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When Breaking Evil Warrants War

Just War – when force is needed to protect innocents.

Is there such a thing as a “just war” anymore?

More specifically, do Catholic just-war principles — which originated in an age of hand-to-hand combat involving swords and spears — maintain relevance in a time of nuclear warheads, chemical weapons, and terrorism?

“Just-war theory is responsive in nature, so it does develop over time,” said Ronald Rychlak, professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “In some ways, it is driven by developments in warfare, but also by deeper thinking.”

Just-war doctrine, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it, has indeed evolved over time to address new considerations and circumstances. Its fundamental principles, however, have remained a fixture in Church teaching over many centuries.

Justice and Peace

The Church’s just-war doctrine is rooted in Christ’s commandment to show love and mercy even to our enemies. e Church also has long acknowledged that situations exist in which nations can be morally justified in taking up arms to combat evil.

St. Augustine formulated the rudiments of these principles in the fifth century. He reasoned that for peace and order to reign among nations there must be peace and order within the souls of individual persons. Interior peace requires the virtue of justice, which encompasses all other virtues that bring order to the soul.

Because humanity is sinful, however, there will always be disordered souls inclined toward evil who threaten this peace. Because of this, nations may prudently use military force to restore justice. “Peace should be the object of your desire,” Augustine wrote. “War should be waged only as a necessity… that peace may be obtained.”

In waging just war, Augustine taught, nations must act as peacemakers, seeking to lead evildoers back toward peaceful coexistence and showing mercy to the conquered and captured. Even war must be motivated by love — for the enemy as well as its victims.

In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas said just war has “the object of securing peace, of repressing evil and supporting the good.” He proposed three conditions: Just war must be declared and waged by lawful authority, be truly necessary for achieving a just cause, and be conducted with the intention of restoring justice and peace.

Collectively these principles have formed the basis for just-war tradition ever since. In the years preceding the Second World War, Pope Pius XII — whom Rychlak defended against charges of inaction during the Holocaust in his book Hitler, the War, and the Pope — sought to prevent war through negotiations. Once fighting began, he tried to retain diplomatic relations so he could minister to people on all sides of the conflict.

But Pope Pius also collaborated with anti-Nazi conspirators and even participated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. “ at truly raises some interesting ethical questions, but it suggests that strict neutrality, pacifism, or conscientious objection are not mandated by his understanding of the Catholic Church,” said Rychlak.

In his 1948 Christmas message, Pope Pius framed war as sometimes a moral imperative:

Among (the) goods (of humanity) some are of such importance for society that it is perfectly lawful to defend them against unjust aggression. Their defense is even an obligation for the nations as a whole who have a duty not to abandon a nation that is attacked.

“In other words, public authorities have the duty to sometimes fight – to wage war,” Rychlak said.

The development of atomic weapons raised new moral questions. Considering the strategy of nuclear deterrence, some theologians debated whether just war was possible anymore. First Pope Pius and later the Second Vatican Council boldly condemned the use of armaments capable of widespread and indiscriminate destruction; the U.S. bishops’ 1983 peace pastoral reaffirmed just-war teaching (see sidebar) and urged world powers to work toward nuclear disarmament.

The Catechism: Peace not mere absence of war

The Catechism affirms that peace is not the mere absence of war, but rather “the work of justice and the fruit of charity.” It urges everyone to pray and work to avoid war.

It enumerates “strict conditions” for evaluating just war:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The Catechism further stipulates that the duty of evaluating just-war criteria “belongs to
the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” It calls for humane treatment of prisoners, the wounded and noncombatants, and supports allowances for conscientious objectors. It repeats the Council’s condemnation of indiscriminate destruction and describes genocide in particular as a mortal sin.

War and Peace

The evolution of warfare since World War II has led to further questions about just-war doctrine — with some calling it obsolete, and others suggesting it is too limiting.

In his message to a 2016 conference in Rome on “Nonviolence and Just Peace,” Pope Francis endorsed “active nonviolence” as the ideal alternative to armed conflict. At the same time, however, he noted that although the Council condemned war, it also supported a government’s right to mount an armed defense under just-war principles.

In other words, Pope Francis advocates for peace, just as all recent popes have done, Rychlak indicated.

“Do we really want a pope urging war? I don’t think so,” he said. “No matter how bad the situation, a pope would want peaceful resolution… I think every caring citizen would want a just peace over a just war. I think popes and other religious leaders should advocate for that, as Pope Francis is doing and as Pope Pius XII did prior to World War II.”

