(Fourth Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on May 15, 2011 at St. Pius X Church,
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2011]
Jesus is THE Good Shepherd. He tells us that explicitly in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11.
But the decisive question is: Is he MY Good Shepherd?
To call Jesus THE Good Shepherd says something objective about Jesus and his identity. To say that Jesus is MY Good Shepherd is to say something about MY personal relationship with him.
Jesus is THE Good Shepherd whether I follow him or not; however he’s only MY Good Shepherd if I make the personal decision to live as his disciple.
And to be a true member of Jesus’ flock I must have the intention of being obedient to him in ALL things. There’s an old saying that some of our Protestant brothers and sisters use, and there’s a lot of truth in it: If Jesus isn’t Lord of all (in other words of all in my life), then he’s not Lord at all.
So I ask you today, is Jesus Christ your Lord—your Good Shepherd—in your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?
On the basis of what I’ve been hearing and reading in recent days, I think that’s a very difficult question for many Christians to answer. For example, I’ve listened to certain commentators in the media—men and women who identify themselves as Christians, and whose opinions I usually agree with—spewing the kind of hatred and venom that you would normally expect to hear from someone like Osama bin Laden!
Is that what we’ve come to?
Have we descended to his level in all this?
I certainly hope not.
That having been said, what is the proper Christian perspective on this issue—the perspective of someone who can honestly call Jesus, “MY Good Shepherd”?
Well let me begin by saying that a true Christian can—and should, I believe—support how our troops acted in this situation. God bless the courageous men who were a part of this very dangerous mission in Pakistan.
However we shouldn’t support what they did because this was a case of “getting even with an evil man”; we should support what they did because their actions helped to protect and defend innocent human lives—innocent human lives here in the United States and throughout the world. I think you could make a very good case that if they had tried to take bin Laden alive (as some are suggesting they should have), they would have put their own lives and the lives of many others in grave danger.
Here we need to understand the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the 5th commandment, which is, of course, “Thou shalt not kill.” I highly encourage you to read the relevant section of the Catechism—the section on the 5th commandment—in its entirety when you have the chance. The Church distinguishes there between the taking of innocent human life (which is always forbidden—that’s why abortion and euthanasia are wrong), and dealing an unjust aggressor (someone who is trying to attack and kill you) a lethal blow. Taking an innocent human life is never right, but dealing an unjust aggressor—which bin Laden certainly was—a lethal blow is sometimes morally permissible.
Let me quote to you now a few important lines from the Catechism itself. In paragraph 2264, it says: “The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing.” Then, in the next paragraph, it says: “Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.” And, finally, in paragraph 2265 it says: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.”
The most loving thing those soldiers could have done for their brothers and sisters in the free world, was exactly what they did: render this unjust aggressor incapable of doing any more evil. In fact, some might even try to make the case that this was the most loving thing they could have done for Osama bin Laden himself!
But none of this justifies hatred toward bin Laden or toward anyone else! That’s where we have to draw the line, as Christians, if Jesus Christ is truly to be OUR Good Shepherd.
So, can we hate what he did in orchestrating the deaths of so many innocent people here in the United States and in other parts of the world? Yes, we can hate what he did—and well we should! It was despicable!
Can we be angry about it? Yes, we should be angry at every gross moral evil!
Can we be happy about the fact that he will no longer be able to carry out his murderous missions here and in other places on the planet? Yes, we can be—and should be—happy about that!
And yet, at the very same time, we must love and forgive—which, of course, is not easy! But it is possible, by the grace of God. We need to do these things, first of all, because Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, told us to love our enemies and to forgive others.
And secondly, we need to do these things because, if we don’t, unforgiveness and hatred will eat us up on the inside, and eventually turn us into the very kind of monsters that we say we detest.
Of course, in fulfilling these commands of our Lord we need to understand what it really means to love and to forgive other people. To love another person does not mean to ignore his or her sins or to dispense with justice. To love means to desire “the good” for the person; and the ultimate good we can and should desire for every man and woman is eternal life. Now, if someone like Osama bin Laden was to attain eternal life, he would need to come to terms with all the evil he did in his life as a terrorist. And he would need to do that before he died. He would need to experience true sorrow (and even remorse) for the innocent lives he destroyed, the families he ruined, and the hatred he inspired in others.
So that’s my prayer for this man: in love I pray that he finally—at some point before he died—came to terms with his heinous crimes against humanity, repented of them, and sincerely sought the mercy of God. If that did happen, I can assure you, it was the most unpleasant experience of bin Laden’s life, the most horrific experience of his life. When someone who engages in diabolical activity like this finally faces the reality of what they’ve done, it can be overwhelming.
But the pain of that experience definitely beats the eternal pains of hell!
And what about forgiveness for bin Laden and for our other enemies?
To forgive someone means to “let go” of an offence, but it does not mean that we’re supposed to completely forget about justice in our relationship with the person! Not at all! For example, if I steal $10 from you, you can forgive me (and hopefully you will!)—but you still have every right to demand that I give you back your $10!
That’s justice, after all.
And please also understand: my forgiveness of someone does not automatically make things right between that person and Almighty God. If I forgive you for something terrible that you did to me, but you’re not truly sorry for your sin, you are not “off the hook,” so to speak, with the Lord! Not by any stretch of the imagination!
So forgiving a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden does not automatically exonerate him of his sins before God!
Rather, it gets us “off the hook,” by keeping the sin of unforgiveness out of our hearts.
And it keeps us from becoming hateful people ourselves.
I come back, now, to the question I asked at the beginning: Is Jesus Christ your Lord—your Good Shepherd—in your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?
I pray that, for each of us, the answer is a sincere—and an obedient—yes.