March 04, 2006

walk of the cross

Ours is a religion centered on a man who was convicted, sentenced to death and executed. He was crucified on a cross, a cross many of us wear around our necks or have up on our walls. Yet how often when we say those words, when we venerate that cross, do we think about what that really means?

I read in the paper today about a local man who was convicted of some pretty heinous crimes. Yesterday was sentenced to death, for the 3rd time. Reactions in the article reporting the verdict struck me deeply:

"We're extremely pleased now that 36 jurors have said the defendant deserves the death sentence," said the prosecutor.

"We went over (the evidence) piece by piece, witness by witness," said one of the jurors, who struggled to reconcile her Christian faith with her duty as a juror. "There just wasn't any evidence to support any other decision." Later this same juror said, "I don't think it's up to us whether a man lives or dies," adding that she was not pressured to change her mind.

As the verdict was read, one of the man's victims made a fist and pumped her arm. In 1987, she survived an attack by the convicted man. "I was frantic. I was terrified. I was squirming. I was screaming."

I am not condoning the crimes this man committed. I have no intention of belittling the feelings of the woman who narrowly escaped with her life. I sympathize with the inner struggle of the juror who has sentenced another human being to death. But being "extremely pleased" that another human being is going to die? Why does that make me think back to the crowds 2,000 plus years ago shouting "Crucify Him!". Why does it seem to me more like blood lust than a search for justice?

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.” -Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), 1995, #s 27-28.

There may be hope in the increasing recognition of the dignity even of the lives of those who have done great evil. But reading this article over my coffee this morning made me realize how very far we in America have to walk.

This Lenten season I pray for a conversion in the heart of the American people on this issue.