Scruples over Lent pale next to war’s moral failings


The moral “dilemma” faced by Father Bill Kneemiller (“Postcards from Chaplain Kneemiller,” March 25 Catholic Messenger) and his fellow officers stationed in Afghanistan, is one faced by Catholics living almost anywhere: It is Friday during Lent. You are invited to a meal where meat will be served. What does a good Catholic do?

When accused of violating religious laws at table, Jesus countered, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Afghanistan, where this drama unfolds, is a place of much sacrifice and little mercy. In this land of no mercy the discipline of Lent, at least, was not sullied on that Friday. One of the officers saved the day with a “bold” assertion, “I would rather offend a host than to offend my Lord!”

Fr. Kneemiller called upon the Catechism to guide the officers through this dilemma. Does he use the Catechism to help these same Catholics resolve other dilemmas they face? On March 26, The New York Times quoted General Stanley McChrystal about civilian deaths in Afghanistan: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Along with the disciplines of Lent, the Catechism speaks to the conditions of a just war, none of which are met in Afghanistan. The Catechism speaks to the protection that must be given to noncombatants, protection that is not given.

Discipleship and repentance mean more than eating fish on Fridays. Jesus warned: “Woe to you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity!” In the face of murder, our scruples over Lenten abstinence do not speak well of us as church. “Blind guides,” Jesus rebukes us, “who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!”


Brian Terrell

Maloy, Iowa

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