Is there not something wrong in the Church when Christians, on both sides of a battle line, are receiving the Body of Christ in Communion at 9 a.m. in preparation for going out to kill each other at 11 a.m.?  The fact that this practice has been in the Church since the Constantinian revision of Christianity in the Fourth Century and continues to be acceptable to this very hour, underlines both the seriousness and urgency of the issue.  So, is this Eucharistic custom a proper use, a misuse or a sacrilegious abuse of the Sacrament that Jesus instituted on the night before He was killed by the ruling religious politicos and state functionaries in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

Remember, Jesus went to His death explicitly and unequivocally rejecting violence, loving His enemies, praying for His persecutors and without a trace of revenge, retaliation or retribution.  In His teachings, person and death He is superabundantly merciful to those for whom justice would have insisted upon lethal justice.  Is not the remembrance of these Gospel truths about Our Lord's sacrifice on Golgotha not intimately and irrevocably tied to His "Do this in remembrance of Me" command at the Last Supper?  On top of this, it is at the First Eucharistic celebration that Jesus mandates for His disciples His unique and new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you."  (John 13:34).   In light of all this, how is it spiritually, theologically or pastorally legitimate for Christians who are planning to kill other Christians — or non-Christians — to participate in the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion?

Today, in the Catholic Church, with the introduction of laypersons as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, a new and giant step has been taken down the 1700 year old road of putting Holy Communion at the service of homicidal violence and enmity and the spirit that orchestrates them.  I think the best way to appraise my readers of this new homicide-justifying Eucharistic front is to quote briefly from an article which is written by a Catholic U. S. Army Captain and which appears in an August 2003 issue of a national Catholic magazine.  The title of the article is "Calling for Fire."  The subtitle is "A Knight Serving God and Country in Iraq."

As a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army, there have been many times that I have had to call for fire.  This occurred most recently last spring during Operation Iraqi Freedom and an attack by the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division on the city of Al Hillah, in south central Iraq.  For me, the mission meant putting well-placed artillery rounds into Al Hillah and controlling the fires of more than 40 artillery pieces in support of the advancing infantry.

Prior to leaving Fort Campbell, Ky., last February, I attended a one-day training session to be an extra-ordinary minister of the Eucharist or EME.  We learned how to conduct prayer services and Communion services (in the absence of a priest).

At the first Mass I attended in Iraq, I stood with my fellow leaders, soldiers, a few photojournalists and the celebrity journalist Geraldo Rivera. Following dismissal, the chaplain asked if there were any EMEs at Mass.  I raised my hand. He impressed upon me that my duties included performing the Catholic Communion service in the absence of a priest.  With that, he gave me guidance on what I would need.  Before I left for Kuwait, my brother (a priest), gave me a pyx (for carrying the consecrated Host). The priest (military chaplain) gave me the most important gift of all.  He placed in my hands Hosts that had been consecrated at the Mass and said, "Go. God will be your strength out there."

The first occasion I had to conduct a service was after the battle of Karbala.  My artillery battalion was there in support of another unit.  In the morning, I realized it was a Sunday, the first Sunday I had the chance to conduct a service.  What I did not realize was the number of people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, who would show up.  The Lord's Prayer brought beaming smiles to all those present.  Catholics came forward to receive Holy Communion while others sat and prayed quietly. Throughout the rest of Lent I continued to do what I could to make Sunday seem like more than just another workday.  In Baghdad, a priest from another brigade came to celebrate Mass on Easter. He replenished my supply of Hosts and sent me on my way.

Since then I have had the opportunity to perform a service for my brigade and/or battalion every Sunday and on Ascension Thursday. I was inspired to write this one night as I contemplated what I could do to make Pentecost a more meaningful celebration.  I remembered that at Pentecost we call on the fire of the Holy Spirit.  I realized that next Sunday I would "call for fire" in a whole new way.

If this account does not send shivers through the souls of all Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant bishops who read it, then they better pinch themselves to see if they have any spiritual life left in them.  A soldier running around a battlefield killing people with consecrated Hosts in his pocket and knapsack or having consecrated Hosts waiting for him back in his tent, so that when he is finished killing people he is able to conduct Communion Services for his fellow killers, is not what the Eucharist is about.

