20 May 2011

Catholics Praying for Osama


I was captured by the news that a Catholic church in Florida will be dedicating a mass this Sunday for the soul of Osama bin Laden.

Some of the commentary has obviously been skeptical, saying that the church is merely seeking publicity.  Others are praising a genuinely compassionate gesture.  My view, as a Catholic, is that the mass is absolutely consistent with the true beauty of the church, and a naked bid for news coverage.

Given our recent experiences with Westboro Baptist protesting military funerals and the nutcase burning copies of the Koran, criticism of any religious news with a whiff of exhibitionism is not without merit.  In this case though, we can't lose sight of the fact that, at least in the public sphere, Catholic churches are as disciplined as a junior marine.  There is ONE leader of the Catholic church, and his microphone in Rome is plenty loud, should he need to generate headlines.  Individual Catholic churches are quickly put back into place when they stray from the heard, especially in order to generate news for a particular parish.  (Remember that officially, there is no theological debate within the Catholic church, only universal truth.)  In that vein, dedicating mass to Osama bin Laden isn't an attempt to grow the following of the church.

It is, also, a nice, if overblown, statement of one of Catholicism's more positive aspects: God's universal love and forgiveness.  In praying for Osama bin Laden, these parishoners inherently recognize that He alone may judge, and as fellow men, we can only hope that at some point, bin Laden sought reconciliation for his deeds.  This compassion is the prettier side to the emotional coin I carried with me to the White House when he was killed.  Were it a simple expression of human solidarity, I would salute the parish.

In the end, though, I simply can't condone this action or approve of it in its current form.  Though in line with the principle of forgiveness, it flies directly in the face of humility and the recognition of our own frailty and sin.  Catholics recognize, that, since only God may judge and no man is without sin, it is up to each person to live as best they can, recognize their own faults, and seek God's forgiveness.  This church, instead of turning inward, is behaving like the tax collector in Luke 18 (10-14):

Jesus: "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.  The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 

'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' 

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
I'm sure that the next Sunday after bin Laden's death, hundreds of priests, ministers, and  rabbis spoke touchingly about bin Laden, our fellow man, and the need to separate our hatred of the sin while loving the sinner.  As someone who joined the military in response to 9/11, such humility is particularly hard for me.  I'm also equally certain secular leaders, to say nothing of mothers and fathers, spoke the same ideas.  The message is beautiful, and one to be spread: no man is beyond forgiveness, and all are connected, whether by God or simply shared humanity.  Had we found out later that the mass was dedicated to bin Laden, I may have been able to stomach their actions.  Instead, by ensuring the story made national headlines before the mass, these Pharisees are placing themselves above their church, their faith, and the ideals they purport to profess.

1 comment:

  1. VERY interesting post! I really like your take on the mass and wholeheartedly agree with you. Yay, look at us agreeing on something somewhat political!?! Keep up the great work. I love the Denmark post:)