Recently during this legislative session, two leading legislators, one Democrat and one Republican, have sponsored bi-partisan legislation to offer a Constitutional Amendment to repeal the death penalty in Louisiana. The Legislature should pass this measure and the governor should sign it.

For years the bishops of Louisiana have spoken and taught in favor of ending the death penalty, and I lend my voice to this clear and consistent position. But in this matter I want to reflect with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, on this issue with a more personal and spiritual reflection on the death penalty something that has been on my mind arising in my prayer on this public debate about capital punishment. 

and there is good evidence it is not a deterrent to crime. But like many arguments of presented facts there are others that will argue back with facts. But in this whole debate I keep asking myself, in all of this back and forth, where is MERCY? 

Duca, Michael color-narrow.pdf

The idea of mercy should be on our hearts as Catholics because just a few weeks ago we observed Divine Mercy Sunday, when we acknowledged and joyfully proclaimed the love God has for each of us. We also gave thanks for his merciful, forgiving love. 

When we reflect on God’s merciful love we believe that God will always forgive the repentant sinner, as many times as he or she asks for forgiveness. His mercy is everlasting and inexhaustible. There is no sin too big that he will not forgive if we are repentant. We come to know the merciful love of God through Jesus, who through his works and actions revealed the depth of God’s love for us. 

But what is God’s merciful love? First, God’s love is always more than we can imagine. In human terms God’s love is scandalously generous and faithful. If we reasoned to what God’s love is from our human perspective, we might say, “God loves everyone, God forgives anyone BUT MAYBE NOT THAT PERSON …” Our love can be generous and forgiving but we also, to our surprise and maybe even our shame, find that at times are not as loving or forgiving as Jesus asks us to be when he commanded that we “Love one another as I HAVE LOVED YOU.” 

This command of Jesus can seem impossible at times when we are the victims of betrayal, lies, violence, especially senseless violence that takes the life of a loved one or any sin against us that we believe is unforgiveable. In these moments we seem locked into a WHY that demands an answer, some justice to make this right. In this moment, and I say this not wanting to trivialize or assume I understand the depth of a person’s anger and loss, the words of Jesus still call us to forgiveness.  

This may seem impossible and even unfeeling but I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and Life so there is life and healing in his words. How is it possible to forgive when it is so unfair? Some do find a way after great harm is done to them but how someone learns to forgive will always be a grace from God in your life. The path to this grace may begin with this paradoxical prayer, “Oh God, I truly hate this person with all my heart for what they have done to me and my family, I want them to suffer as I have and wish them no joy in their life. Don’t ask me to forgive them because I can’t, I won’t. Lord, help me to forgive!” With this prayer you give God a crack in your pain to work a grace that will help you find peace. How will it happen? I do not know – for the grace you receive will be unique to you. What I do know is that our lives will have more hope if we are looking and waiting for God’s grace and not seeking revenge or the suffering of others.  

Even though we can sometimes see others as evil because of their actions, I believe that God can never see us as completely evil and beyond redemption because we have been made in God’s image and likeness. God is JUST, so he will require accountability for our actions and some sins demand that a person pay with a penal judgment. But even as God judges us, I believe God always sees that eternal image and likeness of himself so continually wills every saint and sinner to be saved. I believe no matter our sin, how big or small, God always sees us as prodigal sons and daughters and God is always the faithful father waiting and watching for our return. He never gives up on us.  

How can we not strive to do the same? In order for each of us to allow (it is our lawmakers who vote on this issue) someone to be put to death we have to let go of merciful love which strives to see, and if we cannot see, then to believe that everyone is made in God’s image and likeness. This doesn’t mean that a person who has committed a heinous crime should not be sentenced to a life imprisonment. This doesn’t mean that at times it may seem impossible to see any sign of compassion or regret in the criminal which makes it even harder to not call him or her evil. But to believe and act out of the belief, even if we cannot see it, that this person is God’s creation, humanizes us and guides us to not forget God’s hand is in this and that the person is a human being made in God’s image and likeness.  

To believe in the goodness of everyone is the foundation needed to build a caring, accepting and just community. In our discussions in the next few weeks don’t get caught up in the rhetoric. Ask yourself as a good Catholic, a believer in Jesus Christ, where is the mercy? Mercy does not exist in a vacuum. We know it exists in our merciful savior. So for us as believers the question is not where is the mercy in general, but rather do I carry in my heart the merciful love of Jesus?  

All I ask is that you pray about this as a spiritual invitation to grow deeper in your faith as believers. May Jesus, source of Divine Mercy, be our guide. Jesus, son of God, savior, have mercy on me!