"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever." (Psalm 72)
A few of us from CMN’s staff were messaging back and forth last Tuesday evening, as we often do on the night of an execution. Each of us in our respective homes, we collectively monitored the status of Kevin Johnson’s execution in Missouri, posting updates and prayers on social media.
News from the prison in Bonne Terre was slow and sporadic. A little more than an hour after the execution was scheduled to begin, we found ourselves waiting for the answer to a simple and sobering question: was Kevin Johnson dead or alive?
In this moment of mournful watchfulness, one of my wise colleagues sent another message: “This is not the kind of waiting in anticipation we should be doing during Advent.”
The truth of his words sent an immediate chill through my body. He was right; this is the season where we are called to “keep watch” for the joyful arrival of Jesus. Instead, we were watching for news of the death of a brother in Christ.
As we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel, Advent is a time to “prepare the way of the Lord.” But the state of Missouri chose instead to prepare needles, restraints, and a deadly cocktail for a man who was a father, grandfather, and friend.
Indeed, Kevin Johnson was executed that night, the fifth person put to death in November alone.
In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist fervidly urges us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” What kind of repentance is needed from us then, a nation that continues to kill its own people in the name of “justice”?
I do not know the answer. All I can do is sound loudly my opposition to the death penalty — even at times when I fear my voice will not be heard. I can pray ardently for crime victims and their families, for people on death row, for anyone who bears the weight of our cruel capital punishment system.
Most of all, I can trust in God’s promise of a justice far greater than that of our criminal legal system — a justice that doesn’t seek vengeance and killing, but rather healing and wholeness for all.
As we recite in the responsorial psalm this week, “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.” May this be the kind of justice we await with anticipation during Advent, arriving in the glorious company of the Christ Child.
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