John 15: 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
During a recent monologue on the changing situation in Iraq, comedian Jon Stewart lampooned conservative pundits for their use of the phrase “seeds of democracy” to justify the 2003 invasion. I know not everyone will appreciate Jon Stewart as much as I do, but I think he hit on a solid point. In 2003 America did plant the seeds for Iraq’s future. We hoped and prayed these seeds would bloom into a more just and peaceful Middle East. Today we find Iraq is once again being rocked by terrorists. Their organization is growing in number and in wealth. The sectarian divide is worsening. Extreme religious views are intensifying. Violence and injustice are blooming in Iraq.
Did we plant the wrong seeds?
It doesn’t take much work to make a case that our new worst enemy, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [better known as ISIS] blossomed from our original invasion. ISIS was first birthed from its parent groups during the insurgency. It took root and resisted all forms of military weeding for 8 years [2003-2011]. Today the ISIS has bloomed into the wealthiest organizational group in the world.
The Gospel teaches us that it is our root that decides what our fruits are. Where is the root of terror in Iraq?
ISIS is fighting to create a Sunni Caliphate, a state led by a single prophetic figure head in direct accordance with divine law. They are promoting their own image of the kingdom of heaven, and in their warped minds, the only way to build this kingdom is through violence. To some degree this false violent faith has always been at the root of the conflict in the Middle East.
As Catholics it is tempting to claim this is a flaw with Islam. But that is not what I am trying to imply. In fact all faiths can become warped by violent beliefs. In Rwanda in the 90’s Catholic priests used Catholic parishes as tools for genocide. No, this really is a question of where our faith is rooted. But true faith always moves us toward peace. The word Islam is derived from a word for peace and safety. On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus [who is also a prophet in Islam] clearly instructed his followers to refrain from violence.
Matthew 16:52 ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. … how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’
A true faith is rooted in Christ, who is love, and can never be a violent faith. But false faith and true faith both have one thing in common. They are powerful forces that cannot be defeated by arms alone. Think of all the Catholic martyrs. Would they give up their faith at the point of a gun? Is a suicide bomber likely to have his heart softened by the threat of arms? Perhaps this is why no matter how deep our military cuts into these terrorist blossoms, they always grow back. We are not affecting the weeds at the root.
Some of you are probably objecting and asking “…doesn’t the Church allow for a just war?” In modern contexts many Catholics have suggested the Just War Doctrine is no longer valid. One of the many tests of the Doctrine is that the use of arms must not produce evil and disorder graver than the evil to be eliminated. In the era of weapons of mass destruction, the plausible outcomes of war have increased astronomically. In the events leading up to the original Iraq war, Cardinal Ratzinger [who we now know as Pope Benedict] suggested a “just war” may not be possible in modern contexts.
‘…given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.’’ -Cardinal Ratzinger
But in this case I believe the just war debate is a derivation from an even more fundamental issue. Even if a well- justified military intervention in Iraq could provide a temporary reduction in injustice in the region, it won’t do what we need it to do. It won’t inspire the changes of heart needed to create a long term solution. Violence won’t plant the seeds of peace and justice in Iraq.
Isn’t that what our first invasion taught us? We overthrew Saddam. We hunted down Bin Ladin. But today terrorism is as much a part of Iraq as it ever was. We cut off the head of the weed, but we didn’t get the root.
We did not remove their fear of the West or their intolerance for other religious viewpoints. We did not counter their belief that God’s protection came through violence and oppression. In fact, we almost certainly made that belief stronger. We reinforced that belief because we had resorted to violence to make ourselves safer.
If even the shining superpower on the hill must protect itself by gunning down every potential threat, what can we expect from smaller nations surrounded by threats on all sides? If Christians surrounded by walls of privilege plead for our leaders to turn to guns rather than wait on our Lord, how then can we condemn Muslims dwelling in the shadows of desperation? In our darkest hour we turned to guns to be our protection and our strength. Can guns be our savior as well?
So when our military cuts blossoms of religious extremism, they return with greater conviction. This in essence creates the cycle of violence that makes so many question if a war in the Middle East can ever end? Is there a better way? I believe with God’s help there is. We must sow the seeds of peace and justice in Iraq. These seeds can only come from the vine of love and mercy, and that is what we must show the people of Iraq.
I believe Pope Francis has taken some great steps towards spreading these seeds. In case you missed it, only a short while ago Pope Francis recently had a historic meeting with faith leaders from all sides of the conflict in the Middle East [Israeli leader Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew].
He brought them together to simply pray for peace. This simple gesture can teach us a lot about the seeds of justice and peace. It shows us that we do not need to agree on a single orthodoxy to share peace and tolerance. In fact the Pope and his companions showed that true faith by any name is demonstrated through love and concern for all people. The Pope and his companions demonstrated that peace will not come from our own will. We come closer to peace when we surrender our control to God’s mercy. The vigil reminded us that all our orthodoxies will point us back to love and peace. Every spiritual journey is trying to find its way back to Christ.
The Pope is also teaching us to be patient. The Pope’s prayers cast no instantaneous enchantment on the Middle East. But as Catholics we can trust Pope Francis’ prayers were answered, and in God’s time they will be fulfilled. Sometimes it seems violence produces the more immediate effects we are looking for, but that will only come back to bite us. Prayer can create results that last.
In a recent statement, Pope Francis invited all Catholics to join him in prayer for Iraq.
I invite all of you to join me in prayer for the dear Iraqi nation, above all for the victims and for those who are suffering the consequences of the growing violence, most especially the many people, including many Christians, who had to leave their homes,’ -Pope Francis
A Chaldean father from Iraq who can be counted as another one of the Pope’s allies has asked Christians in the U.S. to spend a day fasting for the people in Iraq. Please spend a day this month in prayer and fasting for the people of Iraq.
My challenge to you this post is to spread a new seed. In times of violence and injustice stay rooted in Christ’s love and mercy. Love is the only seed that can bear peace and justice that last.
John 15:16 …I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.