Life in prison without parole. With this sentence the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell has come to an end. Yet another horrific, unmentionable injustice has been addressed by our nation’s legal system. The murder of infants had tipped the golden scales of justice, but with the piercing percussion of a swift gavel strike, the balance was restored. Next case. Could it be that justice is so easy?
No matter the sacral trappings of his legal authority, man’s judicial machinery has always been rather crude and cacophonous in its operation, sputtering and lurching forward, stretching a palsied finger to balance the unbalanceable and right the unrightable. We have known all along that the pure and polished scales are held only by the gods. They hang from the outstretched arms of Justitia, Themis, and Dike, far above the grasp of Judy, Brown, and Mathis.
Intuitively we know that justice requires more than we mortal men can muster. Who can truly fix the shattering blow of the murder, the betrayal, the lie? The shattering impact of injustice forever marks the past, its shards slice through the fabric of the future, and its stain lingers presently on the soul, debased and alienated by its vicious act. How can Gosnell give back the life he took from Baby A, Baby B, Baby C, Baby D, and the countless unlettered babies he slaughtered inside and outside the womb? He cannot. Restitution is impossible. A thousand lives spent in a thousand prisons will not restore what he has taken, and neither would his execution restore the balance. For justice we must look to another.
The old goddesses were destroyed when the light of Christ revealed their nihility, but their scales did not fall into just any mortal hands. They were caught by the Word made flesh, to whom all judgment has been given by the Father. Of course, his mission is firstly that of rescue and ransom: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pt 3:18). But when the time of repentance draws to a close, when the cup of God’s patience finally overflows with the blood of martyrs, infants, and marathon spectators, justice will be definitively served. On that day, the unjust will reap the eternal isolation to which every act of injustice inherently tends, and those justified in Christ, his love alive in their souls, will enter the eternal communion to which every act of charity inherently tends. Finally, our every desire for justice will be satiated by the One who alone is perfectly just.
There is hope even for a murderer. His life sentence will neither save him nor his victims, but he could still turn to the God of love, the God of mercy and compassion. He could allow his sins to be carried by the Savior. He could devote his life to penance. But if he does not choose to die with Christ, confess, repent, carry his cross and come after him, then he risks the fate of the final impenitent and may indeed carry his injustice right through the gates of Hell. For the sake of their immortal souls, pray God that all murderers be brought to repentance and know the infinite mercy of God.
When righteous anger rises within us, let us look forward to the day of Christ’s return to judge all nations, and let us call to mind that without God’s saving grace, our own injustice is as irremediable as that of a murderer. Our sin cannot be undone, but it can be forgiven. Our past cannot be changed, but it can be redeemed. Our victims may even become our brothers and our sisters in that land where every tear is wiped away. Let this then be our hope. Christ is making all things new, and one day soon, on a day like today, his perfect justice will be established forever.
Image: Roland Meinecke, Justitia