Harrowing of Hell and the perpetrators of evil

Pope Francis has newly inaugurated his own Instagram account and following the attacks in Brussels this week, there was a message of prayerful solidarity with the victims and, more broadly the people in and of Belgium. The account is too new, however, to see whether this will become a continuous feature, if so it will be an all too sadly common one. It is, also, too soon to see whether it can show an admirable equality in its regarding of the victim for as many have noted the atrocity in Belgium has generated significantly more attention than the equally recent and horrific events in, say, Istanbul.

At one level this is understandable - we tend to focus on 'home' rather than on 'abroad' yet every life stripped of its dignity in violent death is the same, equally valid in sorrow.

At these points, ever more regular, however, I, also, wonder at an element that is missing. That it is missing at the immediate point of violence is wholly understandable but afterwards, on subsequent reflection, where is the prayer for the perpetrators? After all their darkness, lostness, is certainly, palpably real.

Yesterday, as Christ hangs on the cross, he asks that they be forgiven 'for they know not what they do' but I would be hard placed to remember moments when in our prayers of intercession, the perpetrators have been similarly lifted up that they might be broken into the light. In truth, I can remember only one very compelling instance - on the day after 9/11 at mass in a small contemplative Dominican community where I was staying. Here a French Canadian sister prayed for the perpetrators, for the beginning of the long, aching path of forgiveness and for a world reflective of the manifold sources of evil from which such violence comes. It was a prayer made more poignant by knowing that this sister had played a significant and heroic role in the Rwandan genocide, protecting lives at the considerable risk of her own, where the path of forgiveness was anything but simple or straight or ever ending.

This too is all too understandable. A small boy of eight once when asked by a friend, an Anglican clergyman, what Jesus was doing on Holy Saturday, he had answered (as the only person in his class to put his hand up) that Jesus had gone in search of his friend, Judas! It a remark more striking for what the Gospel account itself makes of Judas' betrayal delighting in the miscreant's subsequent suicide (yet another illustration that even scripture is a work of all too human hands). It reminds me of what would we make on an average Sunday in church of someone getting up to deliver the intercessions and focusing fully and wholly on the perpetrators as human beings in need, most in need, of prayer. It would be a brave soul that attempted it - and no doubt there are places where this is so, would that there were more of them.

For several years, once a week, I visited a Jungian analyst. I could say this was an 'analysis' except the unusualness of this woman and her approach might belie that too simple description. Behind her seat, there was always an icon of the Harrowing of Hell, thus, always facing her client. This is where we are going, it seemed to say, a trip to the depths; and, the measure of where we can aspire to, will be the depths to which we can descend (to quote St Augustine).

This it strikes me is one of the messages of Holy Saturday - the measure of our grace will be how far we can travel into the reality of the darkness and extend in prayer to all those whose actions exclude them from the kingdom but whose common humanity does not. For it is a core belief of the Church that our human dignity is inalienable (however much it may go in disguise in each and everyone of us) and a measure of that belief ought to be how we stretch out after the perpetrators of harm.

Maybe this might become a new tradition of Holy Saturday - that we go in search of our friends that are Judas?


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