Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Forgiveness and Mercy

On October 2nd, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts, a milk truck driver, walked into an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, killing five children- after which he took his own life. It was a tragedy of such proportion that there were very few people in America, or in the world, who had not heard the news that day. I recall, while working in the office, most of the sentiment I heard was anger and revenge, not forgiveness. Obviously revenge was not an option, as Mr. Roberts committed suicide.

But for the Amish, especially those directly affected, there was another issue. On the day of the killing, a grandfather of one of the murdered children was heard warning some young relatives “Do not hate the killer.” “He had a mother, a wife, a soul.” Now he stands before a just God.” Only hours after the shooting, the Amish community visited and comforted Mr. Robert’s widow, parents, and in-laws. The Amish community set up a charitable fund for Mr. Robert’s family. Marie Roberts, the murderer’s wife, wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. The news of the Amish forgiveness swept across America, as if forgiveness was unthinkable. Deeply rooted in the Anabaptist, being Amish Mennonite tradition is the Christ Like answer – the answer to violence is non-violence, the answer to hatred is love, and the answer to evil is to do good.

In 1902, an 11 year old farm girl, while sewing, was grabbed by an eighteen year old who tried to rape her. After refusing to submit to his violence, the attacker stabbed her with a knife. As she lay in the hospital, she forgave her attacker before she died. After 27 years in prison, the attacker was released. He went directly to Maria's mother to beg her forgiveness, which she gave. "If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness," she said. The young girl’s name is Maria Goretti, now a Canonized Saint.

The Amish community, young Maria Goretti and her mother – all manifest clearly what it means to be “In Christ.” to be like Jesus, who is forgiving and merciful. Some say that unforgiveness is just human nature. Not so. Unforgiveness is a symptom of our fallen nature, resulting from that first sin so long ago. Jesus is the perfect man – this is what we Christians must strive to be. To understand the forgiveness of the Cross, we must learn to forgive. If we do not learn forgiveness, how can we ever know what God has done for us. Recently, I read an interesting line from a Catholic blog that makes so much sense. “The person who has forgiven a grievous wrong done to them understands what the cross means better than a thousand theologians.”

How are we to learn to forgive? The first and most important answer is “prayer.” Maybe the only prayer we can offer is to ask God for the grace to want to forgive. We can meditate on the word of God often, taking the message into our hearts. In John’s Gospel Jesus teaches us to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

In the familiar Gospel from Luke, The Prodigal Son, we hear Jesus’ story of unconditional love. There are many aspects to the story – a younger son who is hardheaded, having to leave home – taking his inheritance with him. He loses all he has – then after a time of poverty, he comes to his senses. He returns home, seeks forgiveness and receives forgiveness from his loving father. Then there is an older son, jealous of the love his father gives to his young brother – the one who squandered everything. Who is this story really about, the returning son? No. It is about the father – a father who offers unconditional love. Who is the father Jesus speaks of in His parable? This is Our Father - Who art in heaven. And even though we are unworthy sinners, Our Father offers us forgiveness, grace and mercy every moment of our lives.

Our Father asks us to do the same. To offer that same mercy - to ourselves, and to our neighbor. He wants and expects us to forgive. Without our forgiveness and mercy, our world will have no peace, we will find no peace in our homes.

Let us pray to the Father and ask him for all the grace necessary to change our hearts, to change our minds, to imitate His mind. Let us trust in His love. Let us learn to forgive as we have been forgiven.

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