by Father William Byron, S.J.
“Ex ore infantium” are the Latin words for the Scripture phrase that Jesus quoted in reminding His hearers that “out of the mouths of
infants” praise and sometimes even wisdom can be spoken (Mt 21:16). Jesuit Father Mark Horak, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., reversed that route, so to speak, by speaking to children through a letter to their parents and teachers on the occasion of the death of Osama bin Laden.
The pastor’s very timely point was that, “as teachers and parents of children in a Catholic parish, there is more that we should say to our children, including that the death of someone, even a person who did great evil to many people, is never something that Christians rejoice over. God does not delight in the death of anyone, even if killing bin Laden may have been justified. God loved bin Laden as much as he loves any of us. That doesn’t mean that God liked what he did.”
The pastor went on to say that “there is a very important lesson to teach children – the distinction between a person and what that person may choose to do. God loves the person; and that person’s choices, whatever they may be, neither increase nor decrease God’s love for that one.”
Father Horak concluded his message to parents and teachers with these words: “This incident is a way to speak of God’s love, even as we acknowledge the continuing presence of evil in the world.”
Children fortunate enough to have a faith-based conversation along these lines with their parents and teachers can be helped to understand that vengeance is not justice; that bringing bin Laden to justice is one thing, but that killing him out of vengeance is quite another.
There is, they know, a U.S. Department of Justice; they have to be helped to understand why there is no U.S. Department of Vengeance.
Children who saw celebration, even jubilation, on their television screens as word of bin Laden’s death spread across the world might fairly wonder why there were few, if any, words of prayer for his soul in Christian homes and churches. Surely he died in need of mercy. And to deny him our prayers because the reality of God’s love for him was clouded by feelings of revenge is to deny that God is love and wants everyone to be saved.
So we need to be reminded of the importance of prayer for those who die not knowing the One whom God sent to redeem them.
Might bin Laden have been captured, not killed? Was this a police action (going after a criminal) or a military strike (attacking a declared enemy)? In either a war on crime or a war on terrorism, is the preferred strategy to kill first and ask questions later?
These are points worth pondering.
Conversations with children as well as with older students and with those training for police work or military service should aim at distinguishing justice from vengeance, while respecting the dignity of every human person, even those who betray their dignity by evil intent, acts of violence and mass murder.
More violence is no solution to the widespread problem of violence.
Death is not a worthy instrument to employ in our effort to build a better society. Talking to our children now about love and non-violence strikes me as being a really “gutsy” thing to do, to borrow a word that was used a lot to describe the decision to “get” bin Laden and “take him out.”
Jesuit Father Byron is a professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.