Because Mercy is Greater Than Justice

The afternoon of May 1 my husband and I experienced something mystical. It’s taken me a while to write this down because the feeling remains so powerful. Greg was at the shopping mall and I was at home planning lessons and menus.

About the same time, we both suddenly felt a powerful overwhelming sense of relief and release. You see, my husband narrowly survived the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

He escaped from the 68th floor of Tower One 11 minutes before the building collapsed.  Inexplicably, without warning, we both felt the weight of the trauma and the painful years following lifted. Monday night over dinner we discovered we’d both experienced the same powerful sense of relief at the same time.

What happened May 1? Pope John Paul II was beatified; Osama Bin Laden was killed; and the Church celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. My husband and I felt no joy in Bin Laden’s death but we do feel that justice has been served. The desire for justice is very human, I believe; we want to see criminals punished.

But as I contemplated the death of the man who tried to murder my beloved, I also considered Bin Laden’s destiny, which now is in God’s hands. We have no way to know the state of his soul in the moments before his death; and the depth of God’s mercy remains a mystery. Taking a look at Blessed Pope John Paul II’s life, which mirrored Christ’s in so many ways, we learn that mercy is greater than justice.

Last night, during my School of Community we talked about Communion and Liberation’s statement on the events of May 1. One of my friends said since May 1 he has been meditating on a passage from Luke. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I googled it during the meeting and read it out loud. It gave me goosebumps.

Christ’s tells us that tragedy can befall people through no fault of their own and he tells us in the same breath that God is abundantly merciful. “Those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them –do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

He goes on to talk about the importance of mercy: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. (So) cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

We all fall short of the glory of God. As Christians, the task before us is to seek to be as merciful as Christ Himself. We can thank God for the witness of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s life. He faced evil head on, (shown above meeting with his would-be murderer) and yet somehow found the strength to forgive. As Pope Benedict XVI tells us: “Forgiving is not ignoring but transforming.”

  • priest’s wife

    amazing…thanks for posting your story

  • Sandy C.

    Beautifully written. Thankful for the relief you and your husband are feeling. Thanks also for enlightening that fig tree parable for me in a wonderful way.

  • Niles Comer

    "Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13)." And what you wrote beautifully exemplifies your love for and live in Christ and how we as Christians, and as humans, are called to live. Bless you. My prayers are for you and your beloved.

  • Christine

    What a story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    I am thankful for a loving and merciful Father who has blessed you and your family w/his peace. I agree 100% w/you as to the Truth of Christ's teachings regarding forgiveness. How much more blessed you and your family will be by forgiving w/out being asked to by Bin Laden. I offered prayers for Mercy for him as a sister would do for a brother who made horrible choices for himself resulting in his death. It is what being a truly faithful and transformed human being is all about. It is the reason Christ suffered His passion. May God Bless you and your family w/continued peace and love.

  • priest’s wife

    …what I find amazing about your story is that you came to same conclusion- to feel peace at the same time…and also- that you have mercy on a man who was angry that he didn't get your husband, too. I pray that I could be the same if given a similar situation, but I don't know

  • Frank

    Thanks for this post Allison. it is good to remember the words of Psalm 103,Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.God does not always rebuke, nurses no lasting anger,Has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our deeds deserve.The example of Blessed Pope John Paul II, in forgiving his would-be assassin, is a model for all of us.

  • Donna OBrien

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful and blessed story. This is the first story I have read relating the timing of bin laden's death to the Beautification of Blessed Pope John Paul the Great plus Divine Mercy Sunday. Since it happened, I kept thinking this was not by coincidence and has anyone else noticed it? My niece lost her husband in Tower I, he was on the 101st floor, 30 minutes before it happened, they had talked to each other, not knowing it would be for the last time. God Bless you both.

  • Allison

    @Donna: I am so terribly sorry for your family's loss. I am not the first blogger to note the timing of these events; the CL statement to which I refer in the post explores this most fully.Thank you for stopping by Donna, and for commenting,Blessings.

