Thursday, August 23, 2012

Social Justice Hymns

Today's musical commentary brought to you today by the letters O, C, and P, and the following hymn lyrics:

"Let us lay down our weapons of might.
Stockpiles but lead to terror and fright.
Wealth that is wasted, anger unfurled.
Let bombs be changed to bread for the world."
(Suzanne Toolan, RSM. Copyright 2004.)





Folk songs can definitely be a force for good under certain circumstances.  For example, some of the songs of Tommy Sands materially contributed to the lessening of hostilities in Northern Ireland, and some songs can still serve as ways of telling history, remembering important names and dates, and conveying other information. The singer Robbie O'Connell frequently performs what might be Sands' most famous composition, "There Were Roses."  In the original version of the song, the names were the names of two real boys who died, young men that Sands knew.  The names have since been changed at the request of the families.  But Robbie tells a story from several years ago when he still sang the song with the real names and performed it on stage in California.  After the show, an immigrant from Northern Ireland approached Robbie and asked if the song was true.  When he confirmed that it was, the audience member thanked him for singing the song and said that she used to know those young men, but had not stayed in touch with folks back home and had never heard about their sad fate before.

Nevertheless, the type of protest song typified by the hymn lyrics above is not appropriate during Mass.  On the one hand, the Scriptures do tell us that peacemakers are blessed (and I'm pretty sure Our Lord wasn't talking about the Colt Peacemaker), and that one day swords will be beaten into plowshares.  The popes and bishops tell us that we have an obligation to work for peace.

However, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that there will ever be a true and lasting peace in this world, this vale of tears.  Human nature is fallen, and although Christ has redeemed us, we are still subject to concupiscence and Satan is still at large, bringing chaos and seeking the ruin of souls.  Only when Christ comes again will wars truly cease.  As Christians, our work for peace has the possibility of mitigating the effects of war but never totally eradicating it, just as we can never totally eradicate poverty (which Our Lord has also told us: "The poor you will always have with you").  This eradication of poverty is also a frequent theme of "social justice" hymns. Somehow, mystically, our actions of charity will contribute to the ultimate eradication of poverty at the end of the world, but we will not see the full realization and completion of our work in cooperating with Christ until that day and it is not in keeping with the Church's understanding of Scripture to claim otherwise.


Because of this reality, the suggestion that we should all entirely lay down our weapons is a bit bizarre, in light of the Church's teaching that we have the right, and sometimes duty, to defend ourselves and others against attacks on life and limb.  Weapons even the odds between me and potential attackers who may be much larger and stronger than I am, and this is true on both a personal level and on the level of nations.  From this perspective, to call for everyone to give up the tools of physical warfare is not appropriate.  Ultimately, yes, we will all lay down our weapons, and we ought to look forward to that day, and not delight in the necessity or action of self-defense, but you cannot deny the reality of this world or pretend that peace will come in our time unless it be through the Second Coming of Christ.

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