In a bit of a Catholic quandary today.
When I was a seminarian studying for the priesthood in Boston back in the early 1980's, one of my "field education" assignments was ministry at a minimum security prison. Part of the orientation was a visit to a maximum security prison, Walpole State Prison, now known as Cedar Junction State Correctional Facility.
A group of us was led deeper and deeper into the prison by prison officials and guards, with iron gates closing behind us as we made our way to the area just outside of death row. The prison chaplain asked one of the guards in the maximum security area what he thought about capital punishment. The guard looked at all of us and his two words remain with me to this day: "Fry 'em." I had always been and still am an opponent of capital punishment but that day I remember thinking something like this: "This guard has had daily contact with men who have committed murder, rape, armed robbery, etc. They have probably threatened this guard's own life. I wonder if my attitude toward capital punishment would change if I were in his shoes and worked here every day?"
These thoughts have surfaced over the past twenty-four hours as the news broke about the members of the so-called "Islamist State" burning the Jordanian pilot alive. I simply cannot wrap my brain around how another human being can reach a point where this kind of murderous behavior becomes something that is somehow acceptable. It is repulsive, but I wonder still how a person reaches this kind of point in his life. Surely this militant, murderous, torturous terrorism must be stopped. And when I thought about how it needs to stop, I couldn't help but think of that prison guard's two words: "Fry 'em." That has been my first response to these beheadings and yesterday's horror of a person being burned alive. Then, after I settle down, I think that killing someone to stop the killing just doesn't make any sense.
Then this morning, I saw this news:
Jordan swiftly responded to ISIS' burning alive one of its fighter pilots, announcing early Wednesday the executions of two jihadist prisoners who were aligned with the terror group. One of the convicts hanged was Sajida al-Rishawi, a would-be suicide bomber whose release ISIS had previously demanded as part of a prisoner exchange, the Jordanian government said. The other was Ziad Karbouli, a former top aide to the deceased leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
There's that part of me that understands, in a way, why the Jordanians, whose anger was certainly justified, would commit this retaliatory act. But then, as I settle down, I am left stunned by this move. Does the killing of these prisoners somehow hurt the hearts of the heartless? Where does this all end? When there is no one left on the planet?
So there is my quandary. How am I, as a Catholic, supposed to react to all of this? And all this on the day when Oscar Romero was named a martyr. So, in my quandary, I turn to his words:
"The violence we preach is not
the violence of the sword,
the violence of hatred.
It is the violence of love,
the violence that wills to beat weapons
into sickles for work."
Thanks for walking through this with me today. And feel free to share comments; I think conversation and dialogue is needed as we all grapple with what is happening in our world.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.