporates all that is wrong with America and society today...and the kids eat it up!!! They cheer the most obscene gestures and immoral actions, they cry out for the blood of the bad guy or, in an alarming, increasing wave, encourage the bad guys against the good guys. Correct that, there are no good guys for even those who would seem good are full of invective and obscenities that defy description. This is the case for both the WWF and the WCW, a rival network of wrestling clowns and actors comprising "sports entertainment" that is perpetrated on the public by your friend and mine - the notorious Catholic-bashing Ted "Mouth of the South" Turner. These two organizations have infiltrated the market with merchandize that kids and teens clamor for and which parents cringe at when they discover what they're really getting: satan! The lord of darkness is slithering into every home through these and the blatant amoral story-lines written up for each weekly episode liberally referred to as "soap-opera for the guys." One of the "story-lines" playing out right now is about a giant of a man referred to as the "undertaker" who is a disciple of the devil and promotes satanic rituals. If this isn't bad enough, he is increasingly being cheered on wildly in his fight against the "tongue-in-cheek" corrupt establishment! What has this world come to? Violence and immunity to compassion have seeped into the home through television, movies and video games where a whole generation has become hardened to feeling for others. Rather than compassion there is a sense of invincibility through virtual supremacy and a hardened heart when it comes to the news, to the slaughter of millions of aborted babies, to the needs of those in need. We act like the Titanic and we all know what happened to that man-made wonder! Americans also thought our stealth fighters were invincible and invisible, but the cold realities of that struck home the other day. While we concern ourselves with one of our own - the stealth pilot, stirred on by sound-bites and media manipulation, we are moved to feel nothing toward others including the Serbs and Albanians at the eye of this Balkan hurricane.
What was that Indian axiom, "Walk in another man's moccasins?" All of a sudden we become righteous again, claiming we are right. Sorry, folks, but feelings of pride in being an American don't exactly come to mind right now in the face of what America professes: One nation "without God" where murder is condoned liberally through abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia and morals are for prudes. Aren't we being awful hypocritical by forcing our values, which are questionable at the most considering the aberrant behavior of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, on others? And if they don't kowtow to our demands, we play the bully. "Do it or we'll pull out our biggest guns and bomb you into submission." President, politicians, military and media types claim we must take action to stop further abuse. They fail to learn from history, as recently as Vietnam. But the bigger question is, what good has war ever brought over the long haul? It all comes back to why Jesus indicated that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. We are what we reap. When it comes to what is happening in Kosovo, we must remember neither side is totally right, neither side is all wrong. Europe has called upon NATO to stuff this annoyance under the rug of a resurging economy throughout the Old World, knowing the Europeans can rely on the powers of the New World to bail them out and do the dirty work. The latter hasn't learned from history and thus blindly goes where angels fear to tread, forgetting it was in this same region where World War I started and where World War II was spurred on; all because men opted to follow an earthly agenda rather than one that Christ promised. In defiance of His directive, they have flaunted mortality and the Heavens and in the end, their downfall will be the sword. Read whatever modern weapon you can think of to replace the sword, but it still means the same thing: a dead end road that will end in disaster and despair, much like what happened to Judas who thought he had a better idea as well. When he discovered the errors of his ways it was too late. Will it be too late for us? It will be if we don't heed the Son of God's warning from Matthew 27: 52, "All those who take up the sword will perish by the sword."