The website “Sacred Space,” which is run by Jesuits in Ireland, in a reflection on Judas Iscariot, posted this prayer of St. Philip Neri (1515-1595): “Lord, beware of this Philip or he will betray you! Lay your hand upon my head, for without you there is not a sin I may not commit this day.” (In the icon, he’s shown with the little dog he “confiscated” from a cardinal in Rome.)
Sitting there in front of the computer, I really made that my prayer. “Lord, beware of this James or he will betray you! Lay your hand upon my head, for without you there is not a sin I may not commit this day.” I wish it weren’t so, but without God’s grace, I’m afraid that it’s true. We like to think that there are some things we would never do. I don’t know if that’s true for you, but it is for me. Given the right circumstances, the right conditions—or should I say the wrong conditions?—we’re capable of almost anything.
With the recent uproar about Bush-era torture (which I think is a bit late in the game), I ask myself, “Could I actually torture another human being?” I realize that many are playing word games, saying that tactics like waterboarding, forcing people to stay awake for up to one week, locking them into painful positions, etc., may be “cruel and inhumane,” but it’s not “torture.” (By the way, waterboarding was used by the Spanish Inquistion and the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.)
Having said that, I still wonder what circumstances would be necessary for me to do that to another person, someone for whom Jesus died and rose again. Political justifications for torture are shaky enough, but how can someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ (who himself was tortured) go along with it?
Still, just like Philip of Neri, I pray for God’s hand to be on my head, because I’m not immune from doing terrible things!