Edith Stein and Nagasaki
Daily Homily

Jim Tucker
August 09, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

The Church today celebrates the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known by her name in the world, Edith Stein. Our saint was born a German Jew toward the end of the 19th Century. She eventually fell into atheism and became a prominent figure in the world of philosophy, devoting herself to phenomenology and personalism, the area of expertise of another, slightly later, European philosopher, Dr Karol Wojtyla, who would later go on to become Pope John Paul II.

Edith Stein's intellectual journey brought her back to a faith in God and eventually to be baptized as a Catholic in 1922. She took the veil as a cloistered Carmelite nun in 1934, receiving the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. The Nazis, who were of course more concerned with Jewish ethnicity than Jewish religion, dragged her from the convent and sent her to off to Auschwitz in 1942, where she died in the gas chambers together with her sister, also a convert and a nun.

This all calls to mind the wickedness of so many of the things done in that particular war of the sad last century. Today is not only the feast of Edith Stein, it is also the 60th anniversary of the atom bombing of Nagasaki. We patriotic Americans aren't supposed to question the morality of what our government did in that war, but we're going to do it anyway. When the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tens of thousands of lives of men, women, and children were snuffed out in a single instant, and over a quarter of a million would eventually die of the effects. For centuries, Catholic morality has taught us that it is intrinsically evil to target a civilian population and to resort to indiscriminate killing and destruction, which is exactly what happened in both the atom bombings. That is why the Vatican of Pope Pius XII condemned these actions as crimes against God and man. And Pius XII was certainly no push-over liberal.

It's important for us to consider this and come to terms with it -- not because we should feel guilty. We shouldn't feel guilty about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, any more than today's Germans should feel guilty about the Holocaust. We didn't do it, but we are under a moral obligation to form our consciences so that this sort of thing will never happen again. And it's not just about atom bombs: the moral structure of this issue touches all sorts of other cases that abound in today's world. Our bedrock principle is this: we may never commit an intrinsically evil act, for whatever reason, however good that reason might be. So, even though it's good that the war ended quickly after the bombings, and it's good that our soldiers were spared a bloody invasion of Japan, those good ends can never excuse using immoral means to achieve that end.

So also today, when some poor girl finds herself with an inconvenient pregnancy, and she wants to keep her future bright and filled with possibilities; even though what she wants is good, that cannot justify resorting to abortion to achieve that good end. Or when someone is sick and suffering and just wants an end to the pain, that perfectly normal desire cannot justify suicide or euthanasia as a means to that end. Or when we suspect someone may have useful information for the war against terror, that can never justify our torturing that person or terrorizing him in order to serve our purposes. Or when we just want the wonderful benefits of medical research, that praiseworthy aspiration cannot justify our destroying human life at an early stage of development in order to advance the research. Or when an activist just wants a free and independent homeland, that noble goal can never justify strapping on a bomb and blowing up a bus, or flying airplanes into skyscrapers, or whatever. When people do extreme things, they generally are convinced that their purposes are good enough to justify the evil they are doing. Catholic morality insists that an intrinsic evil can never -- under any circumstances -- be committed in order to achieve the good. Ends do not justify means.

Nagasaki is also connected to another of the saints of World War II, St Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Most people don't realize that Nagasaki was the one place in Japan that had a strong Christian presence. Nagasaki was one of the chief places that the crucifixions of the Japanese martyrs had taken place centuries before. It was also at Nagasaki that St Maximilian Kolbe went to build one of his "Cities of the Immaculata." So, when Harry Truman's atom bomb fell on Nagasaki sixty years ago today, many of the victims burned to ashes and melted away were not just fellow human beings, but fellow Roman Catholics.

The last century was one of the bloodiest in the history of the world. The darkness is not limited to the monstrously enormous but specific crimes of the Nazi Holocaust, the Communist gulag, the atom bombings, the rise of terrorism, the genocides, and so forth. The darkness has formed a concrete mentality, a culture of death, that oozes into the brains and consciences of good people. It makes us callous to suffering and death, it compromises our values, it makes us willing to "do unto others before they can do unto us." It tells us that human life is cheap, and that great evil is permissible so long as it's done in the name of something beneficial. This culture of death tells us that good enough ends can justify any means. You and I breathe in this poison every day, and so we must innoculate ourselves against it by an examination of our own consciences, by a docile study of the teachings of the Church, and by a refusal to resort to evils even in order that good may come. If we do that, we can be the light in society that turns the darkness back, the instrument for changing the culture of death into a culture of life. Amen.