There is rather a long scene from the Marvel series “Daredevil” which touches on a topic too often glossed over or mistreated in popular movies. It’s rather a long video but you can start at 0:52 and not miss anything.

The acting, writing and cinematography of this scene is stunning, in my opinion because it draws on true theology. There really is a devil and he walks among us, and he works evil. I too believe in the devil, for much the same reason. I saw a little girl once at a Holy Week service when I was in the Philippines, with every square inch of her legs below her skirt covered with cigarette shaped burns. That is pure hatred.

People of the 20th century find it fashionable to scoff at the idea of the devil. This is silly. The devil is the only possible explanation of the 20th century. Two world wars, Nazism, Communism, the Cambodian killing fields, the Rwandan genocide, the Serbian genocide, to say nothing of the abortion of millions of unborn children, are the fingerprints of the devil written large across this world. But those fingerprints are also in small things. In essence, those big evils are nothing more than collections of much smaller acts of selfishness and hatred.

I had a conversation with my preceptor in clinic a few weeks ago, talking about some of our “crazy” patients. There was one in particular that I had identified as having borderline personality disorder (incidentally she was also given that diagnosis in the ER). He did not deny the diagnosis, but he did make the observation that a personality disorder is really a learned set of behaviors. No one is born with a personality disorder. They learn a set of strategies for coping with their environment, and if those strategies work in some way then they are reinforced and repeated until they become a habit, and neurologically a reflex. Eventually it ceases to be a chosen behavior and instead becomes a personality.

In this particular case, the patient had been sexually abused for most of her childhood by an older male relative and her parents did not believe her until he was caught and convicted. Then her father blamed her for the whole thing.

It is not an uncommon story, sadly. It explained her disorder. She is caught in a pattern of behavior that she learned as a child, still trying to find protection and love with only the emotional resources of a child, and increasingly validated in her belief that everyone will eventually betray her. This is the work of the devil. Through the agency of a human entirely or partially given over to his influence, he destroyed this woman’s health and sanity, and seeks to destroy her soul as well. This is why when I am in the room with patients I am usually praying for them silently. Sometimes I ask my guardian angel to talk to theirs. Usually I remember to pray for them in the morning before clinic, and in the evening after clinic. The physical ailments are only the tip of the iceberg. We do not contend with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers.

Perhaps not coincidentally I am currently reading Paul Thigpen’s “Manual for Spiritual Warfare.” We exist in a spiritual battlefield. We are born into a war that began before the first human drew breath and will not end until all is consummated at the end of time. We may not like it, but it is true. It is not enough to hunker down and bury our heads in the sand. We must fight. Nor must our fighting be solely defensive, just trying to keep ourselves out of trouble. I am my brother’s keeper, and I am called to fight for them. To the extent that I have authority over anyone or love anyone, I am called to fight for them spiritually. What does this mean?

  1. Live a good Christian life. Practice virtue, root out vice, fulfill the duties of my state in life.
  2. Pray. In this battle most of us function more as TAC-P’s than as Marines. That is, we don’t go hand-to-hand with demons, we call in angelic airstrikes. Whatever else our prayers include, they must include at a minimum:
    1. Mass at least once per week
    2. Confession as least once per month (Padre Pio recommended weekly)
    3. The Rosary at least once per day
  3. Fasting: At least once per week. This should be a serious fast, at least in line with the Church’s rubric of only one full meal and two small meals that do not equal the full meal. If we cannot fast for health reasons (most people can) we should be making some other sacrifice, such as cutting out electronics for one day per week. Ideally this discipline should be imposed by a spiritual director so that it may be born out of the virtue of obedience.
  4. Almsgiving: Practice charity concretely, in your works, in your wallet, in your watch.

That’s it! Pretty simple, more or less the same things Catholic mothers and fathers and saints have been telling us for two thousand years. Being conformed to Christ is spiritual warfare, because the victory is His through the cross. To become conformed to the image of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is to be changed into His victory over evil, because…

—————————————————–Spoiler Alert——————————————–

Jesus wins!

food snack popcorn movie theater
Photo by Pixabay on

Recently a trailer for the movie “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” came across my facebook feed. It was not a typical trailer. Typically a movie trailer shows clips from the movie with pulse-pounding soundtrack, and possibly a deep, gravelly, middle-aged male voice-over. This trailer had scenes from the movie, but it had explanatory subtitles explaining how the movie related to real-life drug wars. It explained that the movie demonstrated how cartels bring a complicated reality to south and central America, and that the violence that erupts between them is more like a guerrilla war, or even a conventional war, than it is like U.S. gang violence. When that violence spills over onto American spoil two of the movie’s characters (who I gather were adversaries in the first film) will join forces to “start a war.” My assumption is that they were trying to aggravate violence south of the border in hopes that it would either draw the violence away from U.S. soil, or provide a reason for U.S. forces to engage in the war outside the U.S.

I don’t have much taste for war movies, or even crime movies, anymore, so up until now the trailer was disquieting but not particularly memorable. But it was the last line that really got me thinking. The final scene of the trailer had the words, “Come experience the excitement in theaters.”

Seriously? That’s what this is about?

I mean, I knew that’s what this was about. It’s an action film, designed to be exciting and to convince people to spend money to experience that excitement, ultimately in order to make money for the directors, producers, actors, investors, etc. Money is the goal, sex and violence sell. Of course they want you to come and experience the excitement.

I just didn’t expect them to be so… bald about it. So obvious.

