Monday, March 17, 2014

God Bless Officer John Breckinridge, Who Let Go of Bitterness and Now Opposes the Death Penalty

I read an article in the New York Times last week about efforts to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire, which has not actually executed anyone since 1939.  According to the Times, the  New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing capital punishment and the bill has good prospects for final passage. (The New Hampshire Senate also approved the measure.)

The Times article began by telling readers about John Breckinridge, a Manchester police officer who saw his partner, Michael Briggs, shot to death in an alley.  Officer Briggs was a husband and father, and his death naturally embittered his partner.  Michael Addison was convicted of the crime in 2008 and was sentenced to death.

John Breckinridge
Photo by Jeff  Dachkowski
Apparently, Officer Breckinridge became obsessed with Addison and fervently desired to see him executed. In fact, Breckridge testified against abolishing the death penalty when a bill came up before the New Hampshire legislature several years ago.

But Officer Breckinridge has changed his mind about the death penalty, and he  no longer wants to see Addison executed. "'For me, this has been about anger,' Breckinridge said recently. "And I realized my anger was about vengeance, not justice'" (Seelye, 2014, p. A17).  And Breckinridge's change of heart was accompanied by a deepening of his Catholic faith.

As we begin the Lenten season, a time of repentance and reflection, I ponder my own bitterness about wrongs done to me over the years. I have experienced nothing so shattering as what Officer Breckinridge experienced, who saw a friend and partner murdered before his very eyes.  But I was betrayed on a couple of occasions many years ago by people I had trusted. In both cases, I was sucked into a heartless bureaucratic maw, and it took years to extricate myself.

And I think about those experiences from time to time.

I ask God to forgive my trespasses at every Mass and promise to forgive those who have wronged me.  And some days I think I have done that. I think back on the people who intentionally tried to hurt me, and I am simply grateful for the blessings I have received in the years that have passed--especially those that came from my conversion to Catholicism.

But some days the bitterness returns, and I realize how hard it is to truly forgive.  I think it would help if the people who hurt me asked for forgiveness, but they have not.

How hard it is  to forgive people who don't even want to be forgiven--who may be smug about the things they have done, who may even gloat about it. How hard to forgive people who continue to harm others, who may truly be agents of the Devil.

But that is what God asks us to do, and I know it can be done. I know because Officer John Breckinridge, who saw a friend killed in a criminal act, has let go of his vengeance.  God bless Officer Breckinridge, a very good Catholic indeed.

Michael Addison
Photo credit; Concord Monitor


Katharine Q. Seelye. New Hampshire Nears Repeal of Death Penalty. New York Times, March 13, 2014, p. A17.

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