Friday, December 19, 2003

Just a Blog Before I Go . . .

In keeping with my practice of blogging only on unique topics you can't find anywhere else, here's my take on Cardinal Martino's comments about video of Saddam's capture by Coalition forces.

"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said. "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him.

Well, three cheers for Cardinal Martino. I should hope any priest who sees a man brought low by his sin would feel pity, that his priestly heart would reach out in compassion over the tragedy sin has wrought. I can't understand the widespread hostile reaction to this part of the Cardinal's comments. It seems (and I know I haven't read every blog about it) to basically say that Saddam is an evil murdering tyrant who deserved to be put in that situation. Of course Saddam is an evil, murdering tyrant who deserves that situation. What difference should that make to Cardinal Martino?

Sin is always a freely-chosen action with its own disastrous consequences. Sinners deserve the fate which befalls them. "And one of those robbers who were hanged blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing; thou art under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds." Luke 23:39-41 (DRV). Should a priest's heart remain unmoved by the squalid and disgusting consequences of another's sin?

"And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee: This day thou shalt be with me in paradise." Luke 23:42-43 (DRV). Jesus, seeing St. Dismas like that, "a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bore, had a sense of compassion for him." Saddam isn't the good thief. He's not looking for absolution. But the hope called forth in every Christian by God's saving omnipotence compels us to add "yet" to those judgments.

Jesus didn't suddenly develop compassion, pity and solidarity with Dismas' tragedy only after being acknowledged as Lord. Jesus was already on the Cross by then. He'd been pouring His compassion, pity, and solidarity out on mankind all along, whether or not Dismas knew of it. If we're to decry the extension of pity, compassion, and a sense of solidarity (however tentative and qualified) to a man because he's chosen his fate, then we will have defined Christianity as a Pelagian heresy.

There is a fate worse than any evil which can befall a man in this life. It is Hell. It is a place of grievous loss, vicious torment and unending suffering that exceeds all the pain Saddam has caused in this life. If we believe this, if we really believed it, we should earnestly desire Saddam's salvation. We can't earnestly desire Saddam's salvation while simultaneously castigating Christ's priest for displaying the divine condescencion that makes the hope of salvation possible. Cardinal Martino has a priestly heart. May all the priests who hear my confessions have such a heart.

"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,"

The Cardinal has it wrong here. No, they couldn't have spared us the pictures. I understand that no one who loves his fellow men wants to picture them in Hell. It's an unpleasant contemplation. And for the same reason, no one who loves his fellow men wants to see pictures of them being arrested, prodded like cattle, and put on public display. But the main reason we don't like to think about our loved ones in Hell is that God has told us all about Hell in some pretty vivid and frightening detail. God did that for a reason, to show us the pain sin causes and to show us that the devil and his minions are not quasi-divine beings with miraculous powers but are ultimately just impotent sufferers of a freely-chosen doom. These pieces of knowledge are inseparable, we can't have one of them without the other. The pictures and video taken of Saddam by Coalition forces serve an analogous purpose in the secular realm. They show the world (and, most importantly, the Iraqi people) that Saddam is not happy and prosperous, that his sins have brought him low. They show the Iraqi people that Saddam is not the quasi-divine being that a generation's worth of propaganda has said he is -- he's just an impotent sufferer of a self-chosen fate, having his head examined for lice by his capturers. That's an important message, one that had to be sent.

So, Cardinal Martino is batting .500 on this matter. May all the priests I encounter in life do at least that well.

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