Essentially the movie makers are selling an experience of adrenaline. In that sense they are no different than the makers of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battleground, Halo, or any of a thousand combat related video games. They are trying to simulate the excitement of combat in a marketable package, i.e. a package that involves no risk of bodily injury or death, no heat, dust, sweat, boredom, no training, no discipline, no obedience, no separation from family…

see where I am going with this?

I will not deny that war is exciting. Having spent some time in war myself I acknowledge that some of the most exciting moments of my life have occurred in war, formed of the level of adrenaline, focus, clarity and just shear aliveness that, for most people not saints, only occurs when your life is in jeopardy. I will go further and say that a young man could do worse than make a career of pursuing that excitement. It is not excitement that I am against, it is cheap thrills.

Violence, like sex, excites because it is a matter of life and death. We were made for life and death, for real struggle, real investment, real risk and real growth. That is we were made to fight real bad guys to rescue real good guys (both physically and spiritually). We were also made to make real love that forms real relationships and real babies. There is a proper place for both sex and violence in art, namely to illustrate the truth of these realities and to inform our choices about them in the real world. 

The problem with video games and action movies is not that they are realistic and exciting, but that they are not real. When you go to a movie theater to watch people get killed on the big screen you invest nothing of yourself. You feel the rush and rollercoaster, and you may even have a significant emotional event, but when that experience is over you have not changed. You are still the same person you were before the movie. You may have a new appreciation of some topical issue of the day, you may be emotionally moved, you may have had a spiritual epiphany, but unless that mental and emotional reaction is translated into decision, and from decision to action, and from action to habit, it has not changed you.

It is necessary to bear this in mind when watching war movies. If you want to experience the excitement of a firefight, or of fighting a fire, or of digging up IED’s, then pursue that. Join the military, or the police force, or the fire department. Suffer through basic training, put in thousands of hours at the gym, thousands of miles on your feet, training-for-ruck-marches-imagethousands of rounds on the range. Obey the orders of those appointed over you, deny your own inclinations, place yourself at the service of your team. Learn to be faithful in little things. Make your bunk, sweep your floor, scrub the platoon’s toilets. Do maintenance on your vehicles and equipment, take pride in them. Endure the boredom of sitting in a firing position all night, or of driving down dusty roads 12 hours a day. Accept the banality of having to answer to idiots and power-trippers who are in charge of you only because they have been in a few months longer. Miss your chance for a “real” fight time and time again, and still keep showing up to work, putting in your time, taking pride in your performance. Volunteer for harder, more difficult assignments, accept greater responsibility.

Sooner or later you may get your chance to enjoy the adrenaline rush. Or maybe you won’t. But if you pay your dues for enough years you will gain something better. You will learn that excitement is not an end, but a byproduct. It is something that happens when you are engaged in meaningful work, because meaningful work in this world is always risky, but you will not pursue the excitement anymore, you will pursue the meaning.

This is something you will not get from action movies or video games. You can only get it from life.

920x920In the wake of yet another shooting of dozens of innocent people, we are once again surrounded by shrill, desperate, angry questions:

“What can be done to save lives? What is wrong with our lawmakers in Washington? Why won’t they take action to stop the violence? Why is it so easy for deranged people to get guns? Why is there no political will to limit the death toll? Why is mental health service so hard to come by in America? Why did no one arrive to stop the murder until it was too late?”

These are important questions, but not the most important one. They are tactical questions, with tactical answers, and they don’t keep me up at night.

During my last mission in Afghanistan an  Afghani man blew up a car loaded with >300 lbs of explosives, with himself in the driver’s seat, in an attempt to kill American soldiers. I remember picking up one of his shoulder blades with part of the arm still attached, a few hundred yards from the crater, and wondering what drives a man to hate so deeply that he will spread himself out across the landscape just on the slightest chance that it might kill an enemy.

That was seven years ago, and I still ask the same question: what drives a man to hate so much that he will go to his death for no higher purpose than to kill as many innocent people as he can before the police or someone else catch him?

Where does such reckless hate come from?

I did this.


Only now I know the answer.

It comes from me.

I am the sinner responsible for that man’s hatred and despair.

This world is all connected on a mystical level, and it is a battlefield. The fortunes of each tiny hidden battle here may influence the outcome of a physical battle separated by all of time and space but united in the mind of God. As Dostoevsky put it, “All are responsible to all for all,” and I have failed in that responsibility.

To put it more explicitly, every act of virtue opens this sorry world up to a little more grace. Every act of vice closes it a little bit more to grace. When I wash dishes, or change a diaper, or get up at the crack of dawn to say my prayers, I am cooperating with the grace of God, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, with the Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I fulfil the hopes of all the Saints and Angels in Heaven, and I form a little spiritual gateway to allow them access to the battlefield.

But I have not often done this. I have spent years of my life living mainly in lust and sloth. I have spent time and energy on filth and vanity in the forms of pornography and video games. I have neglected prayers, and I have prayed neglectfully. I have turned away from people who loved me because I didn’t want to be bothered and been proud of it. I have turned my back on people in need. I have used my words to hurt people with sarcasm and contempt. I have done so many evil things, and worse, I have left so many good things undone, and every one of those sins of commission or omission was a door closed to grace.

In the darkness behind the doors I have slammed shut or refused to open, evil has festered, and it has spread silently through the mystical pathways of our spiritual battlefield, weakening, sapping and corrupting other human souls in ways I will never understand until I see them revealed in purgatory.

That is why I must heed the command of Our Lord, and the constant warning of Our Blessed Mother, and of all the Saints of all our history: I must repent, pray, and do penance.

And it is not enough to do penance for my own sins only. I may not “offer up” some “sacrifice” for the sins of other people far away and think that I have done something quite fine. I have not. Doing penance for the sins of others is not an extra, it is just being honest about my part in those sins. I have not even broken even. I have not even begun to make amends for my own sins.

