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.


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.

John Paul II’s Martyr-Predecessors

Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow
Bishop Karol Wojtyla entering cathedral in Krakow

One of Bl. Pope John Paul II’s greatest sources of pride and joy was the fact that he had the unusual privilege of serving as the successor of not one, but two bishop-martyr-saints.

Of course, he served as the successor of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome. Peter, the leader of the Apostles, suffered martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and thereby consecrated the Church of Rome with his blood. Since ancient times, the Pope has celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at the tomb of St. Peter, on the Vatican hill.

Before being chosen to succeed St. Peter, John Paul had already served for a decade and a half as the successor of St. Stanislaus. Cardinal Wojtyla had celebrated the Sacred Liturgy at Stanislaus’ tomb, which is in the cathedral church of Krakow, Poland.

Like St. Peter, St. Stanislaus suffered death at the hands of a wicked monarch. It happened 934 years ago today. The Bishop had excommunicated the king for kidnapping another man’s wife. The king accused Stanislaus of treason and killed him.

Time Magazine John Paul II Poland 1979John Paul II returned to Poland during his first year as Pope in order to visit St. Stanislaus’ relics for the ninth centenary of the saint’s martyrdom. This was the famous visit credited with beginning the demise of communism in Europe.

Preaching at the cathedral in Krakow, the Pope referred to St. Stanislaus as the “patron of moral order” for the Polish people. The Pope recalled how Stanislaus had faced a great test of faith and character, and, by God’s grace, passed it. Stanislaus emerged victorious as a faithful Christian, even in the face of death. Bl. John Paul went on to say:

In the final analysis the moral order is built up by means of human beings. This order consists of a large number of tests, each one a test of faith and of character. From every victorious test the moral order is built up. From every failed test, moral disorder grows.

We know very well from our entire history that we must not permit, absolutely and at whatever cost, this disorder. For this we have already paid a bitter price many times.

This is therefore our meditation on…St. Stanislaus’ pastoral ministry in the See of Krakow, on the new examination of his relics, that is to say his skull, which still shows the marks of his mortal wounds—all of this leads us today to a great and ardent prayer for the victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history.