Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.

But:

The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

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Really Painful Movie

Zero Dark Thirty 1

Zero dark thirty. That’s when I turn on the light and read a few chapters of St. Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles.

The movie of the same name: finally got around to seeing it. Yes, Jennifer Ehle appears, speaking a strange Amuricken language. And the unforgettable Mercutio of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (Harold Perrineau Jr.) And Jessica Chastain.

Every reason to like the movie, in other words. But: It’s not dramatically coherent.

Replicate the great Seal-Team-Six moment. Fill up two hours to lead up to the helicopter take-off. That’s called the dramatic tail wagging the shaggy dog.

Osama_bin_Laden_compound1Director Kathryn Bigelow had a ‘hunt for Bin Laden’ movie already in the works, apparently. Then we actually found ‘UBL,’ in real life. The movie had to get retrofitted to accommodate reality. It shows.

That said, watching made me want to visit the sites. Pakistan, Afganistan. (And Jordan, where the filming actually occurred.) May God provide the opportunity.

I still wish we could have tried bin Laden in a court of law. The movie means to celebrate the Seals, and the dogged spies–and so they should be celebrated. But the death of the innocent during the raid, and the orphans left in the dark house when the helicopter took off… The neighbors left to walk into the bloody halls to find the screaming children… Those neighbors would not think well of us Americans, I don’t think.

Bigelow refers to the decade between 9/11 and Operation Neptune Spear as “dark.” I can hardly think of any decade in which Sheryl Crow released something like seven albums as ‘dark.’

But maybe the nought decade was dark. If it was, the helicopter raid of May 1, 2011 has hardly dispelled the darkness.

That day has NOT served as the bookend to 9/11. Turns out the shelf had a lot more books on it: Books of small-minded mutual incomprehension–the kind that leaves orphans in its wake.

The Verdict

God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him…

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. (John 3:16-19)

“This is the verdict.”

Can it be a co-incidence that when we come to church this week, when our national airwaves are full of justice finally being done on our enemy, we hear the most famous verses of the Bible, and one of the verses is: “This is the verdict.”

Verdict. Verum dictum. True word.

The truth harries a man who has done evil. We can run; we can blind ourselves; we can fill our heads with noise to provide a distraction. But the truth will not go away. The truth waits. It is patient. He is patient.

Christ came as the light of the world. He came to restore us to our original dignity. The dignity of man is to be a flute that harmonizes with the divine orchestra in a springtime fantasia. The dignity of man is to abide in peace with everything that is beautiful and true.

But Christ is patient about shining His light of truth. He let His life be snuffed out by evil men.

The truth is patient. He can afford to be.

Continue reading “The Verdict”

Contra Gentiles

…I think that, in time, we will discover that it would have been better to capture bin Laden and try him in a court of law.

Chapter 136 of Book III of St. Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles will enlighten us on the subject of marriage, especially:

The community of mankind would not be in a perfect state unless there were some people who direct their intention to generative acts and others who refrain from these acts and devote themselves to contemplation.

Architecture Day

twin towersI was always against the Twin Towers, architecturally speaking.

I thought they looked like the effluvia of an intergalactic spaceship the size of Iowa that had stopped over lower Manhattan to deposit its waste in two briquettes, pinched out squarely from its enormous wrought-iron rectum.

I didn’t like the idea of the Death Star going to the bathroom in the middle of one of our grandest cities of Earth.

That said, when I visited my brother in New York in 2002, and I laid eyes on the lower Manhattan skyline, I was mad as hell. The ugly towers–fixtures of life, my old friends–were gone. The enemy had attacked our home, knocked down our buildings, and killed our people.

new mell naveI still miss the hideous buildings. Isn’t it strange that, after eight years, justice has yet to be done? The perpetrators of the attack went to judgment in the course of their murderous rage, of course. But what about the mastermind? I do not wish him damned; I do not want revenge. But he must face justice.

…I have had the opportunity to kneel and pray a few times in the abbey church of New Melleray, outside Dubuque, Iowa. It is the most peaceful place I have ever been. When I get to heaven, please God, I hope the Lord will let me spend it in this church.

It is simply the most perfect church on earth. But I knew from the first moment I spent there that there was something about the location of its windows that was in fact too perfect to be the result of human design.

new mell sanctuaryIt turns out that the walls of this perfect church were originally built to house a dormitory. It used to be a two-story residence for the monks. Then, when they built other buildings, and completed their cloister, they removed the floor separating the first and the second storeys of this part, and turned it into their church. Amazing.

(N.B. The tabernacle is within the wooden structure behind the altar. This aspect of the church is odd, I grant. I also wish the altar were wider. And of course if the Lord let me spend eternity there, he would also let me say Mass facing east. But the walls and windows are perfect as is.)

NewMellerayAbbey

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