Only the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and His Mercy poured out upon me can ever do that.

When I heed the call to repentance, to prayer, to penance, I am opening myself up to the Divine Mercy, and allowing it to flow into me and begin the long, painful work of cleansing me and making me whole. It can also overflow me, for I am a very small vessel and the stream of Mercy is infinite, and again flow silently and secretly out through the mystical pathways of this spiritual battlefield, strengthening, healing and making whole other human souls, in ways I will never know until they are revealed in Heaven.

The first step to peace in my heart and in the world is to know myself a sinner, and to fall upon my knees and beg forgiveness. After that comes Mercy.Divine+Mercy+Jesus


Deliver us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Or, (I think more eloquently) from the Tridentine rite:

P: Libera nos, quaesumus Domine, ab omnibus malis praeteritis, praesentibus, et futuris: et intercedente beata et gloriosa semper Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beatis Apostolis tuis Petro at Paulo, atque Andrea, et omnibus sanctis, da propitius pacem in diebus nostris: ut ope misericordiae tuae adjuti, et a peccato simus semper liberi, et ab omni perturbatione securi. P: Deliver us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come: and by the intercession of the blessed and glorious Mary, ever a virgin, Mother of God, and of Thy holy apostles Peter and Paul, of Andrew, and of all the saints, graciously grant peace in our days, that through the help of Thy bountiful mercy we may always be free from sin and secure from all disturbance.

We live in an age of anxiety. It is tempting to look at the news coming out of North Korea, the news coming out of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the news coming out of Las Vegas, and to be afraid.

But our God commands us, “Be not afraid.” “Fear not, I have overcome the world.”

This requires great discipline of mind, an awareness of fear as the real enemy, and trust in God as our only hope. It requires (for me at least) the continuous, grueling, repetitive decision to embrace hope rather than fear.

This is not to deny the real danger. Nor does it mean a refusal to take prudent measures. Indeed it requires me to look the danger in the eye, unflinchingly, and name it. I must accept that my children may grow up in a post nuclear waste land, or in a world of racial violence, or in a world in which Christians may not be allowed to work. These are real, if remote, possibilities.

None of them are worthy of fear. Fear is the temptation to look at the waves and not at Christ, to become so focused on the evil that we want to fight that we forget the God who calls us to praise Him and to rejoice always. Then, eventually, we lose our strength and no longer even want to fight, or we fight fire with fire.

Think about the words from Jeremiah 30:15. “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”

Pray for faith, pray for hope, pray for love. These and all the rest are in the hands of God.


Family Friday 26 6
Evie studying up on her Historical European Martial Arts.

Oh dear. Evie started taking steps last night. She can now step from the coffee table to the couch or from the couch to the coffee table, a distance of one step. We predict she will be running by Christmas. Next year we will start her in track and field…

This has been an eventful and also a rough week in a lot of ways. Even as insulated as we are, what with only one TV in the house and that hardly ever being turned on, even we cannot escape the constant barrage of evil news, and sad events. The sudden spike in Media coverage of terrorist activities around the world is incredibly saddening, and actually physically discouraging. It is sometimes really easy to feel like “What’s the point? Why do people have to act like this? Why do they have to kill innocent people?”

Almost as discouraging is the bickering and quarreling and selfishness of many of our own people, in response to these attacks. Even people that we know and love can sometimes be overcome with rage and frustration and say stupid and hateful things like, “Just kill all of them.”And as someone who actually has gone over and fought terrorists, I can tell you that the difference between ISIS shooting up a theater or an embassy or a shopping mall, and “nuke the Middle East” is only a difference of capability. If we allow hatred to rule our hearts, we are no different.

Even closer to home, one of Kathleen’s friends and co-workers was killed in a pedestrian vs. train accident this week. It sucks. There is no other word for it. We are going to go to Holy Hour later this evening to pray for the repose of his soul, for mercy for him, and comfort for his family and friends, and for mercy on us and on the whole world.

Traditionally these family friday posts are pretty upbeat, and this one may seem like a bit of a downer, but that is life. Sometimes our lives go smoothly and easily and all seems well, and sometimes bad things happen. There are times when life just seems brutal, senseless and frightening. It is necessary to acknowledge the bad things, and to place them in the context of all the good things. In many ways, that is what Family Friday is all about. It is our assertion that even in a world that has gone mad, and has been going mad since Adam and Eve ate the apple, goodness, truth and beauty are still triumphant.

Family Friday 26 1

Evie and Mommy drove up to the Swiss Park on Friday to drop off some baskets for their annual Rippli music and gift festival. Kathleen has been singing with the Enzian Swiss Ladies Choir for many years, and only stopped last year right before Evie was born. The ladies of the Choir were super stoked to meet Evie again. She grows so fast right now that if you don’t see her for a month, and then you see her again, she is like a whole new baby. Evie was also happy to see them, because in Evie’s world there is no such thing as too many Grandmas.

Family Friday 26 7Then Saturday was the international potluck at St. Francis Cabrini’s parish, so Evie and Mommy dressed up in their matching Swiss dirndl’s (Evie’s was lovingly made by Grandma Kraeger, so be sure to check out her other work here!) and Daddy wore his Swiss flower shirt (even though he is not Swiss. He is more of your generic Western European Mutt). Since our parish is predominately Hispanic and Pacific Islander by probably about a 2/3rds majority, we were proud to represent the white people and make the international potluck truly international.

We were also happy to provide some Swiss Lackerli cookies, courtesy of Kathleen’s old family recipe. However, we were also happy to eat our fill of Filipino and Mexican food.

