Thursday 21 November 2019

David Quinn: Big events, big messages on a red-letter weekend

William and Kate, the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, walk hand in hand from Buckingham Palace in London the day after their wedding
William and Kate, the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, walk hand in hand from Buckingham Palace in London the day after their wedding

David Quinn

Last weekend was the most remarkable in a very long time. Three events took place that were each very different from one another, were eminently newsworthy, and were welcomed (mostly) by millions upon millions of people.

One event was of political significance. The second was socially significant, while the third was religiously significant. But each carried a moral message of its own, even if one was highly ambiguous.

The most important event was the one that happened last, namely the killing of Osama bin Laden. There are a couple of ironies to be noted here. The first is that the information which led to Bin Laden's hideout, and was used by US President Barack Obama to order his killing, was obtained from Guantanamo Bay, which candidate Obama had sworn to close but in the end did not.

Announcing the death of Bin Laden, Obama said: "Justice has been done." This brings us to another irony. The liberal Barack Obama did not dispense the justice of the courtroom and the judge, the lawyer and human rights statutes.

Instead, he had delivered a much more old-fashioned sort of justice, the sort of justice we cheer when we see it in a movie, when the bad guy gets his just deserts and is killed by the good guy. Bin Laden was treated not as an ordinary criminal to be arrested by police and brought to trial. Instead he was treated as an enemy combatant in a war and dealt with accordingly.

Admittedly, it would have been far less morally problematic if he had been armed when he was shot dead, as originally reported. The fact that he was unarmed means he was, in effect, executed; that the death penalty was inflicted on him. Was that justified?

To a large extent this depends on whether or not you believe the death penalty is ever justified. Would it have been justifiable to kill Hitler in similar circumstances?

The second big event was the beatification of John Paul II in Rome on Sunday. A million-and-a-half people attended the ceremony. Rome has not seen crowds like it since the death and funeral of John Paul in 2005. It was the biggest crowd ever for a beatification ceremony.

Was the beatification, which is the last step before canonisation, justified? Definitely. The media tend to report beatifications and canonisations in the same way they cover politics. They look at the person's record in office, at the decisions made, the controversies.

Even his most ardent defenders aren't going to say that Pope John Paul never made a mistake, or that he had no blind spots, or that some of his decisions were not controversial.

For example, the abuse scandals only seemed to register on his personal radar screen properly in the American media in the mid-to-late 1990s and especially in 2002, when the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston was forced.

But when a person is considered for beatification or canonisation, the most important thing the church considers is whether that person was personally holy, and very few reasonable people doubt that John Paul was personally a very good man who led a deeply holy life that inspired almost everyone who came in contact with him right from the time he was a young parish priest in Poland and divested himself of all his possessions before serving his people.

The way he coped with his long illness, and the way he faced death impressed countless numbers of people with its heroism, and not just Catholics. When I covered his death and funeral for this newspaper in 2005, I remember seeing at the top of the queue of people waiting to file past his body to pay their respects a group of Sikhs in their brightly coloured turbans. I also met atheists who were there to pay their respects, proving that not all atheists are militant.

The third event was, of course, the first to take place over the weekend, namely the royal wedding. It was a tremendous advertisement for marriage, something that has declined even more sharply in Britain than in most other Western countries over the last few decades.

The Dean of Westminster Abbey set out clearly the nature of purpose of marriage according to the Anglican Communion's understanding, namely to bring children into the world and raise them, to properly channel our natural instincts, and to provide mutual companionship.

The Bishop of London in his homily said that the decline of religion in the West has meant that many people overburden their personal relationships by way of compensation, and by implication this is one reason for Britain's sky-high divorce rate.

So, three big events at the weekend conveyed three big messages. The first was about justice and its often ambiguous nature. The second was about the importance of self-sacrificial holiness. The third was about the central importance of marriage to society.

Messages don't come much bigger than that. Weekends don't get much bigger than that. It really was a red-letter weekend.

Irish Independent

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