Three Murders: The Dance of Mercy and Redemption

Yesterday, I talked about mercy: the mercy of the Bruce toward those who had chosen paths of harm, the mercy of Maria Goretti toward the man who chose a path of pornography and violence and finally killed her.

As I did some reading yesterday (as it's been more than three years since I saw the play Mercy Unrelenting), I saw the many parallels between Clarence and Alessandro Serenelli.  They were both young men adversely affected by the world around them. 

Some time ago, I wrote a piece in my Literature and Life series about the novel Painting the Darkness.  READ THE BOOK.  It is the story of a young man who commits suicide--only to turn up years later with a story explaining how he never actually died.  The story takes us deeper and deeper into the family's past, where we learn how the path chosen by one man has cast out ripples that last for generations, with devastating results.

mercy unrelenting, alessandro serenelli, redemption
From the play Mercy Unrelenting
In Alessandro's case, he came from a difficult background.  He had struggles in life and dealt with it by feeding his mind and soul with pornography--which of course impacted his thoughts regarding Maria.  Clarence came from a far more difficult background and in a moment of crisis sought drugs to escape.  Both ended up murdering.  Both were unrepentant during their trials.
A drawing of Alessandro's arrest

Both went to prison.  Both had conversion experiences there, although Clarence's was not so dramatic or abrupt.  Both became model prisoners with Clarence going on to try to help others even while still in prison.

alessandro serenelli, assunta goretti, maria goretti, redemption
After leaving prison, Alessandro went straight to Maria's mother to ask forgiveness--which she granted.  She went further than granting forgiveness, however.  She took him as her own son.  Mercy Unrelenting.  On June 24, 1950, they attended Maria's canonization together. 

Alessandro became a lay brother and gardener at a Capuchin monastery, putting his life to good use making the world beautiful.

Likewise, Shawn's mother, Carol, not only forgives Clarence the murder of her husband, but takes him as her own son.  It is through her mercy and love that Clarence is able to face what he has done and choose the path of redemption.

[Funny thing--seeing all these similarities, you'd think I based Clarence off Alessandro.  I'm not sure I'd ever heard of Alessandro Serenelli when I wrote Clarence, however, and I'm quite sure I didn't know the full extent of Assunta's forgiveness until now.]

To take this back to medieval Scotland, we see the same mercy-redemption polyphony in Bruce's life.  Shortly before racing for Scone to be crowned, he had killed John Comyn before the altar at Greyfriars in Dumfries.  While history books generally say we don't know if the murder was premeditated or an act of passion, my personal belief that it was done in the heat of the moment.  Regardless, it was an act for which Bruce was ex-communicated, and an act for which he felt guilt and sought atonement throughout his life.

In pondering the question of mercy and redemption, I wonder if Bruce's famed mercy didn't stem at least in part from his own guilt, from his own need for mercy, and his understanding that he would be forgiven only as he also forgave.  So perhaps he sought his own redemption by extending mercy. 

And in extending mercy, he gave others the chance for their own redemption, in turning back to their country, in becoming loyal followers who fought hard for Scotland.  Thomas Randolph, Bruce's nephew, for instance, had once fought against Scotland.  Given mercy instead of execution, he became one of Bruce's--and Scotland's--most loyal supporters and leaders.  His name is on the Declaration of Arbroath.  Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Bruce's cousin, gave sanctuary to Edwrad II after his flight from the field at Bannockburn, and Ingram de Umfraville fought with the English against the Scots that day.  Both later fought for Scotland and signed the Declaration of Arbroath.

william earl of ross, scottish history, medieval history
William, Earl of Ross, as discussed yesterday, captured Bruce's wife, sisters, daughter, and Isobel MacDuff, the woman who crowned him.  As a result, these women endured eight years of hardship, humiliation, pain, and solitary confinement, and his close friend, sent to guard them, was executed and his head mounted on London Bridge.  Accepted back into Bruce's peace, William went on to also become a supporter of Scotland, and a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath.

Of  course, I would say the Bruce himself earned redemption from the murder before the altar.  Here is a man who lived a hard life, who gave everything, for the sake of freeing his country, who spent years fighting, risking everything, and rising from wasting illnesses to continue to lead his men.

The beauty of reading and of history both is that we learn something of our own lives, of humanity, of wisdom, that can open doors we may have closed to ourselves: in this case, the door of redemption.

It is too common to continue in a life we don't really want because we believe there is no turning back, no coming back, no redemption, from what we have done. 

The lives of Robert the Bruce and Alessandro Serenelli tell us otherwise.  No matter what we've done, no matter how far down the path we have chosen, we can always stop, turn around, or if need be, hack through the forest to the other path.

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