BOBF: All’s Fair in Love and War?

On our continuing journey down Being Frank's memory lane, and in light of the Government yesterday saying it will send troops to the Middle East to assist in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State — and the NZ Bishops supporting that decision — this post from EyeWitness in October 2006 examines the Catholic understanding on war.

Something that has always vaguely puzzled me is how come war “heroes” are regarded as such even though they killed people in war.  Are you allowed to kill people in war as a special exception to the commandment “thou shall not kill?”  

Customary International Law and the Geneva Conventions certainly say the killing of a combatant by another combatant in an international armed conflict is not murder, and is legal.  It’s an odd concept really that at international law we have all these rules about how we might kill each other and conduct wars against each other.  The use of force is illegal unless in self defence.  Fundamentally, you must always distinguish between civilians and combatants once you're at war.  If you are going to kill civilians (collateral damage) the military advantage or military necessity must outweigh the loss of innocent life.  You can use certain weapons but not others that cause unnecessary or superfluous suffering.  Not that you would notice that countries have agreed to any rules at all if you watch the news! 

So are we justified as Catholics in going to war?  The catechism of the Catholic Church states on legitimate defence that: 

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65 

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:  

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . 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.66 

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.     

 The theory of “Just War” is thought to have been first developed by St Augustine.  He writes of the right of rulers to declare a just war to maintain peace.  St Thomas thought a sovereign has the lawful right of recourse to “the sword” to defend its people against internal strife by punishing those that do evil for the common good, justified by St Paul in verse 4 of Chapter 13 in the letter to the Romans.  Moral theologians have taught that “only an injury so grave that it outweighs the risks and losses of war is a justification for making war”.  The second Vatican Council justified “the right of a nation to defend itself by a discriminate and proportionate use of force as a last resort”.   

Modern age warfare with its massive destruction capabilities has come along since the era of the bible.  It’s quite scary what we can do to each other.  Obviously we should avoid war if at all possible, but could we have stood back and let Hitler kill so many people because we didn’t want to use armed force?  Would the Iraq war have been justified if it had turned out they really did have nuclear weapons and were a threat to world peace and security?  Would you feel justified pulling the trigger of a gun and killing another human being? 

Or is this all a little heavy for a Sunday afternoon!! 

BOBF: The Cafeteria Myth

As we trawl through the archives, we come across these musings from Peter the First, a Being Frank original, from August 2007: The Cafeteria Myth.


As the title implies, I'm inclined to place the notion of "cafeteria Catholics" into the same box as Bigfoot. I have never met, heard or read about anyone who would fit the criteria so often espoused.

The central concept of these elusive beings is that they "pick and choose" which teachings of the Church they adhere to – correct me if I've been mislead there.

I have yet to meet any human being who has any real choice about what they really believe: which makes "picking and choosing" problematic.

We have free will in our conscious response to stimuli and in thought. We are free to ponder particular questions, to choose which shirt to wear. Over a lifetime, we make millions of conscious decisions of this type. We are shaped by our choices, by our long-term response to experiences, and that shapes the way we interpret every new situation we enter. It shapes the way we understand a blog post, the way we ignore a particular word or nuance, and it shapes our attempt to grasp the divine.

Given that, how dare anyone imply that anyone else "picks and chooses" their beliefs? All people meet their faith in one place: life. As soon as you separate faith from life, and try to reduce it to purely academic arguments, you've lost the point. We are immersed in life.

I don't wake up and decide to disagree with the magisterium on "x" today. I live my life, of which faith is one important aspect, and encounter different situations, texts and people whose sum influence leads me to see and understand "x" in a particular light. Because these encounters are, implicitly, modified by my response to them, or participation in them, it's never a simple reduction to x=y.

I'd ask people not to nitpick particular words I've chosen, or take phrases out of context, but to actually consider the thesis of this post in the context of your own experience: there is no such thing as "cafeteria Catholicism".

Best of Being Frank: 6 x 7 + 4 = 40?

As we continue the "Best of Being Frank" farewell tour, we continue with the Lenten theme. Today we delve into mathematical analysis of the length of this great season in the Church. This post first appeared way back in 2007 and was written by Being Frank original James the Least. 

I feel cheated. :)

I grew up being told that Lent started Ash Wednesday and lasted for forty days. That means that it ends at the Easter Vigil on Easter Saturday night. This meant that when I was a kid, I would go without lollies or whatever until Easter Sunday as that was the forty days of Lent.

Have you ever counted up on a calendar?

