More than a million of the faithful were present at the Vatican for the beatification of Blessed John Paul II, to include the godparents of my eldest child and the future godparents of her soon-to-be-born sister. The joy at this momentous event spread to my home parish and, I’m sure, to Catholics and admirers of John Paul the world over.
I woke up the next morning to a celebration of a far different nature. CNN was streaming video of a jubilant crowd gathered outside the White House cheering the news of Osama bin Laden’s demise. Watching the multitudes wave their flags and scream with joy, I remembered the pain and grief I felt on September 11th. I thought of the thousands who died that day and the thousands upon thousands who’ve died since.
As I continued to watch the streaming video, I too became elated, emotional and joyful at the news.
This bothered me — for several reasons.
For starters, I had a very practical concern: now that this man was dead, he’d likely be considered a martyr by Muslim extremists. His “martyrdom” would doubtless inspire retaliatory attacks. More innocent people would die.
I also realized that others might have died in the operation. Early reports suggest a woman used as a human shield was killed during the exchange of fire. I don’t know of her involvement (if any) with bin Laden, but the possibility remains that an innocent bystander was killed.
Beyond that, I was bothered by a tougher moral quandary: regardless of how heinous his or her deeds while living, is it right to celebrate a person’s death?
I certainly didn’t think so. One of my great struggles is following Jesus’s instruction to love my enemies. As difficult as I find it, praying for them seems like a good start. Celebrating their deaths does not.
Using similar words, I spoke about this with a colleague at work. When I asked him my question on the morality of celebrating an enemy’s death, he answered with another question: would God celebrate?