Mar. 3, 2017

THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS

Christ’s experience of suffering was compelling. Matthew narrates the story of his crucifixion thus, “The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said, ‘So you would destroy the temple and in three days rebuild it! Then save yourself if you are God’s son and come down from the cross!’ The chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him in the same way, with the words, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He has put his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, “I am God’s son.” Even the bandits crucified with him taunted him in the same way” (Matt.27:39-44). One outstanding fact in the crucifixion story is that the executioners of Christ didn’t aim at anything short of killing Christ. They were determined to take his life and nothing would stop them, not even the exchange with a notorious criminal, Barabbas. They made him carry the cross. They took him on a long journey to advertise his persecution. They exposed him to shame, mocked him. They placed him between criminals. They killed him. Christ’s gift in return was, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Lk.23:34).

Another compelling story was the popular experience of Pope Saint John Paul 11. On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was crossing St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City when an attempt was made on his life. Mehmet Ali Ağca, who had escaped from a Turkish prison after receiving a life sentence for murdering a journalist, fired four shots with a 9-millimeter pistol. Two struck the pope in his lower intestine, one in his right arm and one in his left index finger. An Italian court sentenced Ağca to life in prison. Despite severe blood loss, the pontiff asked all Catholics to pray for Ağca, whom he had “sincerely forgiven.” In 1983, John Paul II visited his would-be assassin. They had a private conversation, and emerged as friends. The pope stayed in touch with Ağca’s family during the latter's incarceration, and in 2000 requested that he be pardoned. This young man converted while in prison and was released in 2010. He later visited the Holy Father’s tomb in 2014 where he laid two dozens of roses in appreciation to the pope.

Forgiveness is one difficult aspect of our Christian life. It goes hand in hand with the virtue of love. The Christian principle is to forgive, forgive and forgive. Christ tells Peter, “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times” (Matt.18:21-22). In the instances above, we notice that forgiveness was delivered at the toughest times, namely, at the points of death. Just like the Jews planned for Christ, Mehmet Ali Agca wanted to kill Pope John Paul 11. He wasn’t wishing him anything less than death. He shot to eliminate his life. But the pope forgave his would be assassin.

Think about the times someone has hurt you terribly and how the adrenalin pumps in your body for revenge. Imagine how you react. I sat in a restaurant with a friend over a plate of food and some drinks. Then a man stepped in with his wife and sat down to eat. Suddenly, he had a call and began a heated conversation over the phone. The argument got really hot, and clearly the man got upset. He raised his voice and was hitting the table. He threw away his plate of food. It became clear to everyone that something was terribly bad. He was shouting at his brother over a plot of land. Repeatedly, he said to him, “You are not my brother anymore, and I have nothing in common with you. If I see you, I will kill you since you decided to take that plot of land”. This man was not interested in anyone else in the restaurant. He made it clear to his brother that no appeal would settle their matter and that he would prefer him dead than relinquish the piece of land in question. Everyone was shocked at the statements uttered publicly by the angry man on the phone.

What to do:

Adopt the Lenten spirit: It is a bit difficult to imagine the various reasons why people become enemies. Mostly because of the things of the world. Material possessions, business transactions, properties, etc., lead to enmity. Betrayal, disappointment, denial, falsehood, etc., also result to hateful feelings. In families, brothers and sisters feel betrayed and wounded by the actions of their siblings and they draw the line. Husband/wife feels disappointed by the actions of their spouses and rule their love over. Bad actions hurt for sure, and as human beings we feel the pains. We are also expected to react. How the individual reacts becomes anther issue. In some cases, the reactions become greater in magnitude than the original action. Bearing grudges is not the right way to react. Declaring one’s friend, brother, spouse, enemy for life is the worst reaction one could give. Use the spirit of Lent to say like Saint Paul tells, “Never pay back evil with evil” (Rom.12:18).

Let go; it’s not the end: An encouraging approach to life is to see things as means not as end. This attitude helps to disconnect. It is called detachment. Nothing is permanent but your soul. See the things you have or share with someone as things that could be or not be at any time. The Master says, “Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, every other thing will be added unto you” (Matt.6:33). Always remember this, “No man can serve two masters”.

Pray for the grace of God: What prayer does is awesome. It opens the individual up to the love and mercies of God. As you pray and read the scriptures, you acquire a different understanding about life; grace to forgive fills you up. Christ teaches us, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. At different points, he tells us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “When a man demands your cloak, give him your tunic as well”. He asks that we turn the other cheek in the face of violence. He reminds us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

“Forgiveness” means “For-the-Given”. It implies “For-Those Things Given Up”. Someone must give up something for peace to reign. Give it up for your brother. Give it up for your sister. Give it up for your friend. Give it up for your husband/wife, and let peace reign. Christ gave up his life to save you.