This is the Eucharist and Communion being employed to divinize those very spirits that the Lord came to earth to vanquish.  It is the spirit of Cain being cloaked in divine approval.  It is fratricide being given Christ's blessing.  It is Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, word and deed being conscripted in order to religiously legitimize the extreme antithesis of what He is, did and taught.  It is the cacophonous false witness of a nationalistic Christianity that subordinates the explicit and unequivocal teachings of Jesus on violence and enmity to nation-state interests, as defined by the ruling class of the moment.  It is Christian pietistic fervor stripped of Jesus' fundamental teachings on violence, enmity and retaliation.  It is Holy Communion as presented to the world by Franz Josef Rarkowski, the Catholic Military Bishop of Germany, in his 1944 Lenten Pastoral, where he exhorts his flock to receive Communion in order to have what it takes to go out and kill for Hitler and the nation:  "They (the military chaplains) will distribute the Bread of Life among you, and I am certain that the power of the Lord will come over you and will give you the strength to give your best as soldiers of the German Army for Fuhrer, Volk and Vaterland."

But let me be transparently clear, lest an unwanted and unintended misconception creeps in here and misdirects attention from the central concern of this essay.  In no way am I criticizing or judging the young army captain who was commissioned by the Church as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.  Nor, is there the slightest thought or desire to criticize or judge any military person who received Communion from him or from anyone else on the battlefield.  Those responsible in this matter are solely the bishops of the Church — each individually and all collectively.  They and only they can formally permit enmity-filled, lethally hostile groups of Christians, embarked on programs of victory through homicidal violence, to receive Communion.  

If they did not ecclesiastically approve, justify and encourage it, this young army captain and his fellow killers of fellow human beings, including fellow Christians, could not participate in the Agape Meal on the killing fields or in anticipation of premeditated human bloodletting.  The lay military man or woman giving Communion or receiving Communion before, during or after intentional participation in the homicidal violence of war is not the person being called to account here.  The issue is exclusively the bishops of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches and their willingness to allow this Sacrament, the Holy Mystery of the Lord's Supper, to be used in a way that gives divine endorsement to a spirit whose lair is the world of perpetual horror called hell.

"Beyond the fear and exhaustion is a sea of horror that surrounds the soldier and assails his every sense," writes former Ranger, Paratrooper and West Point instructor, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, in his book, On Killing.  He continues:
Hear the pitiful screams of the wounded and dying.  Smell the butcher-house smells of feces, blood, burned flesh and rotting decay, which combine into the awful stench of death.  Feel the shudder of the ground as the very earth groans at the abuse of artillery and explosives, and feel the last shiver of life and the flow of warm blood as friends die in your arms.

William Manchester in his Pulitzer Prize nominated book, Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War, opens the door to truth a little, so that reality beyond the hermetically sealed room of blinding war propaganda may be seen:
You tripped over strings of viscera fifteen feet long, over bodies which had been cut in half at the waist.  Legs and arms, and heads bearing only necks, lay fifty feet from the closest torsos.  As night fell the beachhead reeked with the stench of burning flesh.

Of course we need only look at the daily newspaper to realize that war is not what the government's professional falsifiers present it as:  An Iraqi woman sitting in a van with her two daughters sees both their heads blown off without any warning (Boston Globe); an Iraqi father, standing a few feet from his 33 year old daughter who has just received her Ph.D., sees her heart literally pushed out of her body by a bomb that comes through the roof but does not explode (London Mirror).  Is anything described by Grossman, Manchester or the two newspaper stories not from the spirit that resides in hell?  Is anything described not the ordinary, daily stuff of war?  General William Tecumseh Sherman sums it all up with brutal succinctness:
I am sick and tired of war.  Its glory is all moonshine.  It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation.  War is hell.

Did Christ come so His followers could raise "holy" hell on earth with clear consciences?  Did Jesus institute the Eucharist [Communion] so His followers could derive from it the strength of mind and soul to go out and kill other followers of His — or to kill non-followers of

I assume that what I am about to say will be considered a cultural breach of good manners by Christian bishops and those who think bishops should not be held publicly accountable by the Christian community for their public acts within the Christian community.  But, sometimes there is no way to communicate a truth to those who live by a false perception and an erroneous interpretation of reality, a perception and an interpretation that are destroying people body and soul, other than by risking being forever labeled strident. 