Despite the fact that Lent was originally called quadragesima (literally meaning "the fortieth" day before Easter), the actual count for that period is 46 days. That's four days from Ash Wednesday to the first Sunday of Lent, then five weeks to Palm Sunday, and a final seven days from there to Easter Sunday. That's 46 days.

How does that work? Well, it turns out that Sundays are exempt from Lenten fasting, as each Sunday we celebrate Easter Sunday with the Mass. This means that, strictly speaking, I can have lollies from sundown Saturday to Sunday.

The other thing I just don't get about Lent is why we should abstain from flesh meat? I mean, I get the idea of fasting and giving up something, but why meat? What if you don't like meat? Not much of a then. What if you're a vegetarian? Every day is a Friday then! :) Why doesn't fish count – you're still eating an animal, right? Is chicken really meat? I mean chicken comes from eggs just like fish, so what's the difference?

Anyone out there want to offer any answers?

Best of Being Frank: Fitting into our world

As we start the "Best of Being Frank" farewell tour in the first days of Lent, what better place to start than a post written at the great season in the Church?  This post first appeared way back in 2008  and was written by Being Frank original The Captain.

I didn't realise I was patriotic until I went overseas (properly, as opposed to holidays in other countries) when I was 19. I tells ya, I've never been more proud to be a pounamu-wearing Kiwi. In fact, before then I hadn't even been interested in wearing pounamu…

Something about being with different people strengthens who you really are. And what you really believe.

I pondered this as I sat in the Ash Wednesday service at St Patrick's (and St Joseph's) Cathedral last night. It was a "joint effort" between the Anglican and Catholic communities, led by the Anglican Archbishop and the Catholic Bishop of Auckland. There is now a tradition of the two denominations celebrating Ash Wednesday and Good Friday together, and it's one I've come to love and one that's a huge part of my Lenten journey.

I'm sure it's not a popular idea with some people, but the church was packed last night, and as I looked at the congregation (wondering if the single men were Anglican or Catholic – either way, there seemed to be more of them there last night ;-) ), my heart truly swelled with pride.

Pride in our ability to see past our differences and realise we worship the same recognised God. Pride in our leadership for having the vision and courage to stage such services. Pride in being Catholic.

For it is when you see others doing what it is they do, you realise the importance of what you do. And how you can do it better.

I received ashes from the Anglican minister (not intentionally, that's just the way it worked out) and when he said to me: "Turn away from sin and follow the gospel", I thought: "I'm trying, I'm trying. Good to see you're trying too!"

The beginning of the end

You would have seen MaryandMartha's post yesterday announcing her departure from Being Frank. As with the other authors who have dedicated much time and energy to the blog, we thank MaryandMartha for her efforts and in helping lead Catholic discussion.

For the observant among you, there will have been a realisation yesterday: There are no authors left. MaryandMartha has been handling blogging duties single-handedly for a while now. Her decision has come during a period in which we, the Being Frank administrators, came to the difficult conclusion that the eight-and-a-half-year journey of the blog was coming to an end. 

So, as of today, the Being Frank farewell tour begins. During Lent, we will share some of the best posts since 2006 as new entries on the blog, with links back to the original post so you can check out the comments that were made back then and feel free to add your new reflections. And with 2,443 posts over that time, there are plenty to choose from.

Check back for the first "Best of" post tomorrow, and then each weekday between now and Good Friday. 

You'll hear more from us towards the end of Lent, but let this be our first "thank you" to the Being Frank community. You have contributed more than 55,000 comments since we launched on July 31, 2006 — far beyond our wildest expectations when NZ Catholic got behind the initiative. We hope you enjoy the posts over the coming weeks and look forward to a final six weeks discussing the Faith that binds us together.


Ashes to Ashes

I'm having my own "ashes to ashes" moment this week as I say farewell to Being Frank. Blogging here has been an incredible journey and I'm a little sad to see it come to an end, but the time is right. Over the last few months I've struggled to come up with new ideas to write about and I guess in lots of ways my own faith is growing and changing. 

Tomorrow the Being Frank admin team will make an annoucement about the future of the blog so stay tuned!!

Meanwhile, here are the top ten things I've learnt from my time with Being Frank…

1. Being a Catholic is sometimes hard. I always thought that once you belong to a religion, you just pick up the rule-book for that religion and follow it… simple. But it's not that simple is it? The "rule-book" often clashes with our own personal experiences and feelings and choices have to be made.

2. There is much to be learnt from other people's stories – not just the facts that they know about Catholicism, but the stories of their own faith development and of their relationship with God. We should tell more stories.

3. There is much variation between priests in New Zealand and even within each Diocese. There are young priests and old priests, strict and lenient, pastoral, conservative, liberal, sticklers, down-to-earth, arrogant, kind, grumpy, happy… oh wait, that's dwarves. But you get the picture. The thing that ties them all together is that they are all doing the best they can, usually in hugely demanding circumstances. We should give them a break.

