Tuesday, May 3, 2011

bin Laden: Cause for Rejoicing or Reflection?

On May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday, we learned that Osama bin Laden, the leader of terrorist group al-Qaida was killed by American forces.  I read the headline late at night on Sunday, and simply thought, "Whoa, they actually got him after all these years."

Once I woke up on Monday, I had to deal with all of the stories and try to understand how to rightly respond to this event.  Reading about celebrations spawning around city streets in our country, tremendous triumphalism, praise for the President, and talk of justice being served is quite a lot to digest.

This blog is not the place for a study on whether or not the actual assassination was morally acceptable or not.  That is up to scholars and scholarly work.  I'm interested here only in understanding how I am to respond to the killing of an evil man who took the lives of many.

Obviously, from a political perspective, this death is significant.  Years of warfare, tremendous amounts of energy, money and nearly 1,500 US lives have been pumped into Afghanistan.  While the death of bin Laden does not mark the end - probably far from it - it may mark the beginning of it.   

But how am I, your typical US citizen, to respond? 

Shortly after the announcement of the death, the Vatican released a statement on the matter.  It said, "In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."  

"The Christian never rejoices, but reflects."  

This, to me, is the key line.  What does it mean?

Death is the direct result of sin.  We were not created for death.  Christ conquered death.  When someone we know passes away, we find ourselves at a funeral.  While the funeral recognizes the fact that death happened, its focus is not on death itself.  Rather, it is a celebration of the person's life, and, more so, a celebration in the hope of life after death.  The point here, is that the Christian never relishes death, but celebrates life and life hereafter.  To celebrate the death of bin Laden, then, is to in a sense, rejoice in an bad man's evil end.  
You might ask, "What about justice?  Shouldn't we celebrate justice?"  

These are good questions, and I think ones that the Vatican statement hopes to provoke in the second part of that line, "never rejoices, but reflects."  

Justice, or the quality of being just, means making things right or equitable.  Some of the families of victims, and many Americans are stating that justice has now been served.  The death of bin Laden brings about justice for the family members lost.  

But does it?  

His death did not bring these people back to life.  Sure, there may be an emotional revenge sort of justice.  An eye for an eye.  He apparently experienced a violent end.  Was this violence necessary?  But does this death get to the heart of the matter?  Does it really satisfy the immeasurable need of the human heart for justice?  

This deep-seated desire for that which is just, is an infinite desire.  The feeble attempts we make with our finite, material needs will only come up short.  A nine year fight to kill one man does not make things perfectly right.  The dead are still dead.  

But, the Christian is not without hope.  Our reflection on bin Laden's death reminds us that there is One who makes things right, perfectly right.  It is He for whom we long.  Only the Infinite can fill an infinite need of our hearts.  

Our reflection also reminds us of our own death, and our struggle with sin.  We hope that in the face of our own deaths, we may be right with the Lord.  

And we hope the same for our brother... 

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