Family Friday 26 2
Evie especially liked the pancit.

You know the party had a lot of food when there is actually lumpia left over!

Family Friday 26 3
Evie enjoys her first taste of lumpia, despite having a mouth full of pancit.

On Sunday Western Washington got its first low land snow of the year. I say low land because it has been snowing at Crystal Mountain for over a month (please, Jesus, let it keep snowing there so Ryan and Kathleen can go skiing for Kathleen’s birthday!) But on Sunday the plateau got some snow. This is the view from Grandma and Grandpa’s back porch.Family Friday 26 4

Of course it all melted pretty quickly, but it was pretty while it lasted. Sunday was also a baby shower for one of Kathleen’s co-workers. Kathleen hosted it at the Swiss Park.

Family Friday 26 8
It was snowing here too, but you can’t see it in this picture because it was melting as fast as it landed.

We set up very early Sunday morning. Family Friday 26 9

Evie and Daddy helped set up, and then went home so Evie could stay on her nap schedule, and Daddy could work on his NaNoWriMo project, which is currently only about 15,000 words behind schedule (Oh, well, that’s life).

Family Friday 26 10
Evie had to quality control the decorations.

Everyone had lots of fun and we are keeping Mom and baby both in our prayers as they hit the home stretch.Family Friday 26 5

Monday was a red-letter day as well, as there was a new arrival at the Kraeger house! Can we get a “mazel tov?”

Family Friday 26 13
“Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for a refrigerator?”

Yes, that’s right, we finally replaced our 20-ish year old refrigerator. This one is all new and space-agey and shiny and does not have black mold in all its impossible-to-reach cracks and crevices, which Kathleen is super stoked about. Family Friday 26 11

We celebrated with a super classy evening of sparkly grape juice left over from Sunday’s festivities. Family Friday 26 12

While Daddy drank beer from a champagne glass, because he is just fancy-pants like that. And Evie discovered how to open all the drawers in the kitchen. So many new toys to play with!

Family Friday 26 14
What do you mean towels aren’t for Evie to play with? Then what on earth are they for?

Monday evening we all went to MC, and Evie got to hang out with her Godmother, Aunt Danica. IMG_3865

We are very glad for Aunt Danica who has graduated her IT training and is going to start a brand new job soon, and who also has some other good things of a more personal nature that seem to be progressing very nicely  ( wink, wink). But we are also sorry that she will soon be moving North of Seattle, for her new job, and also for those other things that are happening (wink). Fortunately, it’s not like she is moving to Alaska or anything, so Evie and her godmother can still get together and do things.

Let’s see, what else. Family Friday 26 17

Kathleen had a day off and made cookies.

Family Friday 26 19

Lots of cookies. Unfortunately, Ryan is a terrible photographer and not much better at blogging, so the recipes we planned on sharing have not been shared yet and the pictures are blurry. But the cookies are delicious, so that’s good.

And it froze last night! All the way down here in Puyallup, this is the view out our back door this morning.

Family Friday 26 20
Doo, doo, dooooooooo, lookin’ out my back door!

Oh, yeah, I forgot. Ryan had his interview for the PA program at University of Washington on Thursday. We will find out within a week or so whether he gets in or not. Competition is stiff, so prayers would be appreciated. Pray that God’s will be done and the most deserving candidates get in.

As we said at the beginning of this post, life can be rough sometimes. We ask you to join us in praying for all those affected by the terror attacks of the last week, not just the victims but also the perpetrators, and also for our friend who died this week, and for his family. Pray for us too. We are praying for you.

Just remember, Jesus wins in the end.

God Bless, have a good weekend, and stay awesome!



Warning: This Post Talks About Poop.

The City of Puyallup public restrooms kind of look like this, except that they have stalls and are generally pretty clean.
The City of Puyallup public restrooms kind of look like this, except that they have stalls and are generally pretty clean.

Last Saturday morning I went for a run after morning prayers. I typically run down the hill from the house to a park in town where there is a public restroom and a workout area with pullup bars, dip bars, pushup stations, horizontal row bars, decline benches, etc. It is a perfect place if you are tying to run first thing in the morning, since you can run down (which always gets things moving in the intestinal department), take care of your personal needs, and then head over to get in an epic bodyweight workout.

This time, however, for some reason I felt the urge to change it up, and instead of running straight to my usual route, I headed down the hill and came up into town by a different way. Along the way, predictably, I received an urgent call from nature, demanding that I answer forthwith or suffer dire consequences. Unfortunately I was now too far away from my regular park to make it, but I noticed that there was a children’s playground nearby, and they also had a public restroom. So I detoured to that.

hqdefaultNow, the public restrooms in the City of Puyallup parks are generally pretty clean. They are built like army or prison toilets, all concrete walls and stainless steel sinks, toilets and urinals for easy cleaning with a pressure washer. However, the first thing I noticed when I opened the door was the smell. It smelled like poop.

I was in too much of a hurry to bother about that, but I soon discovered why it had that smell. In my rush to the toilet I felt a “squish” under my running shoe.

Someone had dropped a large turd on the concrete floor, right in a straight line between the door of the stall and the toilet.

I am not easily grossed out, and I have definitely stepped in worse (Yes, there is worse). As I sat doing my thing I contemplated the situation. The first thing that was clear to me was that this was an act of violence. I spent a good deal of last week blogging about violence, and how it is not always the physical act of shooting someone. Far more often it is petty, cowardly words or actions designed to hurt someone else mentally or emotionally, or even physically, while hiding behind either a veneer of civility or the aegis of anonymity.