  • Bender

    It is crucially important to understand just exactly how mercy is "greater than" and "triumphs over" justice.Mercy stems from love, justice stems from truth, and because love and truth are co-extensive (God being Love and God being Truth, and God being One), so too are mercy and justice equal. Ultimately, neither is greater than the other.The need for justice does not disappear or evaporate when mercy is applied. Rather, that justice is transferred from the human actual wrongdoer to Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus takes that justice upon Himself.The Divine Mercy that He offers even to bin Laden is balanced by the horrific justice that is imposed upon Jesus on the Cross.You cannot get to the Octave of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) without first enduring Good Friday.So, for us humans, who have been ransomed and do not have to pay the cost of our sins, mercy does triumph over justice, but for Christ, who pays that same cost for us, mercy and justice coincide.

  • Allison

    @Bender: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. As a human, the kind of justice I often seek in this world is human justice. But then I look at the photo of Blessed Pope John Paul II. Sure, he did not oppose the imprisonment of the man who tried to kill him. But in the end, his mercy is much more powerful to me as a model. Your life, and your mileage, may vary of course, but this is how I am living as best I can the presence of Christ in our lives. Blessings,Allison

  • Ann

    My sister was furious with me after 9/11 when I suggested that the perpetrators might be in purgatory. When I consider that the sanctifying grace of Baptism is largely unknown in many of the middle eastern countries, and that possibly the Lord has other ways to save people who have no opportunity to know Him as we do through our Faith, knowing that millions of people have lived good lives, putting others before themselves, AND we cannot know all the graces available to others, but only our own failures…I pray too the mercy of God on BinLaden.

  • Stefanie

    Allison — knowing your husband's (and yours!) story of 9/11, I have been waiting patiently for your reaction to the events of 5/1. Thank you for writing about it! I am still puzzling over the 'oddity' of those three things — I was SO about JP2's beatificiation and that it was happening on Divine Mercy Sunday…and then hours later, the news about this poor misguided fellow who perpetrated the deaths and brought deep fear to so many.God is indeed full of mercy. I have added BinLaden to my daily Divine Office prayers (I use the 1962 Latin-English version) whenever I pray each morning and night "for those in affliction and conflict; deliver them, O God of Israel, out of all their torubles. Send them help, O Lord, from the sanctuary. And out of Sion defend them. O Lord, God of hosts, give us a change of heart. Face us lovingly, and we shall be saved. Arise, O Christ, and help us. And deliver us for your Name's sake." Amen!If we don't love our enemies into the Kingdom, who will?

  • Allison

    @Stefanie: Thank you so much for sharing.I pray all the time for the souls of those who perished in the terror attacks. (as I am sure you do too) Because I am human, I have not found it in my heart to pray for Bin Laden. I am grateful you and others can. So my prayer is that God will find others to pray for the soul of my enemy.Blessings.

  • Anonymous

    Mercy IS Justice.

  • Allison

    @Anon 11:03Beautiful.

  • Anonymous

    Do not forget the ten women at the gate with the ten lit lamps, and the ones with the oil shortage.I feel sorry for the demented mind of Osama Bin Ladin. So sorry for a man who was afraid to come and stand before the world and say that he was sorry for having commited such horrible acts that the world is in such a mess at this time, and I am afraid that it is not getting any better at this moment. The best that we can see is the saints of our times!

  • Yolanda

    This quote is on my bulletin board to remind me of the way I'm supposed to be that I may have the courage to overcome the way that I am. "The kiss of justice and mercy is what slays the dragon." The Anchoress

  • Wreaklamation

    My thought when hearing about bin Laden's death, and seeing all the coverage of nationwide rejoicing, and commentators saying what a good thing this was for the US and the world, what a victory for the United States, etc. was "what a heartbreaking commentary on this man's life that people are dancing in the streets and universally saying that it was a good thing." I don't exempt myself from this feeling — while I didn't dance in the streets, I do think it's a good thing. It would have been a better thing had bin Laden repented of his evil thoughts and deeds and attempted public reparation, but that was not to be and probably would never have been.

  • Dee

    Allison this is a beautiful post. You know how much John Paul II means in my life so I was thrilled that he was beautified. It bothered me a bit that this special day was overshadowed by the news about Bin Laden. I thought about how JPII represented Good in the world and Bin Laden represented the Evil. I'm glad you are at peace.

  • Allison

    @Dee: Thank you.

  • john arga

    another worth reading reflection