Author: Patrick Clark

Can we make sense out of killing sprees?

Over the course of the past century, “spree killings” committed by and directed toward civilians have become a regular part of our social world. It seems that we have developed a discrete category for them in our social imaginary. In the years since the Columbine massacre of 1999, the dramatically increased frequency of these killings has had the effect of crystallizing this category in our collective consciousness. When I heard about the massacres carried out this year in Tuscon and Norway, I was no less horrified than I was when I heard about Columbine, but now I feel I like can more readily name what happened. I feel like the conceptual “box” into which I place these kinds of events is more defined and accessible. And judging by the increased rapidity with which these killings have become political weapons, it would appear that the wider public is also getting better at “making sense” of this sort of violence. Yet from a theological perspective, I wonder whether the attempt to make sense these events is not misguided at some level. Of course, we can and should make moral distinctions between certain types of killing, between murder and self-defense, for instance, or between terrorism and justified revolution. Such distinctions, however, are presumably based upon the more fundamental distinction between good and evil, which in the Christian view is not a distinction between two categories of being, but rather one between being and its...

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A Heart That Sees

Building upon Beth Haile’s lectionary post for this week, I would just like to share some thoughts I’ve had regarding the way Christians think about  the objects of our love in relation to God, whom we describe as love itself. Beth is certainly right to suggest that the main aim of this week’s readings is to invite reflection on our  ultimate desires: what is it that we really want? For what, if anything, would we exchange everything we had? Do we know, and can we articulate, that for which our heart yearns most deeply? I am just going to focus on the first reading, in which the Lord appears to Solomon and proposes to give him his ultimate desire-whatever he wants- apparently with no strings attached. As a kid I was puzzled as to why Solomon didn’t take the obvious route and ask for an endless supply of wishes, but in any case what he does ask for is “an understanding heart.” “An understanding heart:” in my view, this response already reveals a profound degree of wisdom, and the kind of humility that unfailingly characterizes it. What Solomon asks for, in essence, is to become the sort of person who could respond worthily to such a question. Or, to put it negatively, he asks that he not become the sort of person for whom this question would be a curse rather than a blessing. He asks for “an...

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Presence and Absence in the Holy Land

Many of us in the Theology Department at the University of Scranton have just recently returned from a week-long trip to the Holy Land which was very generously sponsored and organized by the Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies here at Scranton. Now that we are home and trying to fight our way through the jet lag, we are also naturally attempting to reflect on and interpret the many sights and events we experienced.  And for me, the overriding theme to which I keep returning is God’s presence and absence. Where can we find God, and in what respect does He remain elusive to us? The question really began to arise at the Western Wall, which I had the privilege of visiting on four different occasions, all at different times of the day. Unlike many of the other sacred sites, the crowd at the Wall is always dominated by people who are visibly and entirely engaged in the act of prayer. The transparency of the devotion at the Western Wall is arresting.  The many movements, murmurs, and gazes that surround you all seem to have a direct and discernible orientation. The rationale for going there is very simple and specific: it is the point of maximal proximity to God’s presence on the Temple Mount. The people who go there do so because He is there. “The Divine Presence never moves from the Western Wall,” reads an information plaque at the entrance of the plaza. Yet of course,...

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Does Catholic social doctrine allow us to say that bin Laden deserved death?

Barack Obama gave an interview to 60 Minutes this past Sunday to talk about the attack on Osama bin Laden. It made absolutely compelling television, and the president was particularly sterling. The most intriguing question, I thought, came at the end, when Steve Kroft asked the President, “Is this the first time that you’ve ever ordered someone killed?”  Obama’s response pointed to the power and gravity of the presidential office: “Well, keep in mind that, you know, every time I make a decision about launching a missile, every time I make a decision about sending troops into battle, you know, I understand that this will result in people being killed. And that is a sobering fact. But it is one that comes with the job.” Kroft did not let the question go: “This was one man. This is somebody who’s cast a shadow in this place, in the White House for almost a decade.” Obama then said something that I found rather shocking: “As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.” Perhaps I need to have my head examined, but does it not seem a little disturbing that our President feels it...

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American Justice and Divine Mercy: Thoughts on Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Here are just a couple scattered thoughts that have come swirling into my mind in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death: First, should we consider it anything more than a blind coincidence that this momentous attack was carried out on Divine Mercy Sunday? (And coincidentally the same Divine Mercy Sunday set aside for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, who designated the Easter Octave as a universal commemoration of divine mercy?) Second, is it appropriate to feel at least feel a little uncomfortable with the primary meaning which our President (and the media) has attached to this momentous attack, which was  set in motion on Divine Mercy Sunday, namely that  “Justice has been done” ? True: mercy and justice have always been inseparably linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  (“Love and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss,” as Psalm 85 famously puts it.) But is there any way of intelligibly linking the justice done to Osama Bin Laden with the divine mercy proclaimed by Jesus to St. Faustina, and through her to the whole world? Yes, justice has been done; but whose justice, exactly? Is the justice that was done to this terrorist the sort of justice that Christians should recognize and celebrate? Should Christians consider the eradication of this murderer as an act of divine mercy? If so, how do we fit together his execution with the execution of our Lord? Can we reasonably and...

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