That is precisely what this action was. The size of the offering made it clear that it was not left by a child. It was left by a teenager or adult, on the floor of a restroom precisely where someone would step on it in the dim light, in a playground frequented by children.

“Nice Weather” in Washington State tends to have a liberal interpretation. As long as it is not pouring, kids will be out.

But as I contemplated this, I experienced a slow paradigm shift. Perhaps it was not a malicious act? What if it was a person with a mental illness, and even getting it that close was actually a triumph? Not at all outside the realm of possibility. So why was I judging someone that I did not know and had never met?

Then I realized that at this point it didn’t matter. Just like any physical act, the intention rarely matters as much as the consequences. It was there, and in a few hours the park was likely to be full of kids, it being a Saturday and the weather shaping up to be pretty nice. Malicious or not, it posed a health and safety risk.

So I resolved as soon as I got home to call the City Parks and Recreation department and report it so they could come and clean it up. But then, again, I realized that wouldn’t do either. It was a Saturday. Nobody works at the City Offices on Saturday. They wouldn’t even get the message until Monday.

Then I asked myself, (or the Holy Spirit asked me, exasperated at my slowness) “Why don’t you clean it up? There is plenty of toilet paper.”

So I did.

The humbling thing was, when I got home and told my wife about finding the turd, the first thing she asked was, “Did you clean it up?” Whereas I had to go through a long, involved rumination about violence and the proper response and taking responsibility, etc. her mind instantly jumps there: “Problem? What can I do about it?”

My mind is more like, “Hmm… that’s unusual. Actually, I think it might be a problem. Here’s why (Point A, B, C, etc.). There are several possible explanations (Scenario A, B, C,) and it has these social, physical and spiritual ramifications. A situation like this would probably demand a response. What would be the optimal response? (Options A, B, C, etc.) Of those options, which would be: feasible? Effective? Efficient? Socially acceptable? etc.” And so on until finally it occurs to me that maybe I should just go ahead and take care of this.

Just another little teaching moment that God set up for me. He does that sort of thing.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12.

Tucson Police conduct a Mass Shooting Response exercise.

The truly disturbing thing about mass shootings is how powerfully they fascinate us. We talk about them, blog about them, run news segments on them, act as if they are a growing threat, when in fact they are not actually known to be on the rise, (although they happen a lot more often than we here about on the national news) and only account for about 1% of all murders.

Why do they shock us so much?

By “shock” I do not mean that all too familiar sickening feeling of disgust, pity and discouragement. I mean the feeling “I can’t believe this is happening in (America, the 21st Century, my state, my town, etc.).” Even worse is when something happens to us personally, and we are surprised.

Why? Why do we spend so much time and energy debating about these incidents? We should expect them by now.

We are surprised because we have forgotten that we are at war.

I am not speaking of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are no more than confused scuffles compared to the Great War. The real war is the spiritual war.

When the spiritual warfare gets real, yo!
When the spiritual warfare gets real, yo!

Even acknowledging this does not help most Catholics get it. “Okay, so it’s a spiritual war, you say? I don’t know, those bullets seemed awfully real to me! We aren’t talking about praying and going to confession and arguing with atheists on the internet. Maybe giving up chocolate for lent, if you want to get real crazy about it. But this is too real. Someone is shooting at us!”

Do you see the subtle deception? The spiritual war isn’t real to us, not real in the way a stubbed toe is real, or a caffeine withdrawal headache is real. When we say “real” we mean physical, and we are very much shocked and upset to find that our spiritual (by which we mean imaginary) faith has suddenly started having physical ramifications.

Have we forgotten the martyrs? Have we forgotten that a readiness to die for Christ is not just a cool extra, but a positive requirement of the faith?

The truth is that even in the physical realm all violence exists on a single continuum, from that snide remark I made under my breath yesterday to the holocaust. It is all of one piece. This may seem a bit exaggerated, but it is actually easy to see if you do not get hung up on the overt act, and instead look deeper into the motives for violence.

There are two main reasons why people engage in violence. The ordinary reason is as a means to some other end. I want something and I don’t care what I have to do to get it. You are either a means or an obstacle. The other reason is the sheer, nasty desire to hurt someone else, whether for revenge, for power or for fun.

Once you break it down like that, however, it becomes obvious that those motives apply to far more than simply pulling out a gun and shooting someone. Who doesn’t know a person who will not hesitate to make a scene at a family gathering, knowing that everyone else will let them have their way just to “keep the peace?” That is terrorism on a small scale. Even worse, who has not known someone who seemed intent upon insulting and degrading everyone around them, for no other reason that that they seemed to find it fun?

Who has not been that person?

“In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, ‘You shall not kill,’ and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance.” CCC #2262.

A parent verbally abusing a child, a child saying “I hate you!” to its parent, these are acts of violence, just as surely as slapping, punching, stabbing or shooting the other. They are acts of anger directed at causing pain, or misguided attempts to force the other person to change their behavior, which is still violence.

Oh but these are just words. They don’t really mean them, they are just so angry.

That does not matter. When I carry a gun, do you think I can excuse myself from responsibility for every single bullet that leaves the barrel of that gun? Do you think, “Oh, I didn’t really mean that,” is going to make my target any less shot? “I was just so angry!” Well, if you don’t know how to control your anger you have no business carrying a gun. If you cannot control your words in any given situation, then you should not speak at all.

In the legal sense it is useful to make the distinction between physical and other kinds of violence, because the law can only see and punish the physical type. But in the spiritual warfare, there is no difference, and in fact, the physical violence may even be the least damaging type. Words are more damaging than bullets. Bullets destroy tissue, bone and flesh, but a resilient spirit will continue to function and thrive. Words attack the mind, heart and soul. Any attempt to diminish or limit the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual life or health of a person, whether that person is yourself or another self. This includes thoughts, words and deeds.

