This is not my “normal” blog post, where I share the milestones in my vocation journey along with a bit of my own encouragement for deeper and deeper prayer lives among my readers. But as my hoped-for Ordination is but a few weeks away, let me shift a little, and offer an opinion – a pastoral opinion, as it were.
Over the past few weeks, there has been much written about capital punishment. The unusual step March 5th of a common editorial in America Magazine, the National Catholic Register, the National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor jointly called for the abolishment of capital punishment throughout the United States. Pope Francis cited the death penalty as the opposite of divine mercy; coincidentally, the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday this weekend.
Contrary views have been offered, too, and some have offered their opinions in the secular media and social media about the Boston Marathon bomber case, urging that Mr. Tzarnaev be given a quick push into state-sponsored retribution for his crime. One such post asked, “Give me a good reason why [Tzarnaev] shouldn’t get a one-way ticket to visit his brother?”
I will offer two, which are inextricably linked.
First, consider The Agony in the Garden. In Luke’s account, Jesus “… withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this chalice from me; nevertheless not my will but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:41-44.)
Why such agony when there was as yet no physical torture, no whips, no crown of thorns, no nails? Some suggest fear, but when we consider the noble strength of Jesus throughout His Passion, without a word of despair for Himself, we ought not to point to fear as the cause for His anguish. Let me offer another cause: you and me, and the sins of the whole world. We read in the Office of Readings (Wednesday of Easter Week) from 1 Peter: “In His own body He brought your sins to the cross, so that all of us, dead to sin, could live in accord with God’s will.” In the Garden, Jesus accepted and took upon Himself the sins of all humanity. He could not have taken just some of them, or He would have denied His promised mercy and our own gift of free will, the potential for each of us, as sinners, to turn back to God.
The second reason I offer is The Cross. Not only did Jesus take our sins upon Himself in his Passion, but He paid the price – in full – on Calvary. Revelation 1:5b tells us that Jesus “… loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.” Saint Paul reveals that, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20.)
There are evil people in the world, and they have perpetrated immeasurable acts of horror throughout history; our respective justice systems at the state and federal levels need to deal with these crimes, and the perpetrators, in a just manner. But, as Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley said in the joint editorial, “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty.” To each of them, and to each of us, Jesus offers the mercy of God’s forgiveness; He has already paid that price, as only He could measure its worth. When you get down to the heart of the argument for capital punishment, it remains a weak claim founded on revenge. This human race – created by God in His image, claimed as the Father’s beloved daughters and sons, and saved by Jesus – this human race is better than that, and should not be held hostage in our hearts by a motive of revenge.
There has been enough death – too much – at human hands. I choose not to add promoting more through capital punishment to the already long list of offenses which Jesus has lifted from me, and taken upon the Cross Himself.
Others may not agree with what Pope Francis and many theologians have advocated. If you are not convinced, please do one more thing: pray about this question before a crucifix, contemplating the wounds of Christ and asking which of your own sins you are willing to have Jesus pick and choose from, which you would have Him leave on your own shoulders.
“‘Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more’” (John 8:10-11.)