Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bury the Dead

When I was a boy in Catholic school, lists to be memorized were standard fare in education and a big part of catechesis. We had the 10 Commandments, of course, but also the 6 Precepts of the church, the 4 marks of the Church, the 4 Cardinal Virtues, the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the 7 corporal and 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. Among the Corporal Works of Mercy, the seventh in the list was always "burying the dead."
Obviously there is nothing uniquely Catholic or Christian about the duty to bury the dead. Properly burying the bodies of the dead (or the equivalent in cultures which reverently practice cremation or the exposure of dead bodies) reflects a universal human impulse, a universal sense of the shared fragility of human life and the common experience of mortality. 
So the sorry spectacle being played out in Boston right now regarding the final disposition of the body of the Boston Marathon bomber is nothing for anyone to be particularly proud of.
I remember well the killing (on national TV) of Lee Harvey Oswald, just two days after he'd murdered President Kennedy. The next day (the same day the President was buried with a grandiose state funeral), Oswald was likewise buried - much more modestly, of course, but properly and with no mass protests or other indignities.
The sun shines and the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Death comes to both the good and the bad. It diminishes neither a criminal's wickedness nor society's uprightness to dispose of his body in the customary way. True, some particularly notorious cases have warranted special precautions to prevent a malefactor's grave from becoming a symbol of political oposition or a shrine for malcontents to rally at. Nothing like that happened with Lee Harvey Oswald, and frankly I rather doubt anything like that would likely happen with Boston Marathon bomber's eventual burial site.
In an earllier, less intrusive world, it might have been possible to bury him quietly and privately and keep the site secret - as was done for the first few years with Mussolini, for example. Sadly that is hardly possible in today's "everything is public, everything is political" environment.
For as long as his crime is remembered, however, his name will be permanently disdained and his memory excoriated. But meanwhile let his body be put in the ground where it belongs - and where all of us, good and bad alike, are all eventually fated to go sooner or later.

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