In light of the tragedy at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church last week, many churchgoers felt compelled to pack heat in self-defense. This is an understandable and very human response. After all, self-preservation and the desire to protect one’s family from unjust aggressors lie within our human nature. Everyone is entitled to feel this way.
Well, that is, unless you live in the Diocese of Dallas, Texas.
Bishop Edward J. Burns, who arrived just a couple months ago, issued a different sort of response to the tragedy in Sutherland Springs. In his statement he does say he wants the 30.06 and 30.07 signs that forbid concealed and open carry respectively taken down outside all the Catholic Churches. He says this because he thinks having the signs up would make the Churches “an easy target for terror.”
But then he follows that up by stating, “But let us be clear, the policy of prohibiting the open or concealed possession of firearms at our parishes still stands.” That’s right, the day immediately following the shooting within the same state, the bishop renewed the diocese’ prohibition to pack heat at Catholic Churches within his diocese.
With all due respect to the bishop, I fail to understand how he has any right to prohibit anyone from carrying. He seems to contradict the natural law by issuing this vague, and rather contradictory statement. Let me elaborate.
Now, I realize under Texas civil law Church grounds are considered private property, so the right to bear arms is subject to the discretion of the owner–in this case, the bishop. Yet, by taking down the signs he weakens his civil authority for enforcing his request.
At any rate, a Catholic bishop ought to know and be counted on to uphold the natural law allowing for self-defense. To enact ordinances that contradict the laws God Himself established seems to violate our faith.
“An unjust law is no law at all,” St. Augustine held. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously quoted St. Augustine saying as much in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
St. Thomas Aquinas agreed too, writing so in two places at least. One was in his work, On Law, Morality & Politics (q95, a2, p. 59). The other was in his much more popular treatise, the Summa Theologica:
“Human law is law only by virtue of its accordance with right reason; and thus it is manifest that it flows from the eternal law. And in so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law; in such case it is no law at all, but rather a species of violence.” (Ia-Ilae, q. 93, art. 3).
How can the bishop’s statement prohibiting guns at Church be an “unjust law?” Easily.
As St. Thomas Aquinas just stated, any law must be in accord with right reason and fall in line with the eternal law, i.e. Divine Law. In the hierarchy of law, Divine Law reigns supreme. Under that flows the natural law. Then under that come ecclesial law and then human or civil law. Therefore, any law found lower on the totem pole that violates a law above it remains an “unjust law.” Simple enough.
Self-preservation remains a key component of the natural law, imprinted on every person. The Angelic Doctor agrees, [I]nasmuch as every substance (i.e., living thing, including humans) seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law” (ST., II-I, q. 94, art. 2).
What’s more, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others” (#2265, emphasis added). Thus, not only do we each have the right to defend our own lives, but even the obligation to protect those innocent around us.
Of course, to pack heat at Church is a means to protect one’s self and others from an unjust aggressor. To take the life of an attacker would be just, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, and the Catechism affirms him, “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” (S.T., II-II, q 64, art. 7; CCC 2264).
Elsewhere, the Dominic Doctor of the Church states, “It is written (Exodus 22:2): ‘If a thief be found breaking into a house or undermining it, and be wounded so as to die; he that slew him shall not be guilty of blood.’ Now it is much more lawful to defend one’s life than one’s house. Therefore neither is a man guilty of murder if he kills another in defense of his own life (S.T. II-II, q. 64, art. 7, emphasis added).
Thus, we have established that is a matter of the natural law that you are entitled to use lethal force, if necessary, to defend your right to life and to defend those in your care. No lower form of law can justly deprive you of your rights—not even a request from a Catholic bishop.
I will leave you with a few passages from the Divine Law that is from the inspired, inerrant Bible that indicate the legitimacy of self-defense and our duty to protect the innocent:
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.’” –Luke 22:36
“They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ [Jesus] replied, ‘It is enough.’” –Luke 22:38
“But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” –Romans 13:4
“If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred…” –Exodus 22:2
“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” –Psalm 82:4
“[I]f you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death, those who go staggering to the slaughter… Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it? And will he not repay all according to their deeds?” –Proverbs 24:11-12
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain are the righteous who give way before the wicked.” –Proverbs 25:26
In addition to praying for the victims, the perpetrator of the shooting, and the survivors, let us not be afraid. Let us not be afraid to exercise our God-given right to defend ourselves, our wives, our children, our pastors, and our fellow worshippers. Let us not refuse to pack heat in self-defense.
Let us not be docile like sheep among wolves. Let us pray our shepherds will help to protect us.
What do you make of this?
Please leave your comments below!