This is why I say that violence exists on a continuum. The visible acts that make the news, such as mass murders, serial rapes, genocides; and those that don’t make the news, such as abortion and the vast majority of instances of all of the above; all of these are continuations of thoughts, words and deeds of violence. The visible acts catch our attention, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. To focus on guns is to miss the real issue. Even to debate over whether or not Catholics should carry guns is to miss the issue. A gun is a viable response for only the very extreme outer percent of a percent of violent acts, which most of us will never see. A gun may help to end that particular situation if it arises, but it will do nothing to address the culture of violence out of which those acts arise.

In reality, each of us witnesses countless acts of violence every day. We see husbands degrading wives and wives mocking husbands. We see co-workers gossiping and backstabbing each other. We watch parents publicly shame their children, and children disrespecting their parents. What is worse, we engage in all of this ourselves. We snap out sarcastic, hurtful responses to minor inconveniences. We fantasize about all the things we could say to that person if we weren’t afraid of getting fired. We get angry and enjoy it.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44.

All of this is violence, and all of it contributes to the overall level of hate in the world, which in turn enables mass shootings. This is both a natural consequence of cause and effect (people who are hurt become angry and depressed and are more likely to hurt other people, continuing the cycle). But it also occurs on a spiritual level. When I deliver that really biting, malicious put-down, I am opening up a pocket in the spiritual battlefield to a little bit more demonic influence. That will have consequences, and the consequences may be physical. Or the consequence might be enable someone else to commit a mortal sin.

Which is worse?

But the good news is that if violence exists on a continuum, so does heroism. Every act of standing up for another person, at work, at home, at school, really does shift the balance back the other way. Carry a concealed weapon, if you wish, (and if you are willing to put in the work) but do not think your responsibility as a protector ends there. You have declared your willingness to engage the battle at its most physical. Now put even more time and energy into engaging it at its most mundane, and most critical.

And never forget… (spoiler alert)

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anestis!
Christos Anesti! Alithos Anestis!

Jesus wins.

*This is the sixth and final part of a discussion on guns and violence. You can link to the other parts below, but this conclusion is really a stand-alone piece. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Over the last four posts

Carrying a pistol entails absolute responsibility for everything that happens with that pistol, with no exceptions.
Carrying a pistol entails absolute responsibility for everything that happens with that pistol, with no exceptions.

I have tried to elaborate on what I perceive to be the inadequacies of the gun control debate, and left off the third post with a rather bleak view of the situation. Unfortunately I do not feel qualified to propose a legislative solution to the problem, mostly because I do not think such a solution exists. I cannot think of an example in history in which a government has ever been able to prevent violence by legislation (I am not a historian, though. If you can think of such an example, let me know and I will add it to my list of things to research). I can think of any number of examples of cases in which such attempts have had the opposite effect.

This may seem pessimistic, but I do not think there is a solution to the problem of mass murder. There are only responses, which can decrease or increase the likelihood of such an event occurring, or increase or decrease the average person’s chances of surviving such an event if it occurs. A solution is not within the realm of human possibility.

A response, however, is possible and necessary, but a response is first and foremost, personal. Individuals respond by changing their behavior as a result of new knowledge, new outlooks, or a renewed determination to act upon old knowledge and outlooks. I will not say what anyone else’s response should be, but I will share my response with you.

To start with, I have a concealed carry permit, and I very often carry a pistol. I do this because I consider myself responsible to intervene to stop acts of violence that occur in front of me. Armed or unarmed, not acting is not an option for me. I am too strong, too well trained, I have too much experience, all of this specifically designed to make me able to deal with violence. I have the power, and therefore I have the responsibility, to act. I have seen situations in which I was powerless to act because of realities beyond my control, and I know from experience how they have eaten at me. Some of them still do. I cannot imagine living through the knowledge that I could have acted, and chose not to. It would be better to take a bullet.

This is a moral responsibility, not a legal responsibility. I take it on myself personally, unlike policemen who have an oath to act. Physically and mentally I am a Special Operations soldier, but legally I am a private citizen. This shapes how I respond and seriously limits the amount of force I may use, and the legal system’s tolerance of my use of force.

I am also a husband and father, and that, more than any other single factor, determines that I carry a pistol. My reasoning goes like this:

If I find myself in the middle of a lethal force encounter, I must act to save innocent lives.

Ideally I would like to save the perpetrator’s life as well, but that places me at a significantly higher risk of dying. If I die I can’t protect my family anymore, my wife is a widow and my daughter grows up without her father. I cannot, in good faith, take the same risks for the sake of a violent criminal as I could if I were single. Having a pistol means that I don’t have to get as close, I can act faster and from a greater distance to end the situation and save lives. So I carry one.

Everyone carrying a gun should read this book. It will help prevent you from using it.
Everyone carrying a gun should read this book. It will help prevent you from using it.

However, carrying a pistol entails a responsibility to be safe, fast and accurate with it, so that I do not add to the danger for everyone else. This means I have to spend time training in handling it, drawing, aiming at small targets, shooting under stress. Safe handling, and proper storage and transportation must be second nature, and I must never allow myself any shortcuts on them. I have seen two very experience shooters shoot themselves in the leg because they took shortcuts. All the nuts and bolts of concealed carry are way beyond the scope of this blog, but they absolutely are incumbent upon anyone who makes the decision to own a gun, much less carry one. The government cannot legislate this, or enforce it if they did legislate it. That is my personal moral responsibility, and I pass it to no one.

