Thirty-six years ago, there was an attempt on the life of Pope St. John Paul II. Many of you may even recall it. Fortunately the pope lived, and after he recovered, he shocked the world when he made a visit to Rome’s prison on Christmas Day to see the man who had attempted to take his life.
Millions watched on TV on Christmas Day when John Paul II visited with Mehmet Ali Agca, this man who, two years before had tried to kill him. The white-robed pope and the terrorist huddled in the dark prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard. When he came out, the pope said,
I spoke with a brother whom I have pardoned.
The next week, Time magazine published in their headline the following words:
Three months after the attack of 9/11, the same Pope John Paul II in his message for World Day of Peace, taught that
…there can be no peace without justice, but that there can be no justice without forgiveness.
For us, the first statement seems pretty easy to understand, peace has to come with justice; but the second statement, justice has to come with forgiveness, is a tougher one to swallow. Perhaps because justice without a sense of forgiveness just falls into vengeance.
This is one of those teachings of Jesus that is difficult. It was Chesterton who said, “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but it’s been found difficult and left untried.”
I was listening to a newscast radio program. They were talking about a new documentary film that is about to come out on the Vietnam war. They were concerned about some of the viewers who had gone to the war and how the images and sounds may spark and trigger their experiences. For these people who suffer from PTSD, anything can bring them back to relive the experience. They were interviewing some veterans of the Vietnam War. One of them caught my attention. They asked him, “Do you get triggered often? Do you recall the same events you went through years ago?” He replied,
You know, after years of therapy and prayer, I have come to realize, it’s not the same to remember as it is to relive. I can now remember those events without having to relive them.
The first sentence of the first reading is very pointed, very graphic – “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sirach 27:30-28:7) . When we relive those past sufferings and “hug tightly” those offenses, that hurt, who are we really making suffer? Resentment, they say, is a poison that we drink ourselves believing that it will hurt others. There can be no true justice if there is no forgiveness from the heart.
Don’t get me wrong. To live a life of forgiveness does not mean living a life of abuse and injustice, but
after the offense has been committed,
after we strive to set things right, we need to find peace in forgiveness.
Isn’t that the story of the Gospel? Every week we come into the presence of our Father and tell Him, “Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And the story of the Gospel is exactly that: a servant who refused to forgive a small debt when he himself was forgiven of a huge debt (Mt 18:21-35).
Not because the other person deserves forgiveness…that’s between him and God…
But because you deserve peace! You deserve the peace of Christ…
It’s only through forgiveness that we let go of that hugging, that anger that we so cling to. It takes an act of courage, it takes an act of humility. To let go of that resentment, that is where we find healing, where we find mercy. It is only in forgiving that we find freedom.
Forgiveness is: to allow to heal, to finally breathe, to loosen that tight grasp that we may have on our pain.
Where in the gospels do we find Jesus letting go of any source of resentment, of hatred? Where in the gospels do we find Jesus forgiving actively?
We need only look at the cross. Jesus hugs nothing, he holds tightly to nothing but rather is open to forgiveness. It is there on the cross where He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
That is where we also find forgiveness: at the foot of the cross. But it all starts with a decision: a decision to forgive, a decision to not let this this pain govern my life, a decision to open my grip of this pain and begin to find freedom from it.
And every week at the Holy Mass, we remember Christ’s death and His resurrection. Have you noticed that in His glorified, resurrected body, Jesus kept the wounds? The wounds are still there, but He “remembers without reliving;” in that forgiveness, those wounds find healing too.
May Jesus show us how to forgive, how to live this difficult aspect of the message of Christ.
May Mary also show us to forgive, she who had to forgive those who took the life of her Son at the foot of the cross.
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