Some who challenge just-war doctrine claim it is too often used to justify rather than avoid war. Such a charge was heard after U.S. officials sought Vatican support on just- war grounds for its planned invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Of course, just-war principles can be perverted and used to excuse war,” said Deacon James Toner, a former U.S. Army officer, military ethicist and author of Morals Under the Gun. “But the just-war principles are valuable, if not infallible, guides in statecraft.”

The present- day threats of terrorism and of rogue nations surface alarming new concerns. Easier delivery systems mean an enemy can launch weapons of mass destruction with scant warning. Some thinkers, like just-war ethicist George Weigel, believe there sometimes may be moral justification for a pre-emptive strike against such a dangerous regime.

Toner tends to agree: “Would anyone have reasonably opposed our ‘ rst strike’ had we had the intelligence data well in advance against the madmen who perpetrated 9/11?”

“Sometimes the only ethical avenue to take in the face of aggression is to stop it – and by military means if necessary,” Toner said. “There are times when we are morally justified – and morally obligated – to prevent or to stop evil.”

What matters for soldiers and civilians alike, he added, is “education in virtue, which means the ability to choose the right course of action even in moments of great difficulty.”

That would begin with the virtue of justice that St. Augustine and Church tradition sees as at the heart of just-war doctrine.

GERALD KORSON, a career Catholic editor and journalist, writes from Indiana.

The Challenge of Peace

In their 1983 pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” the Catholic bishops of the United States summarized the requirements for just war in six criteria:

  • Just Cause: War must confront a “real and certain danger” that threatens innocent life or human rights
  • Competent Authority: War must be declared “by those with responsibility for public order”
  • Comparative Justice: The rights and values being threatened or violated must be critical enough to override the presumption against war
  • Right Intention: War can only be conducted to satisfy the just cause and in pursuit of peace and reconciliation
  • Last Resort: All peaceful alternatives to war must first be exhausted
  • Probability of Success: Irrational use of force or futile resistance that does disproportionate harm should be avoided
  • Proportionality: Inflicted damages and costs of war must be proportionate to the good expected to come from war


Behind Every Good Soldier…

There is a reason why Ave Maria School of Law is considered a top military-friendly school by organizations like Victory Media.

“All of us here are of a mind to honor veterans. We want veterans at our school,” said Kevin Cieply, the president and dean of Ave Maria School of Law.

Military-friendly law school led by a veteran

Cieply, the president of Legatus’ Naples Chapter and a retired Army Judge Advocate General officer, said Ave Law has made a concerted effort to appeal to veterans who are interested in a law career. The law school has done that in various ways, from naming its library the Veterans Memorial Law Library to establishing a resource center and designated parking for veterans.

“We want to attract people who are going to go out into the world and be change-agents and bring faith to the practice of law,” Cieply said, adding that faith-filled veterans are a perfect fit for that mission.

“We’re talking about people who just don’t talk about serving others, serving their communities and serving the nation,” Cieply said. “These are people who have actually proved that that’s what they want to do and that’s what they can do.”

Second-to-none financial investment

Perhaps nothing signifies Ave Law’s commitment to having veterans in the classroom more than the school’s financial investment in their education.

Ave Maria School of Law provides the monetary difference between the government tuition benefits the veterans receive and the school’s tuition costs, meaning essentially that qualified veterans can attend the law school for free, with no limit on the number of veterans who can be accepted into the program.

Under the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, educational institutions such as Ave Law provide additional financial support for veterans whose Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits do not cover all of the tuition and fees at private degree-granting schools. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs matches each dollar of unmet charges the institution agrees to contribute, up to the total cost of tuition and fees.

Ave Maria School of Law funds all eligible veterans who participate in the Yellow Ribbon program at the maximum benefit level, giving them a legal education that is free of tuition and fees.

With law schools across the country, including Ave Law, becoming more selective with students in recent years, Cieply said Ave Maria School of Law has enough room and scholarship money for qualified veteran-students. He noted that the school’s founder, Tom Monaghan, a Marine Corps veteran who is also the founder of Legatus, has committed financial resources to assist veteran-students who are not eligible for or have already used up their benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program.

“By doing these types of things, we hope to attract more veterans to our campus,” Cieply said. “But also, I’m hoping to be a place where we can symbolize that we’re a law school that wants to not only turn out veterans to the practice of law, but also be a place where veterans are honored, where we’re seen as a law school that does the right thing in respecting veterans.”

