Pray for the terrorists, too

(This one gets a little Churchy, so be forewarned.)

News from Yemen suggests that an Indian priest, captured in a terrorist raid on a retirement home, may be crucified today, on Good Friday.

There are plenty of “ifs” to doubt the situation’s veracity. No terrorist group has taken credit for the attack, and there are conflicting reports about whether the missing priest’s abductors have or have not made contact with his former order.

But terrorist violence remains an unquestionable reality, whether in Yemen or Brussels. Nailing a church leader to a cross, while symbolic, would sadly be but the latest in a chain of bombings and beheadings – another gruesome act meant to inflict a painful death on the victim and crippling fear upon the living.

Obviously, we pray for the victims, their families, and their friends, who have watched their very realities torn to pieces. We can’t imagine their burden, we can only hope it gets lighter with time.

But with each attack, I feel some pity for the terrorists, too. The rumor of a crucifixion of a leader on Good Friday offers a chance for perspective.

As He was being lead to His execution, Jesus Christ interceded on behalf of the very people about to nail Him to the cross. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” He implored. We are taught that sin is borne of ignorance, of turning a blind eye to God, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The men who drove the nails through Jesus were doing as they were told from the only authority they knew. It isn’t hard to imagine them as philosophical ancestors of today’s suicide bombers, so ready to commit grisly acts based on the promises of trusted elders.

Eventually, those elders go away, though. And that’s when terrorists will stand face-to-face with a very uncomfortable reality.

Have you ever said something hurtful to someone and regretted it? Perhaps, in a moment of weakness and thoughtlessness you pierced someone with an insult. Later, when your wits returned and you thought about it, you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s when you realized the pain you caused. Once you knew just what you did, you hurt, too.

But what if the sin is much more grievous? What if, instead of a cutting remark, you robbed people of lives and comfort? What if you not only committed horrific acts of violence, but took pleasure in doing so?

During a discussion about penance and forgiveness, a priest told me once told me, “God makes a play for every soul.” When someone acknowledges and apologizes for his or her sins, and is willing to make amends, God forgives. But, very importantly, that process begins with an acknowledgement of sin.

That means there may come, for all of us, a moment of clarity. Each of us will have a moment when we understand the sins we have committed and the pain we have caused.

Now, imagine a dead terrorist who meets his Maker. Imagine him looking back on his life and the pain he has inflicted. Imagine the regret as he recalls how happily he instilled fear and how gleefully he made widows, widowers, and orphans.

Imagine his soul’s pain at that moment, when he realizes just how wrong he was.

When you get past the chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs, resurrection and redemption is what Easter is all about. Saul of Tarsus, whose acts against Christians made him the 33 A.D. version of a terrorist, saw a vision of Jesus and became (after suffering a very symbolic three days of temporary blindness) a devout Christian we know today as St. Paul.

Maybe it won’t be too late for our hypothetical dead terrorist. Maybe he will have his moment of clarity, suffer his punishment, and bear the pain which he has inflicted on others. And, when purified, maybe he will be welcomed into Heaven alongside his forgiving victims.

I’d like to think so. In fact, I’ll be praying for it.

Happy Non-Commercial Holiday

Easter isn’t Christmas. The Easter Bunny will never match Santa Claus’s marketing clout, and despite aisles of candy in Target and Wal-Mart, there’s no Easter Shopping Season. For that matter, even holidays whose roots are in religion – Halloween and Thanksgiving come to mind – have evolved to be more secular and have more cultural awareness than Easter.

There are no classic Easter TV specials on the level of “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” It’s hard to place The Ten Commandments and The Passion of the Christ in the same “seasonal movie” category as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

It seems odd that a culture that does all it can to commercialize and secularize holidays has largely left Easter untouched.

Perhaps this is because the Easter season is much more profound than the others. Christmas celebrates a birthday, and there’s no downside to that. It’s easy enough to turn Christmas into a party. But to celebrate the resurrection, one necessarily has to acknowledge that a death precedes it. No amount of painted eggs or chocolate-distributing bunnies can gloss over that. There are also very clearly “bad guys” in the story of Easter. That makes for a better, more interesting narrative, but it doesn’t help market the day.

And maybe Easter is still religious because the celebrants would rather have it that way. Attempts to overly commercialize Eater may simply meet with deaf ears from those who want to spend quiet time with family reflecting on what has been given up on their behalf.

If you’re a Christian, Happy Easter. (If not, I hope the day I call Easter is still happy for you and you enjoy the half price candy on Monday. I know I will.)