Forgiveness in the wake of tragedy: our greatest Christian witness

The aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings has been a roller coaster of emotions: the initial shock and fear, followed by grieving for those who lost their lives, and then capped off by last Friday's tense, dramatic pursuit of the bombers which paralyzed an entire city. But now that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been captured and charged, what will our next emotional response be?

The first, and likely the most natural, is a desire for revenge. For the hurt and the damage that he and his brother caused, we can hope that Tsarnaev is punished for his crimes and possibly even put to death. We can also feel anger and hatred toward him for what he has done to our entire country, and especially to the people of Boston. But for Christians, there is another, much more difficult, response: forgiveness.

This close to the tragedy, with details of the bombing still slowly coming out in the news, it may be difficult for many to start thinking about mercy and forgiveness. But Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley was quick to remind the Catholics of Boston and the world that there is no room for hatred and vengeance in the hearts of the faithful.

“Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime," O'Malley said in a homily. "But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred. Obviously as a Catholic I oppose the death penalty, which I think is one further manifestation of the culture of death in our midst.”

O'Malley's response, as well as an open letter to Tsarnaev written by Jesuit priest Father Mike Rogers–are excellent examples of the principles of restorative justice triumphing over the retributive and punitive forms of justice that we have come to favor in our society. No amount of hate, anger, or revenge will bring back the victims killed in the bombing, nor will it heal those wounded and those who lost a loved one. It is unlikely to deter future attacks. And though it might make some feel better in the short term, in the long term it solves nothing.

Rather than hoping Tsarnaev will pay for his actions, let us instead hope that he finds a path to redemption. He's still a young man, and there is plenty of time to turn his life around. And rather than focusing on hatred and anger, we are much better served by praying for all of those whose lives have been impacted by this tragedy–including the two brothers who were responsible for it.

About the author

Scott Alessi

Scott Alessi is a former managing editor of U.S. Catholic.