Current and former military personnel who have attended Ave Maria School of Law said they have seen firsthand the school’s commitment to veterans, which makes them feel that the Naples campus is a perfect fit for them.

Like-minded faculty and principles

“They’re very military-friendly. Many of the faculty have strong military background, and a lot of them understand their students who are serving in the Reserves,” said Nancy Nevarez-Myrick, a 2016 graduate of Ave Law who attended the school while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves as an officer in an airborne tactical communications unit.

Nevarez-Myrick, 31, who is now preparing to enter the U.S. Air Force as an active-duty JAG officer, said she had always thought about attending law school and was attracted to Ave Law when she visited the campus. In addition to having supportive professors and staff members, Nevarez-Myrick said the law school never failed her in making sure that she received all her financial aid benefits.

It also helped that her professors understood her commitments as an Army Reservist and gave her opportunities to make up class work when necessary.

“I felt like my professors understood me and the school understood me when I was giving my time to serve my nation,” Nevarez-Myrick said.

Even non-Catholic veteran feels at home

Joseph Bare, a retired Army veteran who just completed his first year at Ave Law, said he decided to attend the school after visiting the campus and finding that the school’s principles and values matched his own.

“Most veterans you would find share a pretty common value set, and I think you would find a lot of that fits with Ave’s principles, mission and values,” said Bare, 47, who is not Catholic but found himself at home on a campus that he describes as tight-knit and very supportive.

The school has taken great steps to helping veterans and continuing to look for things that the school can do to meet the needs of veterans, to be
that right fit for veterans who are looking for a law school,” said Bare, who would like to practice civil litigation in the area of individual rights and liberties. Bare said he was always interested in the law but delayed that pursuit because he loved his military career.

Exemplary presence of vets

Cieply said veterans such as Nevarez-Myrick and Bare bring maturity, motivation, duty and many other intangibles to the classroom and to the Ave Law community.

“Veterans bring a sense of service. You know they’re willing to do things for others,” Cieply said. “They bring a sense of maturity. They’ve been out in the world and have actually done some things. They’ve had to learn how to continue with life in a stressful environment, and make other parts of their life balanced, which is very difficult at law school.”

Along with the unique insight and good personal examples that the veteran-students bring to Ave Law is a commitment to physical fitness and carving out time during their studies to keep themselves “fit to fight.”

“We love to have that atmosphere in the school where people are being physically fit and at same time engaging 100 percent in their studies,” Cieply said.

When it comes to military service, Ave Law reflects its home state of Florida, which has the third largest population of veterans in the country with 1.5 million veterans, according to the school’s website. The law school currently has 11 veterans in its student body and another four expected to attend classes this fall.

Along with Cieply, two other JAG officers have had leadership roles in the law school. Ave Law’s board of directors also has several veterans, including a two-star admiral.

“It’s obvious they have a very strong commitment to veterans and to military history,” said Bruce Barone, the immediate past president of the Legatus Naples Chapter who is also a founder of the Veterans Memorial Law Library. Barone described the veterans’ presence on campus as a “natural, positive fit.”

“The program is phenomenal. It’s designed to appreciate and honor people who have provided time and their life to military service,” Barone said. “And the program offers a tuition-free legal education, which if you think about it is pretty incredible.” L

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer


For God and Country

“Is this a joke?” the Navy recruiter asked Dr. Christopher Nessel. “We don’t usually get calls from physicians who want to join the Navy reserve.” Instead, calls would come in from men and women who want to become doctors and willing to serve their country in exchange for school tuition. Since Nessel was already a physician why would he want to join the military?

Nessel is now a Legate from the new Bucks County, Pennsylvania Chapter working in research and development at a large health care company. When he called the Navy recruiting office in 1996, it was no joke. It had been a lifelong desire of his to serve his country in the military.

As a young boy attending St. Anselm School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Nessel dreamed of joining the military. He also had a competing desire, however, to become a physician. By high school, his love of physics, chemistry, and biology pointed him in the direction of medical school.

Nessel graduated from Temple University School of Medicine in 1994. He trained in general surgery at Brown University. Yet, he did not feel his aspirations were complete yet. His desire to give back to our country in appreciation for so many opportunities remained as strong as it had been when he was a boy.

Inspired by uncle in WWII

Although career aspirations often develop out of admiration of childhood role models, there was none of that for Nessel. “I am the only physician in my family and no one in my immediate family was in the service,” he explained. “There was a paternal uncle killed in World War II and my parents gave me the middle name of Charles after him, but I knew little about him as a child.”

