PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

 

Death penalty: the anomaly that was


(A sort of reverse requiem)

"God loved us first before we loved Him." Are we honestly convinced of this? If not, then we have never gotten and will never get the point of Christianity.

Father Reinero Cantalamessa, the Pope's personal confessor, once pointed this out to a congregation of Catholic charismatics in a recollection he gave in November 10, 1997 at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City. He based his theology on the Bible, of course, quoting generously from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.

He noted that there are among us who profess to be Christians but do not necessarily have the same mindset, even those who have long been in the charismatic renewal movement. Oftentimes, we end up being self-righteous, judgmental. For a more concrete example, we end up supporting the death penalty.

We wrongly think that God came into our lives because we are special, or we are better than the next person, or we have merited good karma from our God-fearing parents, or because we happen to have God-loving friends.

While all these may be true, the fact - according to the Bible - remains that we do not merit God's love. No one has the right to say, "God loves me because I am innately good." This is an unadulterated lie because all of us, children of Adam and Eve, have inherited a fallen nature by 'virtue' of The Great Fall from Grace. To quote Fr. Cantalamessa, "Man is basically a self-centered sinner. We are lost. We are hopeless. It is through God's grace that we are saved."

"This means," he went on, "that we need salvation from outside and not from inside ourselves. We cannot rely on our own."

So everyone instead ought to ask, "Why does God love me in spite of me?" This reaction is more intelligible and the only one valid, especially when we witness people we have branded as "irredeemable," "incorrigible," or "hopeless case" mysteriously find the Lord like we have had, i.e., experiencing conversion purely by way of God's grace, in His own time, making use of instruments we never thought would touch us.

God's brand of love is simply different. "His ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts." Indeed, it's unlike our legalistic love, which stipulates a corresponding amount of disposable love based on an empirical merit system, as if life is one big climb up a series of promotions in a corporate or academic ladder.

Because, if we come to think of it, everything boils down to grace. Can anyone among us honestly claim that we sought God first? If that is the case, who put that longing in our heart in the first place? (You can refer back to St. Thomas Aquinas’s “un-causable cause.”) We simply have no right to monopolize God's love, to form a cartel of exclusivist, close-minded holier-than-thou Christians who think that God will work only in our group or in our church. We have no right to withhold God's love to anyone, much less His forgiveness. Except in cases of self-defense, which essentially is life-preserving anyway, we have no right to take the life of anyone - inside and outside the womb, by the way - no matter how much we think undeserving he or she may be.

Punishment or retribution is logical if we are to function as a just and civilized society, but why punish with death?

Only God has a free say as to where and whom love, grace, justice and mercy should be withheld. Only God has the right to take someone's life.



2.19.2000


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