Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Pray for Osama bin Laden

On Sunday night, I watched the news coverage of the reported death of Osama bin Laden. I had just gotten back to the rectory after picking up a few things from the Newman Center. While I was briefly at the Center, some students were following the news online and saying things like, “it’s great to be an American”. They asked me to join them in watching the news, but I declined, not because I wasn’t interested, but because it was 11 pm on a Sunday night and I was eager to get at least a little bit of rest. When I got home, I watched the President’s statement and was actually impressed by his tone and demeanor. He was somber and to the point (of delivering facts). He gave the message, to me at least, was that this news is about justice for what happened on September 11, 2001, not about celebration over the death of an enemy. That was the proper and appropriate message to send to the world. He even invoked God’s name a few times, referring to our country “under God” and imploring God’s blessings on us twice. Well done, Mr. President.

But, then, another message was sent to the world. And, from GW students!! The news coverage became much more interesting and personal when it showed the crowd of people at the White House, many of whom were presumably GW students. I thought to myself as the camera panned the crowd, ‘there are my kids’. And, they were going crazy. They gave the message, at least to me, that the news of bin Laden’s death was about celebration over the death of an enemy. I was actually saddened to see people cheering at the White House and Times Square or to hear revelers honking horns and screaming on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the rectory.

These were the two message sent to me, a patriotic American. We don’t always act and react based on how we will be perceived around the world, but in this situation especially, serious consideration about the perception of things needs to enter in. How will the rest of the world perceive the messages sent on Sunday night, particularly those who are not sympathetic to the American cause? Will their celebrations become a new part of the story by contributing to an attack on the United States? The Vatican, which allies itself to the American cause more often than not, released an immediate response after seeing GW students, et al, celebrating:

(from ncregister.com) “This morning, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, P. Federico Lombardi, issued the following statement to reporters:

Osama Bin Laden - as everyone knows - has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose.

Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

I recognize that this whole situation is extremely emotionally charged. It has been highly emotional here for almost ten years, going back to 9/11/01. I also recognize that some people were there celebrating justice as they understood it in this situation and the accomplishments of our military, not just the death of a man. There are things to celebrate here: it seems that the directive from the president was not just to kill bin Laden. The forces were preparing to capture him, but he fought against such a capture and was killed in the process. If that is true, then that approach of trying to bring him to justice through means other than murder should be commended and celebrated. But, on Sunday night within just a couple of hours of the news breaking , we did not know the purpose of the mission. It makes a big difference.

Sunday night’s impromptu public celebrations were caused by emotion, mainly. Hopefully, things will calm down and reason will prevail. There really can’t be a justification for Christians celebrating the death of any man, even Osama bin Laden. For every Old Testament proof text that people are offering along the lines of “eye for an eye”, the Christian trump card is, “love your enemies”. So, the Christian response is based in love and mercy. Specifically, the Christian response is to pray for the happy repose of the soul of Osama bin Laden…even just one prayer. Our prayers do not excuse the sins of his life; they ask God to have mercy on his soul. Pray for Osama bin Laden as you would pray for any person who has died. This is what a Christian does in this situation.

From the Fatima prayer: “Lead all souls into Heaven especially those most in need on thy mercy”


Oscar said...

Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I was aghast at the reveling, and it is gratifying to see Christian voices taking what might be an unpopular stand right now. It's weird to be an army officer arguing for a more merciful reaction to the news with my peers outside the military!

Christina said...

Right on, Father. I noticed quite a few GW students reacting more somberly on facebook, more along the lines of "Pray for your enemies". Hopefully we also recall this as we move forward, since the fight against terrorism isn't over yet.

Anonymous said...

The students who were honking horns or down at the White House were not celebrating the death of a man; they were celebrating justice, the American military, and the United States. It is possible to be joyous that evil is gone from the world without celebrating in particular the death of one man. And keep in mind this, from the Catechism of Trent,

"Execution Of Criminals

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment� is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord."

Marie Yeast said...

Hi Fr. Greg:
I felt so uneasy about the revelry around the death of this man, and I was very glad to see an immediate response from the Vatican on what our attitude towards something like this should be as Christians. If we are followers of Christ, then we must strive to imitate and follow what Jesus taught--to love our enemies and do good to those who hate you--not an eye for an eye, for that only escalates hate and vengeful actions. It's not easy, since the bin Laden initiated so many hateful acts against innocent people--but God Who can read the heart of man, is the ultimate Judge of all. God loves all--so prayer and somber reflection on the taking of human life is the appropriate response.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Would the students have cheered any less if the report had been that he had been captured and not killed?

Obviously, we will never know the answer to that question, but I suspect there would have been just as much jubilation. The point is that the threat from bin Laden has been neutralized (whether it had been by capture or death) and that a decade of searching is over.