4. Catholic people LOVE a good gossip. The best example of this was when we were awaiting an appointment for Bishop of the Hamilton Diocese. The number of people I heard saying that they were "in the know", or knew someone who was, who had told them that the new Bishop was going to be Father so-and-so was huge. And yet I never once heard Steve Lowe's name mentioned, or Christchurch for that matter. Which just goes to show… in this global Church, none of us are really "in the know".

5. Our Faith is incredibly rich. When I look back at my blogs and particularly at the comments, it is actually mind-blowing how deep and complex the Catholic Faith is. Three Gods in one, resurrection, angels, popes, liturgy, sacraments, saints, bishops, encyclicals, catechism, prayer, Mary, music, relics, sermons, eucharist, judgement, the bible, holy water… our faith is deep and wide. And we are richer for it.

6. No matter what I blogged about, sooner or later, someone would turn it into a discussion about the Latin Mass.There are people out there who are extremely passionate about this topic. Good for them. 

7. There is a definite spectrum of beliefs in the NZ Catholic Church. For lack of better terms I would call one end of the spectrum the highly conservative (want to go back to the Latin Mass and all things pre-Vatican II) and at the other end of the spectrum, the highly liberal (wanting even more change and reform, women priests, homosexual marriage etc.). This blog has changed my position on that spectrum considerably. I used to be right down the conservative end and now I'd say I'm just left of centre and veering more to the liberal end. An interesting shift.

8. The 15th Station is still the most awesome Catholic podcast there is and one of the best ways to keep abreast of Catholic news. Particularly if, like me, you are time poor. You can listen to it in the car or out running or cooking dinner. The guys on there do an amazing job of offering entertaining commentary on stuff that is relevant to us here in NZ. 

9. Schools are the new mission field. There are a lot of people out there who don't appreciate what's happening in our Catholic schools, particularly our Catholic primary schools. They love to spout vitriol about how there are no children attending Mass etc. but they are not the ones in the trenches, passing on the gospel every single day. We, who are in the trenches,  like our priests, are doing the best we can with the very best of intentions under incredibly trying circumstances. Instead of critcising, get on board and help out a little.

10. There are some amazing Catholics out there. It's been a pleasure to "meet" you all and to read your wisdom, reflections, opinions, arguments and stories. 

God bless all. 

Mary and Martha, signing out.

Consecrated Life

Pope Francis has, as Marty's sure you are all aware, dedicated 2015 as the year of Consecrated Life.

As some of you may have heard recently, the bishop in your diocese, at the end of the academic year, made a visit to the local Catholic Girls' Secondary School, in a pre-emptive move to encourage vocations to consecrated life. In his address to the school leavers of 2014, he began, as is obligatory, with a few witty comments about freedom and university and parties and summer breaks. No doubt he also mentioned his time at the local Catholic Boys' Secondary School, where he reminisced about his times as a 7th former, throwing water balloons into the classrooms at the girls school.

What your bishop then did, however, was to impress upon these young women that so much of the future of the Faith rests with them. That, as part of their feminine genius, they have within them an innate strength – with their cooperation with the grace of God – to combat the culture of death and advance the Kingdom of God. This can, of course, be done in many ways: in their tertiary institutions, the workplace, as mothers and wives and, of course, as consecrated religious. The bishop then proceeded to give a beautiful expo of the intrinsic value of consecrated life, and especially the consecrated life of women, to the Church Our Lord founded.

Unfortunately, the bishop (rightly) felt himself unequal to giving any of those young women interested in looking at consecrated life the details of most religious orders in New Zealand.

You see, when a tree is sick, it tends not to bring forth good fruit, or the fruit it does bring forth is diseased or faulty in some other way. Do not mistake Marty, there are good women in many of the orders which are particularly connected with this country – the Marists, Mission Sisters, even the Josephites and Mercies. Certainly many of them are sincere, of that Marty has no doubt. But Marty wonders, where are their vocations? That they do good work is true, but that they have lost their way in many respects is also undoubtedly true. If you want to see the health of a religious order, one of the key indicators is the number of vocations.

Of course, many of those in such orders would tell you that since the Council lay people have taken on so much of what they do, which is a good thing. Perhaps it is, but this kind of cynical self-destructive mentality hardly helps keep such orders robust. Their witness is now slight, their visibility low, and dare Marty say it, their adherence to the saving message of Our Lord at times compromised. Why can they not simply love Our Lord, have the humility to wear their habits…