His uncle, Charles Nessel, was shot down over Europe as part of the Army Air Corps, which existed before the Air Force was created in 1947. “My uncle joined the service before his 18th birthday,” Nessel said. “It was the nature of WWII; there was a fervent patriotism then.”

Nessel had graduated from high school in 1981, a time when patriotic fervor in the U.S. had cooled somewhat, but he remembers being influenced by a love of country in grade school. “Serving our country was something viewed very positively and as an obligation,” he said. “ rough my life, in the same manner that we owe recompense to God, there has been the understanding of an obligation to our country.” He referred to the motto: pro Deo et Patria — For God and Country — as the inspiration for his own service.

A call to arms notwithstanding

The surprised Navy recruiter was pleased but cautious regarding Nessel’s interest to join. Reservists are obligated for 4 years of service, 1 weekend every month and a 2-week stint during the summer. More importantly, the recruiter wanted Nessel to understand that at any time, he could be called up and deployed to a dangerous part of the world.

“My situation was not unique,” Nessel said. “there would always be the possibility in the back of my mind that I could be called up. And this affects family members too. Everyone’s loved ones are affected when they serve in the military.” Nessel explained that in this way, families also make sacrifices and it’s harder for them in some ways because they don’t always know what is going on.

Nessel said he believes everyone should be willing to sacrifice in some way for our country in thanksgiving for all the freedoms we enjoy here. “When I think of my life as a practicing Catholic and the opportunities I had to go to college and medical school, there are blessings innumerable,” he said“. “There could be many ways to give back, but the way that was closest to my heart was to serve in the military. There are few privileges greater than wearing the uniform of an officer in the United States Navy.”

Regardless of the potential risks, Nessel never wavered— God and country came first. He was concerned, however, that his ongoing training in general surgery not be interrupted. In the reserves, short of deployment, it would not be.

Since the application process was lengthy—15-18 months— there was plenty of time for Nessel to change his mind. Right before he raised his right hand to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States as a Navy officer in 1997, he was reminded that his service could include deployment. Nessel took the oath and was commissioned a lieutenant.

Sole incentive: desire to serve

Being a physician in the military is somewhat unique from other service jobs, according to Nessel, specifically because it is not different from what he did as a civilian physician—treating sick people.

“Most people who serve in the reserves do something very different from their civilian work with some exceptions,” he said. “Say you are a tank mechanic; on the civilian side, there are no tanks.”

In 2000, Nessel was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He completed a total of 8 years of service which ended in 2005.

Nessel described his time in the military as modest because he did not get deployed. What was uncommon about his service, though, was that he enlisted with no scholarship or monetary incentive. Nessel’s sole purpose was to serve his country as a physician.

His siblings sometimes kid him that during eight years in the Navy, he never went to sea. “It’s true,” Nessel said, “but I had the distinct honor of wearing the uniform of an officer. That privilege is almost beyond words. In 2012, my then- fiancée asked me if I could be married in uniform.” He married Kimberly in 2013, in uniform. They are now the parents of 4 children.

Real perspective on heroes in uniform

Those years in the Navy gave Nessel a sense of the kind of men and women who are defending our nation. “ e men and women I met were not there for great pay, short hours and great living conditions,” he said. “ ey were there because they wanted to serve.”

Nessel quoted Admiral Chester Nimitz’s description on March 16, 1945 referring to the incredible sacrifice of the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima: “Uncommon valor was a commonvirtue.” That,Nessel said, is what he witnessed among the men and women who serve our country in the military.

Part of what Nessel said he admired was the fact that people were there to serve despite the common desire these days to want to be in charge. “In the military, it’s readily apparent from the lowest seaman to the highest admiral, that we were all there for service,” Nessel said. “It’s very impressive.”

Another thing that impressed him is that young adults are tasked with handling very expensive and important equipment. “They are given as much as they can handle in the service,” Nessel said. “It’s not usually like that in the outside world.” L

PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV and radio commentator, and mother of 10.


WHAT TO SEE: War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Amiah Miller, Steve Zahn
In theaters beginning July 14
Run time: 142 minutes
Rated PG-13

This third, and powerful, final chapter in the Planet of the Apes reboot offers an apt yet dark conclusion to the science-fiction trilogy.

In the Exodus-like story, Caesar (Andy Serkis) attempts to lead the surviving apes to safety, as they are pursued, captured and enslaved by soldiers led by the sadistic Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

A film about survival, revenge, family and humanity, fans of the franchise will enjoy how this film brings everything to a close and sets things up for the original 1968 film. It’s filled with non-stop tension and action as the apes fight for their survival.

