The news of the day often calls our attention to individual people whose behavior seems to distort human nature in extreme ways.
A prominent recent example is the case of Jodi Arias, the 32-year-old woman who has been convicted in Arizona of the brutal murder of her former boyfriend.
The facts of this case speak for themselves, and it appears that those facts mean Jodi Arias either will be executed or will spend the rest of her life in prison.
The criminal justice system will see to that, and nothing that anyone outside of that system says about the case will affect the outcome.
But it’s worth reflecting on some of what has been said outside the courtroom and the judge’s chambers — not because of its implications for Jodi Arias but because of its implications for the rest of us.
Throughout the trial of this case the seemingly gleeful daily coverage by the media has generated public discourse in the form of everyday conversation, Facebook messages, blog posts, tweets, and anonymous comments tacked onto stories published on the Internet.
Much of this discourse has consisted of speculation, often expressed in lurid terms, as to how Jodi Arias should be punished.
The American tradition of free expression gives us license to make such observations, to openly wish for Jodi Arias some form of torment that will satisfy vengeance if not justice.
But what of the Gospel?
The lesson Jesus taught when he was confronted with a woman found in the act of adultery may stand up pretty well within the normal range of human experience.
It may not be painful to forgive the drunken driver, the petty thief, the college kid caught with illegal vegetation on or about his person.
But Christian faith is really put to the test when it comes face to face with Charles Manson, Melanie McGuire or Jodi Arias.
Jesus doesn’t call us to condone or even accept murder and other violence nor to embrace wrongdoers without hoping for penitence and conversion.
But neither does he call us to harbor, even in the privacy of our thoughts, hateful and violent feelings toward our fellow human beings, feelings that in their own way put us and our broken brothers and sisters on the same plane.
Pope Francis had this to say about the bloodthirsty folks who brought the accused woman to Jesus: “I think we, too, are the people who, on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others.
“And Jesus has this message for us: mercy.’’
One man who lived out this message in real life was Bishop Stanley Ott of Baton Rouge, who in 1984 celebrated the funeral mass of Elmo Patrick Sonnier (the subject of the book and movie “Dead Man Walking”), who had been convicted of rape and murder.
While he was being counseled by Sister Helen Prejean, Sonnier expressed his remorse for the crimes he had committed, including those that led to his death sentence.
Still, Bishop Ott was criticized by people who didn’t think Sonnier deserved the dignity of a Catholic burial with a bishop presiding.
This was Bishop Ott’s response: “In the end, there must be mercy.”