Be that as it may, I and many, many other Christians and non-Christians are "sick and tired" of watching bishops, O so cunningly, spiritually valorize the horror that war brings into existence, by teaching that what Christian men and women do for their side in war is somehow in compliance with the Will and the Way of God as revealed by Jesus Christ.   I have watched for over 60 years Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant bishops ceaselessly exchange the Glory of God, made visible in the nonviolent Jesus Christ, for the moonshine of nationalistic military glory.  Worse I have watched bishop after bishop, almost without exception, work diligently to make militaristic moonshine more palatable to the sheep of their flocks by artificially lacing it with the saccharine lie that this is a way of life and death in conformity with the Way of life and death of "our Sweet Jesus."

It has been said by many over many centuries of Church history that "the road to hell is paved with miters."  How any one would know this is beyond me, since the final judgment takes place and Gehenna subsists in realms of existence beyond time and space.  But, what can be said with moral and intellectual certainty is that over the last 1700 years of Church history "the road to that manifestation of hell which is called war is paved with miters."  Indeed bishops of every ilk have queued up in "holy" support of just about every side of every war fought in the West over the last millennium and a half.  Is it any wonder that I and many, many others are "sick and tired" of watching this pitiable, contrived, morally feeble and long-playing episcopal charade of justifying unspeakable evil in the name of

If this infidelity were "merely" on the level of the oaths that men in some Churches have to swear, in direct contradiction of Jesus' explicit teaching against oath taking, before they are permitted to be ordained bishops, it would be a serious but not soul-sickening matter.  However, utilizing the episcopal office to administer continuous doses of the theologically sweetened moonshine of war to those Christians whose spiritual life has been entrusted by Christ to one's care is altogether on a different scale of "I will not obey."  Moonshine is a powerful drug that undermines right-mindedness.  Sweet-tempered moonshine is poison, because palatability guarantees lethally excessive consumption.  When bishops become the spiritual confectioners for war, by justifying in the name of Jesus homicidal violence and enmity, then being "sick and tired" of what they are about should be the automatic and minimum Christian response.

Unfortunately for the Church and for humanity, most Christians of most Churches will find the article, "Calling for Fire" spiritually edifying.  Likewise, most Christian bishops will see nothing wrong with a man with consecrated Hosts running around a battlefield killing people.  Nor, will either see anything amiss with going from killing enemy human beings to conducting Communion services and receiving Holy Communion.  The episcopacy and laity of practically all Churches will experience no problem with any of this, because from the time they themselves were lambs their shepherds were pumping artificially flavored, spiritually sugared martial moonshine into them through every channel available.

There really is nothing much more to say.  The whole situation is sorrowfully clear.  However, there is zero chance, barring some extraordinary act of divine intervention, that the bishops of any of the mainline Churches of Christianity any place in the world will change their minds and hearts and wills and behaviors on this matter of militarized Eucharists.  Too addictive is spiritually sugarcoated military moonshine and too enticing and enslaving are its totally perishable fruits.  There is no way on earth that the bishops of the Christian Churches are going to be able to perceive that they and their predecessors have exchanged the Glory of the Cross for the moonshine of the Cross turned upside-down, the sword.  There is no way, short of a miracle, that bishops and most members of most Churches are going to grasp that the nonviolent love of friends and enemies that Jesus embodies and teaches is vocational and not merely political, tactical or philosophical; that it comes simultaneously to the Christian with Christ's call to be His chosen disciple; that it is an irremovable dimension of His command to "Follow Me."

However, as someone who believes in miracles, let me conclude with a Gospel passage that Scripture scholars tell us is intentionally constructed to echo and to repudiate as God's will and spirit a story about Elijah found in 2 Kings 1:10-14.  In this Old Testament story Elijah kills his enemies on two occasions by the invocation, "Let fire come down from heaven and destroy you."  In the Gospel (Luke 9:51-56) two of the Apostles, two of the first bishops in the lineage of Apostolic Succession, James and John, are indignant when a Samaritan village does not allow Jesus, a Jew, to stay there for a rest.  And so, overcome by that spirit that resides in hell but relentlessly endeavors to take up residence in the human heart, they say to Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven and burn them up?"  But, Jesus "turning, rebuked them and said, "You do not know what spirit it is you are made of.  The Son of Man came not to destroy people's lives but to save them.'" -- Emmanuel Charles McCarthy.

Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN, for
Every Church A Peace Church    (

See also History of War and Anti-War

24 December 2007