Carrying a gun also has a tendency to psychologically limit the person carrying it. I call this the “Hammer problem.” If you only have a hammer in your hand, every problem starts to look like a nail. Under stress, perfectly ordinary people can make surprisingly stupid decisions if they get tunneled in on the idea, “If anything happens I’ll just shoot him.” This leads to people getting shot who don’t need to get shot. If you have not practiced thinking clearly under stress, defusing situations and de-escalating potential violence, you should not be carrying a gun.

This book will give you a great overview of many of the things you need to consider before you think about arming yourself with a lethal weapon.
This book will give you a great overview of many of the things you need to consider before you think about arming yourself with a lethal weapon.

Carrying a gun has legal ramifications. If you choose to draw and fire a weapon in any situation, you will answer to the police and the legal system for it. Even if it was the most justified use of force since David and Goliath, you will have to explain yourself, and odds are good that you will be dragged across the coals by the DA’s office. You need to be ready for that, know a good lawyer or know how to find one, or at the least, know how to prep a lawyer to defend you. You need to know what does and does not constitute self-defense, and how to stay within that legal definition. You need to know how to make sure that everyone around you sees you doing just that, so that when they are called as witnesses (and they will be) their testimony will match yours.

Finally, do not fall for the temptation to dwell on the possibility of violent crime. Your odds of being in a mass shooting incident are very low, about on the level of your odds of getting struck by lightning. Dwelling on them and spending all your time planning and prepping for disaster is a short route to paranoia and making yourself and everyone around you miserable. My technique for that is, every time I do a scan for threats, I also do a scan for beautiful, funny or interesting things. This keeps me from getting fixated on violence, and keeps my expectations realistic, since I hardly ever find a real threat, and always find something beautiful, funny or interesting.

Mass shootings catch our attention because they are visible and frightening and highly reported by the media, but they are not the real problem. The real problem is much worse, and much more common.

That is Monday’s topic, and the last post in this series.

Warning: This post attempts to be in harmony with the teaching of the Church.
Warning: This post attempts to be in harmony with the teaching of the Church.

This is going to be a short post, because the answer has actually already been settled for us, as far as I can see. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

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.”

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.

Don't let the fluffy pajamas fool you, these guys are actually badasses.
Don’t let the fluffy pajamas fool you, these guys are actually badasses.

The right to act in self-defense, even using lethal means, has never been denied to Catholics. By correlation, the right to make all reasonable preparations to defend oneself and other innocent people, may be assumed. This includes the ownership, maintenance and practice of arms.

However, the rugged individualist interpretation of that right which is most natural to Americans is not actually in keeping with the way the Church has traditionally encouraged warriors to proceed. The lone warrior acting on a renegade  basis, loyal only to his own conscience and to the demands of de-personalized “morality” is not the normal state of arms in the Christian worldview. This is the lowest common denominator, and the final battle line, to be willing to fight for the right (or more likely to suffer and die for it at that point) when you are the last one left. It is the last resort, not the norm.

Recognizing that secular states may not be moral or effective guardians of the lives and dignity of people, nevertheless, the Church has always encouraged those who would use force to curtail violence to do so under the auspices of the government as much as possible. This holds true from St. Paul’s admonition in Roman’s 13:4 not to fear the magistrate who “bears not the sword in vain,” to the attempts to organize and restrain the warriors of the Middle Ages by the code of Chivalry, to the Church’s modern statements on capital punishment and just war.

Professional warriors have always been strong individuals, but professional warfare has never been anything other than a team event.
Professional warriors have always been strong individuals, but professional warfare has never been anything other than a team event.

Therefore, the private citizen who wishes to bear and maintain arms for self-defence should not act as if he were an isolated hermit, answerable to no one but himself for their usage. Instead, he should make a good faith effort to comply with all just laws regarding their use, and abide by restrictions placed on them.

Beyond that, while the Catholic is always obliged to resist evil*, the only people who are obliged to use force to do so are those “responsible for the lives of others.” The Church further defines these as “Those in legitimate authority,” which seems to indicate the police and military forces sanctioned by the state (let’s ignore for the moment questions about what to do when these forces are corrupt and evil). This could be extended to include parents, who are certainly responsible for the lives of their children, and in legitimate authority over them. However, the way the passage is phrased seems to indicate the civil government, which has legitimate authority over both the aggressor and the victims. I think we can say confidentially that under Church teaching no private citizen is ever obliged to use lethal force.

I make no empty threats!
I make no empty threats!

However, as I mentioned above, all Catholics are obligated to resist evil at all times. One of the options for doing so, which seems strikingly absent from the popular debate, is that of willingly laying down one’s life for someone else. While not technically martyrdom (except in cases where the killer may explicitly kill those who profess faith, as in Oregon recently) “No greater love has any man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friend.” The men and women who, in mass shooting incidents, have willingly exposed themselves to getting shot either to shield other people or in an attempt to take down the attacker undoubtedly displayed a high degree of the virtue of fortitude.

For Catholics, however, we have an option even more profound, St. Paul says “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8. The choice not to use lethal force, but instead to seek to restrain the attacker by some other means, even at the risk of one’s own life, could be an act of ultimate heroism. By not killing the man in the midst of his sins, you give him both a powerful witness to the value of all life, including his own and the nature mercy, as well as the time for that lesson to sink in, and hopefully for him to come to repentance and save his own soul. While we may debate about the feasibility or prudence of this course of action in any given situation, I submit that to suffer and even die for your enemy is the most Catholic response of all.

