“Forgiving is certainly one of the greatest human capacities and perhaps the boldest of human actions insofar as it tries the seemingly impossible, to undo what has been done, and succeeds in making a new beginning where everything seemed to have come to an end.” – Hannah Arendt
Children Reflect the Teachings of Jesus “Newsweek” magazine carried a photo of three boys kneeling in a church pew. The story went on to say the boys’ parents were killed when a bomb exploded on a plane over Colorado, killing 41 passengers. The children of St. Gabriel’s, where the boys attended school, asked if they could hold a prayer service for the boys’ parents. The oldest boy said it would be okay. Then he added, “Could we also pray for the man who killed my parents?” Sometimes children put into practice the difficult teachings of Jesus far better than adults do. I wonder why. (Vision. Year A. by Mark Link, S.J., Allen, TX: Thomas More, 1991).
The Story of Seven Trappist Monks A radical Muslim group approaches the French government and tries to make an even exchange with hostages. They’ve taken hostage seven Trappist monks in Algeria and wish to exchange them for hostages the French have in their prison. The French will not agree to this exchange and the radical group has threatened to execute the Trappist monks. Ultimately, they carry out their threat. One of the monks had a premonition two years before the awful event that he would be killed. He wrote a letter to his mother with instructions that it should be opened only after his death. It read in part: “If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism that now seems to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria…I would like, when the time comes, to have a space of clearness that would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who will strike me down…For this life lost, I give thanks to God. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, my last-minute friend who will not have known what you are doing…I commend you to the God whos face I see in yours. And may we find each other, happy, ‘good thieves’ in paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.”
No, I won’t ever forgive What happens within us when we don’t forgive? Let me give you an example: A man was having a discussion with his brothers about some important business matter when his well-educated son entered the room and joined in. The son listened and then after awhile voiced agreement with his uncles about the issue at hand. The father became so enraged that he started yelling, cursing and on the spot, disowned his son. A few days later, a picture of the son was found in the waste-paper basket, torn into many pieces. The son was now dead to his father. For years, no one was able to bring about a reconciliation of father and son. Anger overwhelmed the father, his health was greatly affected and he died, before his expected time. It can be said that anger killed him. Anger created a hell within him. If you were given an opportunity to rewrite this scene, how would you change things? In the Book of Ecclesiastes (7:9) one translation reads: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosoms of fools.” And another translation: “Only fools get angry quickly and hold a grudge.” Remember, anger can kill. It can and it does. Robert Ingersoll says that “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.” What he means is that when we are angry, we do not think rationally.
A Lesson From Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid) Seeking revenge is one way a person might react to being hurt. It might be a very natural reaction, at that. In this regard, we can learn a lot from going to the movies: A young man approaches a karate master and asks him to teach him karate. The master asks him why he wishes to learn this art. The young man answers, “To seek revenge.” The master responds with this caution: “If you wish to learn the art of karate to seek revenge, you will then be digging two graves, one for your enemy and one for yourself.” We might recall the “Golden Rule” here: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Did Jesus go too far? A couple, Russ and Kathy, returned home after a ski outing to be met by their son and neighbors. The son approached them to tell them that their other son, Rick, was murdered. Rick ran into the woods after a would-be robber who tried to break into their garage; the robber turned, panicked and shot Rick dead. Kathy and Russ worked out earlier in their married life the need to forgive each other in their personal dealings with each other. They can’t believe the news that they now hear. Their son was murdered. They go into their home and after settling down, they decide to pray. They feel an immediate peace of mind and heart, and dispel any desire to get even with the perpetrator of this crime. The murdered of their son wasn’t caught until a year later and when he was, Russ and Kathy requested a visit with him. They met and spent time talking with him. They prayed with him. They forgave him. They worked for his parole and visited him in prison during his sentence. Russ and Kathy created a heaven by forgiving the murderer of their son. Russ and Kathy visited my class in “The Ethics of Forgiveness” some years ago to tell us their story. In the next class, I asked the students for their reactions. One student remarked, “I think they went too far.” I asked him, “Did Jesus go too far?” What Russ and Kathy did is what Jesus wants us to do 77 times 7 times, which means always.
Visit jesuitresource.org for free, online resources in Jesuit education and Ignatian spirituality, courtesy of our friends at Xavier University.