Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Christian Response to Terrorism

Have you ever thought of or prayed for a terrorist, or for a group of them? They use all kinds of machines, and are technologically equipped with bombs and explosives to kill others. True, they have goals, or so they think - 'Liberate this or that country. Kill this man... maim this one.' These are the people whose nights are spent in loneliness. They have no days, only nights, because their days are as dark as night; stygian, hellish nightmares.

And so, I pray for them, because nothing can be equal to the goals of terrorists set before themselves: to kill, to maim, to disrupt, to disregard men and women and children. That must be the loneliness of hell, the hell that man makes for himself. And because their cause appears to them to be viable, possible, perhaps attainable, their loneliness is doubled, for deep in their soul they know that this is not the way to peace and to love. To die for a cause appears beautiful, but the cause itself is not beautiful. To die for love, to die for God, to die for peace - that is beautiful, and for this we must pray. There is no lonelier person than a terrorist.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Doubts, Loneliness, Rejection

Reflection – This showed up in my Facebook news feed the other day, and I thought it was a timely reflection for the blog. Timely, precisely because for the most part there has been little terrorist activity lately, at least that I can recall. So it’s a good time for this kind of reflection: when the nation or the world is reeling under the horror of the latest bombing atrocity, it is hard to hear this kind of thing.

It is helpful to remember, reading this, that Catherine herself had been a victim of a certain species of terrorist, namely the Bolshevist revolutionaries who tore her beloved Russia to shreds in their quest for an ideological new heavens and new earth. Her own extended family were murdered by these people, and her immediate family suffered terribly from the ravages of exile and poverty due to the ‘terrorism’ of the Russian Revolution.

So when she talks about the need to pray for these people and to have a real compassion for them, she is not talking from some dreamy never-never land of unreal piety. This is a woman who has seen piles of dead bodies, victims of ideologically driven violence, and who came perilously close on at least two occasions to being added to those piles.

She fought her way through to forgiveness of her family’s murderers, and so she can speak with a certain authority on the subject. Now, I personally have never been the victim of a criminal act of violence, nor has any member of my family or my community ever been murdered, either ‘ideologically’ or otherwise. So realize that, while Catherine can speak with a certain authority and strength here, I have to tread gently.

But we have to be clear, don’t we? If we are Christians, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. A terrorist today is our enemy, if anyone is. And so if we are going to take the Gospel seriously and put it into practice, there we are.

But if you read this carefully, you see that for Catherine ‘praying for someone’ was not simply a matter of reeling off three Hail Marys and then calling it a day. She certainly did pray that way, and that is a salutary and effective practice. But for her, to pray for someone meant identifying with that person, climbing inside their skin, trying to put yourself in that position. What would it be like to be a terrorist? How do they feel? What is driving them? What does it do to a human soul to be committed to the murder of any number of people to attain a political/religious/ideological goal?

She ponders this, and comes up with the word loneliness. And from that experience of the loneliness of the terrorist, the empty spiritual wasteland of that choice to live that way, she experiences a deep compassion, a deep willingness to die for these men, to not simply pray a few prayers for them, but to atone for them, to suffer for them.

I believe that this is the healing of our world, this attitude of not just a grudging obedience of love and prayer for our enemies, but a genuine love for them that is willing to suffer for them. We live in a world where there is great anger, a great vengefulness, a great spirit of hatred and division that rules in so many hearts. Anger and hatred are addictive emotions; they give a charge of energy and vitality to the one harboring them.

We who are Christians not only need to fight against anger and hatred in our own spirits, but actively strive to love and to serve, to suffer and die to self for the sake of all the angry, hating ones. It’s not about ideology and ‘my side’ vs. ‘their side.’ We are all children of God, every one of us, with the dignity and goodness that God put into us that we cannot wholly eradicate.

It is our constant call to regard every human being, even the murderer of innocent children and adults, as our brother, our sister, to see them as Christ sees them, and to yearn for their salvation and beatitude as much as we yearn for our own. That is the form of Christian love, and that is the urgent need of the world today.


  1. One of my favorite scriptures from todays liturgy...sort of speaks to what you are talking about:
    "For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain unless you willed it?; or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things , Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things..." Wisdom 11 22:-12:2.

    Bless you

  2. Fr Paul of NiagaraNovember 4, 2013 at 6:30 AM

    Hello Father. I arrived here from a FB connection, Teresa and Denis Buonafede. We are all creatures of God. He loves everyone that He has made. God is the Father of every human being in some way. But those are called and are really his children who are "children of God through Faith", who are in the state of grace. They only are children of God in the normal Christian sense. Otherwise, baptism makes no difference. Plus, Moslems, for example, would *vehemently* deny that they or anyone else is a child of God.

    1. Oh, totally granted, Father! It is in the 'some way' that I intend what I write here, and that we are called to view each human being as our brother and sister insofar as the potential for the fullness of their divine filiation is within each one.


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