Yes, this last weekend of April/first weekend of May was indeed jam-packed. Royal wedding on Friday, Beatification of a late Pope Sunday morning, and the death of the world’s leading terrorist on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly, the event that seemed to receive the least attention, even amongst my uber-orthodox Catholic friends, was the Beatification. Alas.
Surely the one that received the most attention was bin Laden’s downfall. Videos were posted of students celebrating in Bapst, moshing in the Mods (such a spontaneous Mod mob hasn’t appeared since Matt Ryan’s VT victory in ’07, to put things in perspective), waving American flags and chanting USA. And, of course, within hours, minutes even, countless articles appeared on the internet, Facebook statuses were plastered with “USA! USA! USA!”, and tweets went out celebrating the man’s death. Justice had been served. The wicked witch was dead. Glory, glory, hallelujah.
Not soon after, perhaps beginning on Monday morning, a different brand of internet chatter began to show up on other friends’ blogs, Facebooks, and Twitters. These would be the ones (mistakenly) quoting words of someone not being Martin Luther King, Jr., and, more poignantly, Proverbs 24:17. This latter text reads: “Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult.” Fr. Lombardi of the Vatican press too put out a statement pleading that this moment not be a breeding ground for more hatred, but an opportunity for peace.
Being a(n amateur) philosopher, I observed these two sides – that of justice, and that of mercy – thought of the differences between the two, and have, surprise surprise, come to the conclusion that both reactions, though not in their extremes, are not only worthy, but necessary. As Christians, we value mercy most of all. Let he who is without sin not cast the first stone. Yet, at the same time, our God cares for us in our concrete lived experience – for why else would the whole Paschal mystery we just celebrated have happened – and so he cares for justice. The massive death toll, the breaking up of families, the radical ideologies that Osama bin Laden perpetrated through his working through Al-Qaida required a radical demand of justice that the man himself could never pay (though, again, who amongst us could really pay the debts we owe to justice?). In particular, the man promoted extreme violence against the West, epitomized in the United States of America, though within his cultural milieux of blind faith and anti-rationalism, it is difficult to hold him completely culpable for that. Nonetheless, justice has been served for our nation, and thus we have cause to rejoice.
The key to this rejoicing, being, of course, not that the man died, but that justice has been served. Mercy comes in here. If we are truly Christian, imitators of Him Who forgave His enemies as He hung on the cross they nailed Him to, we can only hope that, before those bullets whizzed into Osama’s brain, he offered up some sort of good-will repentance to the Lord almighty as he was honestly able to recognize Him. As twisted as the man was, as many evil deeds as he made possible, the person of charity must hope that Osama repented before his death so as to not receive eternal perdition.
To be clear: this repentance would not be a cheap grace, a holding out to the end in evil and then saying a quick “I’m sorry” before going on to the great beyond. Repentance only happens if it comes from the heart. So, we must pray Osama had some sort of conversion before his death. Rest assured, he would do his time being purged of all his sins before attaining his seat at the heavenly banquet (the perks of Purgatory!). Yet how great, how merciful, how all-loving would our God prove to be if, upon entering that banquet ourselves, we saw Osama, having begged for mercy and spending his due penitential time for his sins, sitting at that table.
The applicable Christian parable here would be the one of the workers and the generous employer, Matthew 20:1-16. Some workers showed up at the beginning of the day, more in the middle, a few near the end, and some right at the very close of the workday. How much did each receive? They all received equally. These are words from the mouth of the Lord Himself. Let’s pray that all show up for the labor of love, of repentance, of charity, no matter how evil, how late in the game. The result would call for a celebration far more enthralling than any Mod flashmob, rest assured.