ISIS is threatening terrorist events at Christmas time on specifically Catholic churches. Distinctions are necessary. Priests should be clear-headed about such things. Fear in the face of terrorism isn’t always a bad thing. But there are a number of kinds of fear, some good, some bad. Let’s take just a peek at both, starting with bad fear:
- Bad fear, arising from our own insecurities, causes misplaced priorities, causing mistakes, causing imprudence bringing about reactions which might well bring about one’s own injury or death, or the same for innocent by-standers, or the same for the perpetrator in an unnecessary and unjustified escalation of force.
- The insecurities causing bad fear regard any lack of readiness to leave this world considering one’s loved ones or one’s own responsibilities and dreams and plans or regarding any lack of personal spiritual preparedness for entering into eternity: if one isn’t ready to let go, if one hasn’t discussed this with loved ones and advisers, if one isn’t prepared to understand that it is a real possibility that one might not be able to get out of a threat or possibly might not be able to deescalate troubles, well then, bad things are probably going to happen: see above.
- Bad fear casts out all love. I know a priest who said that he would absolutely for certain abandon his flock to the wolves so that he could come back later and be a priest another day. I attempted to instruct him that with that attitude, he wasn’t even now being a pastor of the flock. Perhaps he despaired of being able to do something about bad fear, and simply gave up.
Love casts out bad fear by having us depend on the Lord’s good love, not our own. Just to say, there is good fear and love can put that good fear to good use. Let’s take a peek:
- Good fear regards the God-given good instinct for self-preservation. We can’t simply explain quite stupidly — “NO FEAR!” — thinking that that will bear out to be true in a critical incident situation. Good fear is a necessity and can be used to provide oneself with a good education in understanding and noting indicators of danger, to obtain good training, to keep oneself on edge with ever changing drills but also basic mechanics. Good fear puts an immediacy on prudently evaluating whatever situation. Good fear opens oneself up to having before oneself any number of possible avenues of recourse while choosing quite instantaneously the right course of action.
- Good fear is the beginning of wisdom. Good fear is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Good fear places one before all eternity with all the prerequisite changes in one’s priorities, with all the security one has in one’s participation in God’s self-sacrificing love, looking forward to entering into all eternity if that becomes a necessity that one risks, as it were, in taking up such a life and life-style.
- Good fear respects God’s justice, that is, with all piety, rendering honor to whom honor is due in justice.
Now, such analysis doesn’t mean that one doesn’t love one’s enemy, the active shooter, who is injuring or killing innocents. Our dear Lord can well sort out the results of one’s intervention in which one has put oneself at risk to stop the perpetrator. Recall what our Lord said just before being tortured to death, laying down His own life, the Innocent for the guilty: “Father, forgive them! They don’t even know what they are doing.” Defending the innocent doesn’t mean anything about the judgment of the perpetrator. Defending the innocent doesn’t mean that one is cruel or mean. One can retain one’s love of God and neighbor even when pulling the trigger on a perpetrator who is actively injuring and/or killing others or oneself.
Being a priest myself, I was asked whether or not, after myself hypothetically pulling the trigger and neutralizing any immediate and mortal threat, I would then proceed to absolve the sin of the criminal involved, if, for instance, the same fellow, being Catholic, did not refuse the sacrament as he might be actively dying, or was, in the same state, also unconscious. I would, of course, offer such an absolution. For instance, present insanity, in which case he is not guilty of any malice, does not exclude the forgiveness of any past sin at the possible moment of death. There is no sin too great that God’s mercy cannot provide forgiveness. But unrepented presumption of mercy is a sin against the Holy Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness, but that’s on the perp, not me. God’s the Judge.
“Defending innocents and loving enemies” — They’re not subject to the law of non-contradiction. Jesus is just that good and just that kind. Amazing, huh?
P.S. The flip-side of this last scenario would be whether or not a defender, having neutralized a threat against innocent, should be absolved from sin. I would never absolve such a person for doing such a violent thing because it is not sinful but rather virtuous and indeed heroic to defend the innocent from catastrophic injury and death. People wrongfully feel guilt for any number of things, including merely having happened to see a violent incident. Wrongfully forgiving that which was always innocent only seals people in wrong-headed guilt, which action on the part of the wrongful “forgiver” is IMHO a sin. It’s that kind of puritanesque being-above-the-fray judgment on good defenders which throws good people into the hell of PTSD, making them victims of holier-than-thou bullying instead of helping them to be one with everyone, which they were to begin with, and certainly much more so than any self-appraised do-gooders.