Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Know How to Speak

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; And I have not rebelled, have not turned back.  Isaiah 50:4-5

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16

Lord, give me the attitude of your faithful disciple Isaiah.  Open my ears to hear your Word.  Then, open my mouth that I may faithfully proclaim it.  However, make sure that I do not stop there.  Open my heart so that I may faithfully follow Your Word without turning back in my humble works.

What are we supposed to do?

That is the question which has been directed to us time after time throughout the Lenten season.  Like in today’s servant song from Isaiah, we are pointed to example after loving example of ways to serve God and the people of the Kingdom by putting others ahead of ourselves. In essence, we should answer this question like the popular bracelets – “WWJD?” What would Jesus do is the perspective that should guide our choices.

But choices abound.  As we reach the threshold of the Triduum, Judas provides to us the example of what NOT to do.  Betrayal is shown as the opposite of service.

As Lenten and Holy Week practices go, perhaps none are as powerful as the contrast between what will happen in churches Thursday and Friday.  Thursday, we will focus on the servant Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  Friday, we will focus on the feet of Jesus moving from trial to torture to state-sponsored death by execution – step-by-bloody-painful-step up Calvary. 

As Pope Francis takes those steps Friday, his Good Friday reflections also will ask us to reflect upon when the death penalty will be abolished. 

At the station that marks Jesus being nailed to the cross, Francis and the pilgrims will use a reflection that questions modern-day uses of both the death penalty and torture.

“We gaze at you, Jesus, as you are nailed to the cross,” states the reflection. “And our conscience is troubled.”

“We anxiously ask: When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?” it continues. “When will every form of torture and the violent killing of innocent persons come to an end? Your Gospel is the surest defense of the human person, of every human being.”

Does our “legal” practice emulate more the servant attitude of Christ or is it a betrayal of the Gospel defense of love in action? Does this trouble your conscience?  Living in Virginia, one of the top states to use execution (even when consecutive Catholic men occupied the Governor’s mansion), we can use this season and the example of our pope to ask our political leaders to turn away from the use of such force.

While Catholic teaching holds that the death penalty can be used in a situation where the public authority can find no other way to contain a dangerous person, the last several popes have said that such situations likely no longer exist.

Francis has been even more publically opposed to the practice, saying March 20 that "today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”

Francis added that executing a prisoner can no longer be justified by a society's need to defend itself, and he addressed two issues prominent in the American context: He declared that the death penalty "loses all legitimacy" because of the possibility of judicial error, and he said "there is no humane way of killing another person."  

Several recent botched executions have given anti-death-penalty advocates more ammunition for their arguments.  More and more states are now having trouble finding the drugs that have been used for decades to administer lethal injection.  One state has gone so far as to reauthorize use of the firing squad if the pharmaceutical cocktail cannot be found to bring on death.  

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