A sigh of relief, a thankful prayer, a life to be saved

That great rush of air you hear is the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and millions of others beyond the Bay State's boarders breathing a huge collective sigh of relief.

The moment of silence in which you might find yourself is the hush of those same people uttering a prayer of thanks to God that, at least for now, we've woken up from the nightmare begun on Monday afternoon.

The sirens you hear are carrying the wounded body of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, "White Hat," Suspect Number 2, to Beth Israel Hospital.  There, a team of medical personnel will work to save the life of this 19 year old man.

The cheers in the air are in support of an army of law enforcement and medical personnel and first responders who have given their all over five days, in harm's way, for the safety of others.

There is absolutely no excuse for the evil perpetrated on Monday at the Marathon's finish line. None. Still, the surgeons and medical personnel at Beth Israel will work to save this man's life tonight.  They will do this without making a judgment on him or his faith or his deeds.  Rather, they will do everything their knowledge and skill allow in order to save the life of another human being.

Vengeance doesn't belong to doctors and nurses: nor does it belong to any of us.  What is ours is the work of justice and if the staff of Beth Israel is successful tonight, that work will go forward.  Our nation's laws guarantee this.

The deeds of others, no matter how heinous, give none of us license to imitate them in their hatred and disregard for human life. Commitment to justice and the desire for it is not only an American ideal, it is also a Christian virtue.  In our tradition, justice is one of the four cardinal virtues.  It's interesting to note the other members of this quartet:  prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  These virtues are meant to work together, in harmony.

We are blessed to live in a land dedicated to liberty and justice for all and at the same time, our faith calls us to a radical justice for which the Cross of Jesus is the standard. We might all need to keep a certain vigilance lest personal emotions and desires tempt us to neglect the justice our faith and nation enjoin on us.  As St. Paul cautions us in Romans: we need to conquer evil with good lest we end by being conquered by evil.  
Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil;
be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.
If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath;
for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;
for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.
- Romans 12
Hard words, these.  

It's not easy to consider such justice, let alone to accept it as what our faith demands.  Justice of this kind draws from a place much deeper in ourselves than the level from which our lesser instincts tempt us to respond.  Let's try to keep this in mind as we read and post on FaceBook and Twitter.

(Click here for a collection of posts following the Boston Marathon tragedy.)

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  1. Fr. Fleming I have been thinking about Christ's call to forgive and wondering how we move forward in forgiveness ever since the pictures were shared Thursday night. Thank you for such a thoughtful and helpful post.

  2. Thank you for this. May our judicial system treat him with justice, & may we always pray for him, that he will know the tender mercy & love of God, both through our prayers & the tender ministrations of those who care for him. He really is just a boy (the age of my granddaughter), & who knows what has damaged him & his brother so much that they would cause such destruction to so many innocents.

  3. I was just about to sit down to write my own blog and read yours. I cannot write a better perspective that your the words you wrote Austin. Thank you. I will share this.

  4. {{{Fr Fleming}}} Your words are so comforting, even though I've watched this week's tragedies unfold from central Indiana. We all must remember that it is not up to us to place judgment on the remaining suspect: It is up to God, and Him alone. All I can do, and I hope others do as well, is to pray that His will be done.

  5. {{{Fr Fleming}}} Thank you, as always, for your words of wisdom.

  6. I, too, believe in justice, Fr. Fleming. People should be held responsible for the natural consequences of their actions. Justice requires the offender to be made aware of the enormity of his/her offense; to make reparation if possible, to accept punishment to restore order. It is false compassion to allow someone to "skate" just because they say they are sorry or won't do it again. This is part of our faith. False compassion is a sin against victims. As opposed to the notion, "God alone can judge" the church supports the workings of civil judicial systems -- we are required to judge actions as they affect others in our society. And to press for the punishment of evildoers.



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