In a homily last winter, I looked at the challenge of loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors — and asked “When was the last time any of us here prayed for Osama Bin Laden?” This morning, My friend Mike Hayes poses another provocative question: can we forgive Bin Laden?
For Millennials, September 11th was a seminal moment. Coupled with the madness of Columbine, the world suddenly became a very precarious place. Last night, many young people filled the streets and while all seems right with the world right now, we all fail to see that things are not any different. War still rages on many fronts and terrorists still plan attempts to bomb subways and buildings and not merely disturb our peace, but eradicate it.
This does not look one bit like the peaceful kingdom of God.
Americans, in general, like retribution. They often favor capital punishment and continue to welcome it in the joyful streets of our country this day.
But why would we not welcome peace and forgiveness? Wouldn’t that be a larger dagger thrust into the madness of terrorism? Ending the hate of sinful men can only begin when we kill hatred ourselves and not when hatred stops another human heartbeat, even in the name of justice.
Has terrorism won a further victory with our sure-to-be fleeting joy?
One person who lost their father in the 9-11 disaster summed it up pretty well. “It’s hard for me to rejoice when a human being is dead, I know it’s wrong to be excited and happy. But that’s how I feel.”
Indeed and who would blame him? Nobody will judge anyone for rejoicing over the next few days, but perhaps it’s time to judge ourselves?
Can we forgive Bin Laden? Can we pray for God to have mercy on his soul? Can we weep for the senseless death we find in any war? Include his name in the prayer of the faithful?
Answering no, only means that the enemy continues to win–even when it feels right to celebrate.
Perhaps God can forgive Bin Laden and in God’s perfect reconciliation we find our human imperfection reaching its limits? After all, we are not Jesus, who called from his cross for mercy, not for himself, but for those who nailed him to the wood.
But that merciful call goes out to us as well. It haunts us to pray for peace and not pain, reconciliation, but not revenge.
Can we forgive Osama Bin Laden?
UPDATE: National Catholic Register’s Jennifer Fulwiler offers the provocative notion that God loves Osama Bin Laden, just as He does the rest of us:
It wasn’t until I came to believe in God and started learning about Catholic teaching that I would look back on that awful day and have my mind reel as I tried to absorb one of the most difficult moral truths I’d ever heard: That God not only could, but wants to forgive Osama bin Laden. That even someone who was responsible for a terror attack that slaughtered thousands could ask for God’s forgiveness, and receive it…
…It was one of those things that I’d read about but had never internalized: God loves murderers as much as he loves the rest of us, even as much as he loves the people whom they hurt. What does that say about our God? What does it mean for us, given that we are called to love as God loves?!
This most difficult of truths has come to mind again as I see Osama bin Laden’s image splashed all over the media, and hear the reports that he is now dead. God loves that man as much as he loved Mother Teresa? God loves that man as much as he loves the people on Flight 93? As much as he loves each of the other victims of 9/11? As much as he loves me? It’s true. It’s completely counter-intuitive to our fallen human nature, which sees love as something that is earned, something finite and fluctuating, something that can be permanently lost with enough bad behavior. But it’s true.