This is our model. Be suspicious of any ideology that would use holding a gun as an excuse to let go of the cross.
This is our model. Be suspicious of any ideology that would use holding a gun as an excuse to let go of the cross.

To those who say, “Don’t be a hero. Keep your head down, or just shoot him and be done with it,” I ask, if not us, then who? We are Catholics. Heroic love is part of the job description. To the extent that we do not love heroically, we fail as Catholics. If we get to heaven it will be because, in His mercy, He has enabled us to love heroically. The only question is whether only God will know about it, or whether other people will hear about it too.

Guns are both a potential problem and a potential solution, but what both sides of the debate seem not to realize (with some exceptions) is that they are only ever an immediate problem or an immediate solution. That is, a gun is only ever the threat in a very specific time and place when a tactical situation is threatened or ongoing. They are solutions only in the same kinds of situations that they are also problems.

First, guns as immediate problems. It is an internet trope by now, the person who says, “I left all my guns lying on the living room floor all day, and they never killed anyone.” It is flippant and simplistic, but it does illustrate a point which many anti-gun advocates simply do not understand, which is, that guns are only dangerous when someone is pointing them at you.

I don’t suppose anyone can fully understand this point unless you have lived in an armed society. I have. I was active duty military for over a decade. I walked around with guns, surrounded by men with guns, and didn’t get shot by them, and didn’t shoot any of them. I walked up and down the streets of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, with both American and Iraqi/Afghani forces, all armed, all looking for a fight or dreading a fight. We got into major arguments, fistfights, feuds, outright hatred sometimes, and yet we did not shoot each other. I was not worried about getting shot, unless someone pointed a gun at me.

America has been criticized for embracing
America has been criticized for embracing “rugged individualism” but what those critics often neglect is that the heart of this individualism at its best is the absolute acceptance of personal responsibility for your own well-being and fulfillment, and that or your family.

This is because we accepted a certain level of risk, but also a certain level of responsibility. This is the heart of the liberal anti-gun position, the unwillingness to accept risk or take responsibility. They want to be safe, to live in a world where people cannot do things like shoot up a school, and they refuse to acknowledge that that is not the world we live in. It is tainted by sin, full of evil and heartbreak and sadness and suffering and death. To think that if we just get rid of all the nasty guns then all that suffering and death will go away is childish. Worse, it is false, and it gets people killed.

Along with the unwillingness to acknowledge that we live in a dangerous world, comes the unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own safety. It is the job of the police to protect me, the government’s job to protect me, the law, the lawyers, the media. Everyone else needs to keep the scary bad guys away, and people who won’t join me in pretending that we live in a safe world are mean. The ones who remind me of the fact that I might die today are bad guys themselves, just as bad as the mass murderers.

The people who adjust to combat the best are intelligent risk takers. They know they might die, and they accept that fact, even embrace it. They also want to live, and know that in order to live, paradoxically, they have to be willing to die. They are willing to die, if there is a good enough reason, e.g. to save their friends’ lives, but not for some BS politics or oil money. They think it’s just great when higher ups send us cool things like air support and artillery to help out, but they don’t count on it. They go in knowing that when it comes right down to it, no one can save us but ourselves. Even if help does come, we have to survive long enough for it to get here.

People fear what they do not understand. I have seen some people who almost have a panic attack just looking at a gun. I know a lot more who get uncomfortable and visibly nervous. This often seems to be the attitude behind gun control activism, fear writ large. We can’t keep bad guys from being bad guys, but they have guns and guns make me nervous, so get rid of guns.

(As I said before, if I thought this policy would work I would be more inclined to support it.)

By the same token, gun rights activists often fall into the opposite trap. They are comfortable taking care of themselves, and perhaps a bit too comfortable. They also want violent situations to end, but they expect to have to end them themselves, rather than cower in a corner and wait for the police to show up. This is a reasonable view of violent incidents. Any level of acceptance of personal responsibility to act is better than the futile, self-defeating complaint of “Why is this happening to me?”

The Hatfield-McCoy vendetta is one famous example of violence begetting violence, but the same reality occurs even when the use of force is justified.
The Hatfield-McCoy vendetta is one famous example of violence begetting violence, but the same reality occurs even when the use of force is justified.

Where this view fails is in thinking that by ending the incident they have resolved the issue. That is not the case. Ending the incident rarely even ends the incident. Legal, social, psychological and emotional consequences are unavoidable, even if you have the food fortune to survive uninjured. More to the point of this blog, even in the best case scenario, the underlying cause of that violent incident is still very much intact.

It may even be stronger.

This is because violence begets violence. It is easiest to see in honor cultures, such as gangs or the tribal codes of the Middle East, where an act of violence calls forth reprisals, which calls forth further reprisals, which perpetuates and endless cycle of violence.

A subtler and more insidious version of this dynamic is at work in our society, where a mass shooting occurs and dominates the headlines for weeks. Others with similar desires and issues see this and are inspired to plan their own mass shooting. Meanwhile, anti-gun activists lash out in frustration, insinuating that gun rights activists are little better than accessories to mass murder. Gun rights activists lash back in fear of having their gun rights infringed upon and being left defenseless, accusing the other side of exploiting tragedies for political gain, and of attempting to disarm the population in preparation for government takeover. Anger begets anger, fear begets fear, violence begets violence.

A use of force, even of lethal force, is a justifiable means of ending a violent encounter in which one person is killing other people. I have no wish to diminish awareness of that fact. However, the point I am trying to make stands, that merely to focus on having the ability to end such an encounter, is to miss the larger issue entirely. The larger issue is the violence inherent in the hearts of men, and even a justified use of force may end the incident, but worsen that underlying situation.

The question for next time is: what can we do about it?