For what is essentially a war movie about apes, the film is surprisingly emotional and has a variety of Scriptural allusions, including several to Moses, as well as some crucifix imagery. The violence and death make it appropriate only for older teens and adults. Its themes will remain with viewers long after the credits have rolled.

TIM DRAKE is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Risk and treatment of stroke

Brain damage from a stroke can be temporary or permanent. Early treatment and preventive measures can reduce the impact. Outcomes of strokes depend upon how much of the brain is damaged and how quickly treatment begins – which ideally should be within 4-6 hours of symptoms.

Susan Locke

Susan Locke

Know symptoms – and react quickly

  • Face drooping on one side or numbness. Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm weakness or numbness. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift downward?
  • Speech difficulty, slurred or garbled speech. Ask him to say “The sky is blue.”
  • Time – Call 911, the faster a patient gets help, the lower his chances of permanent damage.

IN CASES OF A SUSPECTED STROKE, CALL 911 AND PROCEED TO THE NEAREST HOSPITAL, ideally one with a specialized stroke center.

Early diagnosis can save vital tissue

In addition to clinical symptoms, diagnosis is made usually by CT scan or MRI.

With new imaging modalities like CT perfusion, not only can diagnosis be made early but doctors can assess the degree of tissue damage as well as the degree of tissue that can be saved.

Treatment aim is to restore blood flow

For patient with an Ischemic stroke, the goal is to restore blood flow quickly, ideally within the first few hours of symptoms – with either intravenous thrombolytic treatment with the IV medication alteplase; or mechanical intra- arterial thrombectomy to open the blocked artery.

Longterm prevention:

  • Antiplatelet medications: aspirin 50-325 mg/ day, Clopidogrel (Plavix), or combination of aspirin and extended-release dipyridamole (Aggrenox)
  • Anticoagulant therapy: Coumadin, Pradaxa, Eliquis, Xarelto
  • Revascularization by angioplasty and stenting or by carotid endarterectomy (although not in an acute situation) are procedures that open a narrowed carotid artery

For patient with a Hemorrhagic stroke, treatment depends upon cause of bleeding, so it is crucial to identify the cause.

Medical treatment:

  • Control blood pressure.
  • Stop any medications that could increase bleeding.
  • Measure the pressure within the brain with a ventriculostomy tube. If pressure is elevated, cerebrospinal fluid or blood can be drained. This procedure is done in an ICU or in an operating room.

Surgical treatment:

  • The goal of surgical treatment is to prevent or stop bleeding and reduce the pressure in the skull.
  • If an aneurysm (ballooning) of a blood vessel has caused the bleeding, the aneurism can be clipped surgically. More recently, surgeons are doing a Coil embolization where a tiny flexible tube is guided up through the body into the vessel in the brain at the site of the aneurysm. The coil is advanced into the weakened area and diverts the blood ow to a more normal path.
  • Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) treatment depends on the patient’s age, AVM location and size and the abnormalities of the veins that drain. Treatment options include surgery, radiosurgery or embolization.
  • Decompressive craniotomy is a procedure where the skull is open to relieve the pressure on the brain.


SUSAN LOCKE is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.

HEALTHNETWORK is a Legatus membership benefit, a healthcare “concierge service” that provides members and their families access to some of the most respected hospitals in the world. One Call Starts It All: (866) 968-2467 or (440) 893-0830. Email:

HEALTHNETWORK FOUNDATION is a non-profit whose mission is to improve medicine for all by connecting CEOs with leading hospitals and their doctors to provide the best access to world-class care and increase philanthropic funding for medical research.

Dan Burke – Executive Director, EWTN’s National Catholic Register

Dan Burke has committed his life to the advancement of faithful Catholic spirituality and to solid journalism that serves the Church. He is this year’s featured speaker at Legatus’ October 11-14 Men’s Enclave at Cabin Bluff in Woodbine, GA, and will discuss “The Battle of Divine Ascent: Helping men and leaders to engage in spiritual growth and leadership.”

Dan Burke

Burke, a former Southern Baptist and Anglican before he entered the Catholic Church, is the executive director of EWTN’s National Catholic Register. He is also the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation and the host of EWTN’s “Divine Intimacy” Radio show. As a sought-after retreat speaker, he’s likewise an award- winning author and editor of more than 10 books on Catholic spirituality. He recently spoke with Legatus Magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

How did you get into Catholic journalism?

