Monday, August 5, 2013


Does Jesus say it is our duty to use a gun, or any weapon, to defend ourselves and others?  That is a fundamental question for Christians in considering this year's controversial not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in his trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin.  It was ruled self-defense, stand your ground.  But does the church’s traditional position of justified lethal self defense, as stated by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, more than 1000 years after the Incarnation, stand true to our times.  More important, how does it stand up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
These are the words of Thomas Aquinas used in the Catholic Catechism [CCC # 2264] to support killing in self defense, Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's. This is certainly reasonable, but seems more derived from natural law than the life and teachings of Jesus.  Is preservation of life, by killing, what He came to reveal to us?
In a Sunday Gospel of this past July, Jesus tells us our care and compassion is to extend beyond our definitions of neighbor, even to the worst enemy [good] Samaritan, who in turn cared for one whom, by all rights, he shouldn't have.  This explanation of “neighbor” is in His admonition to the lawyer on the breadth of the Two Great Commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  As to His own person, Jesus chooses not to defend Himself, and dies on the cross, forgiving His enemies.

he whole section of our Catholic Catechism on the Fifth Commandment, which ranges from self defense to war, is worth reading carefully and praying about, at this juncture in our life as a country.  Its preamble, “Thou shalt not kill,” is deepened then, by including Jesus’ words in Mt 5:21-22, You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.”
To not kill, something is required.  The preparations Jesus suggests, time and again, are forgiveness and reconciliation, not time spent in consideration of how big the caliber of the gun needed, or strategies for its use.  The anger and fear that leads to killing is to be cleansed by reliance on Jesus’ merciful saving love, of which we are all desperately in need.
Crucifixion by Salvador Dali
Conflict is resolved, and evil conquered, by not taking up the violent means of the Evil One, but by perfecting the healing skills and inspired grace given by our faith in God the all-powerful.  This takes learning and dedication to a new Christ-centered way of living.  Wise as serpents gentle as doves, with all venomous snake bite removed.
There are many practical ways to defuse violence, anger, and fear.  When the haves meet the have-nots as moral equals, this begins to happen.  As Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”  This is happening—from the charitable works of the Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent De Paul societies, to the efforts of Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Catholic Volunteer Network, people meeting each other, who are bound to have differences, can start to overcome them. Now our Pope Francis is leading us into the favelas, where we meet our larger family of brothers and sisters, and banish the fear of them.
  Celebration at Pope Francis' visit to favela--erika garcia of foxnewslatino--July 25, 2013

It was reported in the New York Times that George Zimmerman, on the night of his killing Trayvon Martin, was concerned because he was Catholic and said, “In the Catholic religion it’s always wrong to kill somebody.” He was corrected by a woman wearing a cross, “…that’s not what God meant.”  She assured him, you can kill another to save your own life.
I believe Mr. Zimmerman, paradoxically, had it right--it's always wrong to kill.  Our catechism at this point in salvation history does make provision for lethal self defense.  But what would Jesus do, and what should we truly be doing now and in days ahead, to safeguard our lives and the lives of others, our whole communities black and white, to secure justice and charity for all?

Photo from Birmingham, Alabama civil rights movement
Selma, Alabama civil rights march
Earlier on Monday, jurors got another glimpse into Mr. Zimmerman’s comportment the night of the killing. Officer Singleton testified that Mr. Zimmerman had expressed dismay after first learning that Mr. Martin had died. “In the Catholic religion, it’s always wrong to kill somebody,” he told her, after noticing Officer Singleton was wearing a cross around her neck. She recalled replying: “If what you’re telling me is true, that’s not what God meant. It doesn’t mean you can’t save your own life.”

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

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