Divine Mercy Sunday. The Beatification of Pope John Paul II. The death of Osama bin Laden. I am a person who sees significance not only in the events of our world, but in their timing -- to me, there is no 'coincidence' but only 'divine providence.' How, then, can we reconcile the events of the day from a worldview of faith?
The first thing I would say is this: it is my sincere hope that the only 'rejoicing' that is happening over the death of bin Laden comes from the deep sadness that people felt over the lives lost because of him and the constant threat that he presented to the life, dignity, and well-being of the human family at large. His acts of terror were a constant threat to people around the world, and so I can understand a sense of relief in a case where it seems that one source of evil in the world has been put to an end.
Still, evil is never overcome by evil, and violence never brings peace. We must not forget that Osama bin Laden himself was a person with God-given dignity. And on this Divine Mercy Sunday, we should entrust his soul (along with all of ours) to the mercy of God. I know, some of you are probably wincing as you read. But what about justice?
Let us not forget that in God, "Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). His thoughts are so far above our thoughts, and His ways above our ways. In us, justice and mercy cannot always coexist, but in God they can, and in fact must -- God, who is the author of life, is the fullness of justice and of mercy! So as Christians, we should hope that Osama bin Laden will commend himself to the mercy of God and we should pray for his soul. In fact, our own ability to receive the mercy of God depends on it. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" -- sound familiar?
I found myself wondering what our Blessed John Paul II would have to say about the death of bin Laden, and I was reminded of his beautifully written encyclical on human life, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). In it, he speaks of the dignity of every human person and the Church's stance on the death penalty. Pertaining to the situation at hand, Blessed JP II has this to say:
"Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life ... [but] 'If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.'"
To the Bishops
Priests and Deacons
Men and Women religious
and all People of Good Will
on the Value and Inviolability
of Human Life
3. Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).
55. This should not cause surprise: to kill a human being, in whom the image of God is present, is a particularly serious sin. Only God is the master of life! Yet from the beginning, faced with the many and often tragic cases which occur in the life of individuals and society, Christian reflection has sought a fuller and deeper understanding of what God's commandment prohibits and prescribes. 43 There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God's Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else's life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself " (Mk 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself.
Moreover, "legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the State".44 Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason. 4556. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence".46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. 47
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".48
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!
Peace and all good,