I was the executive director of strategy development for Focus on the Family before I took the role at the Register. I became Catholic in 2005 and I really wanted to figure out a way to lend my skills to the Church. Because of challenges with the Legionaries of Christ, who owned the Register at the time, they were potentially going to close the Register. They asked if I could come aboard full time and see if we could turn it around.

How did you and your team save the Register?

We poured all our energy into keeping the Register alive, and God blessed the work. We eliminated all the internal debt. In 2011, EWTN acquired the National Catholic Register, and it’s grown 90 percent since then in print subscriptions. I implemented a digital strategy right after I came on board, and that’s been off-the- chart successful in terms of reach and impact.

How do you prepare for your role as a retreat speaker?

Depending on the audience and their particular needs, I spend a good deal of time in prayer, and usually from there, I spend time reflecting on the wisdom of the Carmelite saints primarily related to the topic, and then put it all together. Scripture of course is very central. The Lord blessed me by bringing me into the Church through the Southern Baptists, so my grounding in Scripture is pretty strong.

How did your time as a Protestant prepare you to enter the Catholic Church?

The Baptists brought me to the messiah of the Jews — I’m Jewish by birth — and they also gave me a trust in and a love for the Scriptures. During my time as an Anglican, I came to love and appreciate the liturgy and ecclesiology of the Church. I shifted from a purely extemporaneous kind of prayer to learning to pray liturgically, which of course was a great preparation for becoming Catholic and praying the Liturgy of the Hours with the Church Universal.

What is the mission of the Avila Institute?

Simply, it’s to enable the New Evangelization by drawing Catholics worldwide into deeper union with Christ and His Church. The way we do that is by providing graduate and personal enrichment studies in the realm of spiritual theology, which is concerned with the nature of the supernatural life and how it is that we grow from the beginnings of a spiritual life to our fullness of union with God.

How do you find the time to balance all your responsibilities?

The beginning is prayer. I recently met with a holy bishop whom I knew spent an hour in adoration a day in addition to his obligations. I asked him, “How is it with all you’re responsible for that you have time to spend so much time in prayer?” He said, “How is it that with all I’m responsible for, that I wouldn’t spend that time in prayer?”

Do you find time to enjoy any hobbies?

I don’t know if I honesty have a hobby, but I have a vocation. I have a calling to serve the Body of Christ through journalism and through mystical theology, and that to me is a never ending well of refreshment, of revitalization, of encouragement. The work of God in the hearts of His people is the hope of the Church, and participating in fostering that hope, faith and love in God’s people is really all I need. I think that when I die, then I’ll rest.


All of the same heart

The word “courage” is derived from Old French (corage), Modern French (coeur), as well as Latin (cor), all of these words referring to the heart. Now since the heart symbolizes love, true courage must be an expression of love. Just as there is a paradoxical relationship between life and death, so too, the same obtains between love and courage. How does one begin to understand this apparent contradiction? The soldier, surrounded by danger, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a certain readiness to die. If he clings too tenaciously to life, he is a coward. If he rushes headlong into death, he is a fool. But if he has genuine courage, as the master of the paradox, G. K. Chesterton, asserts, “he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.” We do not honor the suicide who prefers death to life; but we do honor the hero who accepts death while displaying his love for life. Christ testifies to the validity of this paradox when he tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend (John 15:13). Four chaplains, each uniformed in military dress and all of the same heart, have beautifully and heroically illustrated the legitimacy of this paradox.

Dr. Donald Demarco

On January 23, 1943, the SS Dorchester, carrying 904 passengers, mostly military men, left for Greenland. During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, the ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off the coast of Newfoundland. The blast knocked out the electrical system, leaving the ship in the dark. Panic ensued. Four chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation. Life jackets were passed out until the limited supply ran out. The chaplains then removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. When they could no longer be of help, they linked arms, prayed, and sang hymns. Two ships that accompanied the Dorchester stopped and rescued 230 men from the frigid waters. Nearly 700 perished, including the chaplains, making it the third largest loss at sea of its kind for the United Stated during World War II.

The four chaplains, though of different faiths, shared the conviction that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. One survivor provided a moving testimony: “The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.” According to the testimony of another survivor: “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

Who were these courageous and self-sacrificing men? George L. Fox was a Methodist preacher who had been decorated for bravery and was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. Alexander D. Goode, the son of a rabbi, followed in his father’s footsteps. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Clark V. Poling was ordained in the Reformed Church of America and studied at Yale University’s Divinity School. John P. Washington, a Catholic priest, was chief of the Chaplains Reserve Pool in Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.

