May 1, 2011. What a day! The day began in the west with the news that Pope John Paul II had been beatified. Admittedly, as a student, “disciple,” and admirerer of John Paul II, I was giddy with exciteent for most of the weekend. That his beatification occurred on Divine Mercy Sunday – a Feast he, himself, instituted, was a poignant commentary on his papacy. With all the thoughts of Mercy and Popes, what a contrast it was to hear the news of Osama Bin Laden’s demise. I expected myself to be relieved, or happy, or satisfied, or something. Afterall, I am the wife of a Marine, the sister of a Marine, and the cousin of a new Army Soldier! I wasn’t able to evoke an emotional reaction, however, other than anger. Anger? Why anger? To me, I felt as if my patriotism demanded of me a reaction worthy of the Memory of those lost on 9/11. I had f riends in the towers when they were hit! Instead all I could think about was John Paul II. It was his day of beatification – the Feast of Divine Mercy. I wanted to steep myself in Heavenly, mystical things, ponder the extraordinary life of the Late Holy Father, and enjoy seeing Catholicism get a good Headline for a news cycle or two. Instead I felt as though the Day of Divine Mercy was hijacked, John Paul II’s celebration (at least in my mind) was hijacked, my peace of mind was once again compromised by Osama Bin Laden. (Of course then the irony of using the analogy of a hijacking made me uncomfortable.) What to do? Why this anger? Why wasn’t I able to satisfy my Patriotic desire to feel as though Justice had been served? What was wrong with me?!
I went to bed feeling perturbed. I read some more of George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, and fell asleep. I woke up this morning feeling a little better. I was even able to make some “72 Virgins” jokes on Facebook (and then felt slightly guilty about them). Still, I couldnt shake this nagging perturbation. Why can’t I just be like every other American and be happy about this!? Afterall, I am glad that he wont be able to spread his ilk anymore. I am proud of our miltary for a job very well done, and a mission accomplished without any loss of American life. I was satisfied to learn that Bin Laden was given a chance to surrender, and that his body was buried with respect – complete with the reading of scripture in Arabic. So what was wrong? Then it hit me; an image of John Paul II sitting forehead to forehead with Mehmet Ali Agca – the man who tried to kill him. John Paul II met with him two years after the attempted assassinaion that sent the Pontiff to the hospital in critical condition. He met with Agca to forgive him. After that it was a rapid fire slideshow of events from John Paul’s life that flashed through my mind. The young Karol Wojtyla performing in an outlawed, clandestine cultural Theatrical group, coming face to face daily with the reality of living in a land occupied by the Nazis, becoming an underground seminarian, going head to head with the Soviets by saying Mass in the field of Nowa Huta, preaching Solidarity in Poland as a newly elected Pope, standing in public squares of various communist-oppresssed countries, confronting their governments by boldly proclaiming that the Church is the protector of true freedom, fearlessly declaring that freedom comes from a true understanding of the God Given Dignity of each and every human person, and that humans find freedom by making themselves a gift to others.
Why was I having a hard time coming to grips with what I felt my patrotism demanded of me? Because John Paul II taught me that my Catholicism, my Faith, demands more. John Paul II taught us that culture – that ideas, that the proclamation of the Truth of Human Freedom, found in Christ, does more to topple evil empires, and negate the influence of men with evil designs than a constant barrage of bullets can. He proved this in Poland, he proved it again with the partnership of Ronald Regan, in the toppling of the Berlin Wall, and the peaceful end of Soviet Russia’s dominance. He brought Catholicism out of the shadows in Communist Cuba, and empowered Catholics in African Nations. He has shown us that there is indeed a recipe for peace, and a way to proclaim Freedom without the use of force. Having grown up under the Nazis and behind the iron curtain it is remarkable in a way that he was not one to preach retaliation or violent vindication. He saw firsthand what unbridled, unchecked violence can do.
Now, let me take a break here and say that I am not an anti-war pacifist. I am a proud military wife who misses being “active duty” every so often. I believe that because we live in a post-Eden world, where evil acts and evil men are a reality, that a military – a good, strong, moral military is imperative. The Church herself is not a strict pacifist either – in fact the Catechism says that being a member of the armed forces is one of the highest callings of the laity! The Holy Catholic Church also has a “recipe” for determining if a war should be waged. This “Just War Doctrine” is a guideline, a basis for helping us to decide whether violent force is truly necessary and good. Recently, the War in Afghanistan was said to be one such war. So the Church, in Her Wisdom, understands that sometimes “bad men” with evil intentions will only stop if they are stopped by someone stronger than they are. I certainly don’t dispute that. But its not the only answer. This is what John Paul II taught us. He showed us that even while a war is being waged militarily, another type of war must be waged as well – one of culture and ideas. Truth and Freedom.
So why did Osama Bin Laden’s death make me so melancholy? Because it brought forward that which I think is missing in this “War on Terror.” Mercy. The proclamation of Truth, and forgiveness. I know he was given a chance to surrender, and that he was shot in the midst of a firefight. But it still makes me a little sad. Osama Bin Laden died denying the Truth. He died ignorant of the true worth of all human beings. He died much the same way many of his victims did. Some would call this justice. I call it sad. For he died in ignorance, clouded by evil. How much better, how much more dramatic would it have been if he had grasped the Truth? If he had repented and sought forgiveness? He will never have that chance, and now it is God alone who knows his true and Eternal fate. Yes, I admit to feeling a little satisfied – a little relieved, but I am also a little sad. So I feel this sadness begs a question – what can we do better? What can we, as a Catholic Church, do to help fight this War on Terror?
Well, first and foremost we must pray. Too often we underestimate the enormous power of prayer. Sure, its not as splashy as “shock and awe” but prayer most certainly is the most powerful weapon against Evil. Secondly, we must fearlessly proclaim the Truth. Especially to those living under the tight fist of extremist Islam. Yes, I said it, we must evangelize the Muslim world. It has long amazed me that “women’s rights” groups who are otherwise vocal (and sometimes obnoxiously so) here in the U.S. are virtually silent when it comes to the treatment of women in much of the Arab World. The Catholic Church has always upheld the dignity of women. Its time that the women underneath their burkas and full-black robes heard the message. Most Islamo-extremist dicatorships are just like their evil cousins – communist and fascist dictatorships. Those in power oppressing their people and ruling with fear and violence. If building a culture of life and Truth can topple communist dictatorships, as it did in Poland, surely it could do it in a place like Iran. This is where the Church shines. Proclaiming the Truth has been Her forté since Christ “gave Peter the keys.” I know its dangerous – already numerous Christians have paid with their lives the price of proclaiming the Gospel. Yet, as a people of Truth, the Church Militant, we musn’t rest until we have proclaimed that Truth to every people – especially those who are oppressed and abused. I invite you to join me in praying for God to send courageous missionaries to the Middle East, men and women willing to risk all to begin a cultural revolution based on Christ’s Truth. In the meantime, we pray also for our troops – charged with the duty of protecting us and waging a war that some evil men understand as their only language.
So, where does this leave me as far as Osama Bin Laden? I’m still a little miffed that he hijacked the news cycle from the Beatification of John Paul II, but at the same time, it was this that caught me well enough off guard to force me to examine my Faith, despite my Patriotitsm. As a Catholic in America, this is an examination that must regularily take place. So I suppose in a way I am thankful. I am thankful for the opportunity to confront my conflict between being patriotic and faithful, and to put some of what I have learned from Blessed John Paul II into practice. He was, afterall, a fiercely pariotic Pole, and an explemplary Faith-filled Catholic who lived through the greatest war of his time. So I suppose there’s hope for me!