Marietta Jaeger to speak October 18th
From Fury to Forgiveness
By Damian Hanley
We like to simplify complex things. Over-simplification keeps our thinking tidy, and preserves our mental energy in a world of infinite information and decision making. It is the basis of all the Dr. Oz pseudoscience that we relish in. Coffee is bad. Wine is good! Chocolate is really good. We like it because morality is complicated and we are lazy. That guy who cheated on his wife is evil. That woman who is smacking her kid in the checkout line at Publix is a lunatic. This driver in front of me should be taken out of his car and beaten with a rubber hose. The Death Penalty is merely an eye-for-an-eye consequence of a criminal act that cannot be forgiven.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
All of us at one point have justified it in our heads – at least for a minute. An attorney once described to me the point system used to determine a person’s eligibility for capital punishment, which is tallied based on the nature of the crime. Did it include kidnapping, torture, a minor..? By the end of the explanation, I admit, I was a bit swayed. My mind hadn’t gone there, but if someone had tortured and brutally killed an immediate family member, I started thinking I’d like to be the one to throw the switch.
Casting judgment is a tool that has been sharpened in an attempt to preserve our lives by our homo sapient brain for the past 200,000 years. We used to really need that tool when we were fending for ourselves in the wild, running down our prey with spear in hand, engaging in fist fights with saber tooth cats and such. But alas, a Man showed up 2000 years ago and taught us a better way to live – which is why you picked up this bulletin.
A millennium and a half prior to Christ, God gave us the 10 Commandments. You’d think #5 on the list would have closed the book on the debate over the death penalty, but it hasn’t – not even among Catholics. In this state, we put people to death for crimes other than murder, but considering the Colony of New York’s “Duke’s Laws of 1665” dictated that offenses such as striking one’s mother or father, or denying the “true God” were punishable by death – we’ve made a little progress.
The death penalty has been around for all of recorded history, but in the United States, about 13,000 people have been legally executed since colonial times. Texas leads the way. In 1972 the Supreme Court actually abolished capital punishment. It held the death penalty as “cruel and unusual” and violated the Eighth Amendment. It was reinstated four years later.
Our culture’s relationship with the death penalty has been mixed. Our faith’s has not. Setting aside our commandment not to kill (over-simplified for a reason), there are a few very good reasons we, as Catholics, are obligated to oppose the death penalty.
Proponents of capital punishment cite it as a deterrent to crime. That is trite, but more than that, it cheapens life. Everyone can agree that human life is valuable, but the Catholic’s pro-life stance asserts that life is so valuable that no one, under any circumstance should be denied it.
“Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity,” as stated in the USCCB’s A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.
Amnesty International’s appeal to our philosophical side is not purely theoretical either. “The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”
From the Death Penalty Information Center’s website: On September 2, 2014, Leon Brown and Henry McCollum were exonerated and released from prison in North Carolina. The two African American men, who are half-brothers, had been convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to death in 1984. Brown was 15 at the time of the crime and McCollum was 19. Both men have intellectual disabilities and were interrogated under duress until they confessed to the crime. In 2010, Brown turned to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission for help. The Commission tested DNA evidence from the crime scene, which implicated a man who was convicted of a similar crime. Robeson County Judge Douglas Sasser vacated the men’s convictions and said the evidence indicated their innocence. District Attorney Johnson Britt supported their release and said no further charges will be brought against them.
How does one recover from that type of injustice? Were the authorities and families of the victim blind with rage when they ran their investigation? You bet they were. That girl’s parents didn’t want justice, they wanted revenge. And who could deny them that?
How would those two men forgive the courts? How would the authorities forgive themselves after stealing three decades’ worth of freedom from Brown and McCollum? Is it even possible to emotionally and spiritually overcome tragedy like this?
It is, and we’re going to show you how. On Tuesday, October 18th from 9am-10:30 and 6pm-7:30pm, – two days from now – St. John XXIII will host a speaker named Marietta Jaeger. “I have my degree from the school of hard knocks,” and her PhD in forgiveness.
Marietta’s experience is every parent’s worst nightmare. I promised not to divulge the details of her story, but imagine the worst possible act being committed against your 7-year-old daughter, and then imagining the other worst things also happening.
Marietta’s story will stretch your imagination to its boundaries of pain and suffering. She’s traveled the world for the past 40 years, speaking to audiences about the importance of developing our ability to forgive.
She spent ten years speaking at a rehabilitation facility for clergy. She’s been interviewed in Rome by the Vatican Radio three times, and testified to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. Marietta has worked with teen gangs in Peru and given many retreats across the country, including one in India for recovering alcoholic Catholic clergy.
On her own accord, she lived in Nicaragua during the Contra War researching forgiveness, only to discover that her own country had been spreading misinformation in the domestic media on the motives and nature of the conflict. That’s worth repeating. She moved to a country during a violent civil war to learn how the most marginalized and defenseless citizens were coping. Who among us today would move to Afghanistan, learn the language, and then live among the mountain-dwelling civilians to research their ability to forgive their enemies for the constant occupation, drone strikes and bombing?
“I went to Nicaragua to find out what was really going on with the campesinos,” Marietta shares. “How were they able to maintain a spirit of forgiveness during a period of daily occupation? This was an occupation of violence. Life was being taken every day.”
After the crime that took her daughter and changed her life, she spent two weeks wrestling with God, blinded by fury. She’d come from a background of strong faith, instilled in her by her parents and an influential nun, Sister Mary Columkille of Galway County, Ireland.
“She taught me not to be daunted by the division between the clergy and the people of the Church. She taught me this pre-Vatican II, so she was ahead of her time. She was quite progressive.”
She’s taken the pain from her experience and spun it into a ministry that serves the most forgotten and disenfranchised in our world. Who really has compassion for those serving a life sentence for murder? Everyone remembers the feelings and emotions that surround a trauma. We remember when life as we knew it was over. Things were not the same.
Marietta has taken this experience, and in it, she’s found her place in the world. This is the alchemy to which we’re called by Christ. Love is an action, and when we’re told to love our enemies, this is what that looks like.
“Jesus taught in parables, so I try to share my story with as many people as possible to give them hope. Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t just happen and then it’s over. We have to live with a heart of forgivness. We have to maintain it.”
“If God can help me get through such a horrible situation, He can help anyone.” Our faith gives us the freedom to love those that our secularized world would have us hate. Come listen to her story. Be moved by it, and learn why capital punishment can never be an acceptable solution to our broken heart.