On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously. In 1988, Congress established February 3 as “Four Chaplains Day.” The United States Post Office Department issued a commemorative stamp in 1948 honoring the quartet. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation is located at the former South Philadelphia Navy Yard. Its mission statement is “to further the cause of ‘unity without uniformity’ by encouraging goodwill and cooperation among all people.”

We often admire what we are reluctant to imitate. Nonetheless, our willingness to honor genuine heroes keeps our sights on the right ideal and may be the first step in gaining the willingness to do something heroic. Meanwhile, there are the unheroic acts of self-sacrifice that remain within our grasp. One way of honoring the “Immortal Chaplains” and their like is by making small acts of generosity. That may very well have been the apprenticeship of chaplains Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington long before they boarded the ill-fated S. S. Dorchester. L

DR. DONALD DEMARCO is a senior fellow of Human Life International, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University (Waterloo, Ontario), adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College (Cromwell, CT) and regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His books, including latest work, How to Remain Sane in a World That Is Going Mad, are available through

Love, sacrifice and honor

“I have given you an example,” says the Lord.

Jesus is the supreme example of humility, service and dedication selflessly given for the good of others. There is no one that has had a greater dignity than Jesus, and no one has served others so diligently.

Fr. Shenan Boquet

Every Christian is familiar with the powerful imagery in the fifteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Our Lord Jesus uses the lovely analogy of the vine and the branches to illustrate the life-giving love that connects every one of the faithful with Him, and with His Father, the vinedresser.

The stem and the branches form one single being. They are nourished and act together, producing the same fruits because they are fed with the same sap. United to Christ, we are made strong and are effective, giving direction and purpose to our daily works and dealings with others.

Jesus was preparing His disciples for what would be His ultimate gift to them, and to us, through the terrible events of His sorrowful passion. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). By His death and resurrection, He has set us free, becoming the source of our life and of the Church’s whole apostolate.

There are many lessons here for all of us, but for those who serve in the military and in public services where the duty is to protect others, the connection is especially clear.

Key to every first responder’s and every serviceman’s duty is the readiness to sacrifice his or her life for another. While it is true that any one of us could be called upon to sacrifice our lives should the moment come, relatively few of us have actually signed up to be in a position to do this as a matter of basic duty.

Firemen, police, military personnel and related professionals hold a position of honor in our society for a reason. The protector, thinking not of himself, freely risks his own life for the well being of another, usually a complete stranger. That’s the job. Some who serve in these areas never face a life-or-death situation; others see it far too often. The readiness to place one’s life at risk is what connects all such protectors and why they tend to grow such strong bonds of friendship and loyalty. After all, if you step into a burning building or return fire under great pressure, you are entrusting your own life into the hands of your partners.

These intense moments and shared mission create bonds that last a lifetime, and a love that those on the outside can’t understand.

This is a powerful human thing – the love that arises and grows from dramatic situations of great self-sacrifice. Very hard situations force us to look at reality and at what is most important. If we can do that with love and a readiness to die for the other, God can do incredible things through us.

We may lament at times, especially in those moments, that suffering is indeed the currency of salvation. We may not understand the mystery of God’s will, but we can grow to trust Him and His divine will, knowing that He will give us the strength we need, when we need it.

Here, in the reflection of the Savior Who gave His life for us, we see human dignity in its most raw incarnation. Why risk one’s life for another, even a stranger, if he or she is not a person, made in the image of God? In the moment when one’s life is truly at risk, and one chooses to step into the breach to stop evil or to protect a vulnerable person, there are no politics or fashion, no complaints or equivocations. There is only reality and love and sacrifice.

This is why those whose profession it is to protect others so intensely honor their fallen brothers and sisters. It is a function of love and of justice. They deserve to be honored. And those of us who benefit from our often-anonymous protectors owe a certain debt of honor and gratitude both to those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. They do not deserve our worship, but they do deserve honor and our profound gratitude. The best way we can honor them is to pray for them — for their safety, for their families, for the purification of their intentions. L

FATHER SHENAN J. BOQUET is the president of Human Life International and a priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, LA.

Slaves in Paradise – A Priest Stands Up for Exploited Sugarcane Workers

Jesus Garcia 
Ignatius Press, 304 pages

The Dominican Republic is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Yet when missionary priest Fr. Christopher Hartley arrived there in 1997, he discovered another side to this paradise: the deplorable living and working conditions of the people who harvest the country’s sugarcane, and the illegal human trafficking that brings them to the plantations as slaves. Inspired by the Gospels and Mother Teresa, Fr. Hartley carried out intense evangelization, applying the social teachings of the Church to fight for their dignity and justice.

