Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Catholic Quandary: Justifiable Killing? Violence of Love?

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, of brotherhood, 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.


Kate S said...

One of my frequent concerns is about how to be a peacemaker in our world. I think of Paul's words about trying, as much as possible, to live in peace with those around me. I pray for peace throughout the world and for guidance for world leaders--and for their openness to that guidance! Sometimes I fast--which can be more of a trial to those around me than it is to me. And I work to help others in our area in the hopes that helping them will bring greater peace to the community.

It is difficult to comprehend violence at such a level and even harder to know how best to respond.

Peg Lanctot said...

The recent killings by ISIS have been horrifying to me in a way that I haven't felt since Sept 11. I fear that Jordan's response will only fuel the fire already burning in ISIS.

I recently began reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet daily, praying for all those who embrace such violence, as well as for the many victims of violence throughout the world. Lord, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Thank you Kate and Peg. These are marvelous ideas and, with Lent right around the corner, perhaps many of us can do what you are doing and be focused on peace and an end to this form of terrorism. And I think that I am understanding more of what that word means because these past few days have struck terror in my own heart.

Rory Cooney said...

Really good, concise reflection on a terribly difficult issue. Whatever people want to read into the "sword" passages in the gospel, the truth is that in the hour of decision Jesus had the twelve put away their swords and went to his death without retaliation, trusting God with the outcome. God's answer was the resurrection. We Christians are still unraveling the meaning of that. On the "necessity" of the violence of self-defense, especially mortal violence like war, we Christians can never call it "good." It may be the lesser of evils, and we need to say Kyrie eleison , and not boast about it. But this is truly hard stuff, and I think you are courageous to try to express these things in a public forum.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Thank you, Rory. I remember that my first liturgy professor, Sr. Nancy Swift, had a wonderful expression. She told us that, when reading our essays on liturgical topics, she was not interested in a string of "spiritual nosegays." I find myself these days being more and more aware of trying to engage seriously with the world on these kinds of topics and not toss "spiritual nosegays" out to people. Anyway, I find my attempts feeble at best these days. Jerry

Kathleen Basi said...

When NPR was reporting on the execution by burning, I heard the pilot's father (I think) urge the Jordanian government to VENGEANCE. Not justice, which is the usual message surrounding the death penalty--but vengeance. That really struck me, because I think the two are often confused.

I'll be sharing this post...