Reading this book could change your eating habits. It’s estimated that the average American consumes as much as 170 pounds of sugar per year. It tells the story of Father Christopher Hartley, who left New York in 1997 to work as a missionary priest in the Dominican Republic.

Not only did Fr. Hartley bring the sacraments, but he also became an advocate for
the poor and the exploited sugarcane workers there. His background working with St. Teresa of Calcutta prepared him for his work and advocacy standing up against the sugar barons and politicians that eventually led to death threats and his being forced from the country. The book features many of Fr. Hartley’s inspiring letters to friends and benefactors detailing the heart- wrenching stories of the people he served and the injustices and conditions they endured.

Order: Ignatius Press, Amazon

The Rohna tragedy: remembering a forgotten WWII calamity

“I thank God, because I should have been dead.”

So said Frank E. Bryer, survivor of a World War II catastrophe we might simply call the Rohna tragedy—a calamity kept secret for decades.

Dr. Paul Kengor

The HMT Rohna was a massive British ship transporting a mostly American crew to the Far East theatre. It went down November 26, 1943, the day after Thanksgiving, off the coast of North Africa, the victim of a German missile. But it wasn’t just any German missile. This was, it seems, the first successful “hit” by a German rocket-boosted, radio- controlled “glider” bomb. It was a guided missile, and the Nazis had achieved it first.

The result? Catastrophic. The Rohna Survivors Association claims more lives were lost on the Rohna than on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.

Over one thousand men perished, and their government kept the entire episode secret out of fear of information being leaked about the power of the German missile. The government feared the effect on the morale of the U.S. military and wider population.

“The ‘hit’ was so devastating,” states the Rohna Survivors Association, “that the U.S. government placed a veil of secrecy upon it. The events which followed were so shameful that the secrecy continued for decades until recently, when documents were grudgingly released under pressure of the Freedom of Information Act.”

It is very sad that only now, long after the few survivors are even fewer, the Rohna survivors are attempting to hold reunions, nearly 75 years after the event.

The secrecy was so tight that Frank Bryer’s daughter, Mary Jo, spent painstaking years trying to tug out details. “Dad was haunted frequently by this,” Mary Jo told me, “but it was not so much the sinking of the ship, but his inability to save men.”

As the ship burst into a fireball, Frank manned the ropes of a lifeboat packed with injured soldiers. He was ordered to hold the ropes tight and lower the boat into the water below. This was no simple task, especially in a chaotic situation. A lifeboat filled with men isn’t light. That was proven quickly as the ropes broke and Frank watched the men plunge into the sea. The image of those men slipping from his hands into the abyss horrified him…

The nightmares would come later. In the meantime, Frank, too, was forced to abandon ship, which submerged within an hour. For his own crowded lifeboat, he and five other men seized a floating wooden bench. As the darkness slowly enveloped them, amid fears of still more German missiles, Frank led the group in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Frank would later call it the “Long Night.”

“Other German planes flew over with orders to kill men floating in the water,” recalled Frank.
“I was sure it was the end. I told the men we better start to pray…. We were scared, shaking and moaning. It was dark and we couldn’t see anything. We could only hear others yelling and crying for help.”

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. And there were none on that floating bench either. “Two of the men didn’t think that they would go to Heaven, but I told them they would if they asked God for His mercy and forgiveness,” said Frank. “We would wrap around each other and I would say the Our Father and Act of Contrition.”

The boys ached for their families and talked about home. Frank told his crewmates about his youth living at the Villa Maria convent in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he spent much of his time because of a difficult family life. He later laughed at how the guys “didn’t understand how I could be living with nuns.”

To their great fortune, they spied a rescue boat just as the sun started to rise. They were saved.

“I thanked God for saving us,” said Frank.

But sadly, the men couldn’t share what they went through. They were ordered not to write or talk about the HMT Rohna with their family or even among themselves. The military censorship was so strict that they were threatened with court martial if they disobeyed.

And for Frank, there was still less comfort: “All I could think about was the wounded soldiers that I could not save.” For the rest of his life, he was tormented. It haunted him for years, all the way until his death at age 92 on January 4, 2016.

It was a tragic situation, from start to finish.

How can we pay homage to Frank Bryer and his shipmates? We can do so by at long last remembering the HMT Rohna and what they went through. L

DR. PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.