Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, May 21, 2018

 

cram_halfI was hopping mad as I left Mass at my friend’s parish. It was two months ago on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, and the Mass readings were all about forgiveness. In fact, Jesus made it plain that God will forgive us only if we forgive others. That’s scary stuff.

The homilist mentioned the events of 9/11, then preached about the importance of forgiving family and friends who have hurt us.

There was no mention of forgiving the terrorists.

Later in the Mass, we offered prayers for those who died in the 9/11 attacks. We prayed for their families, the first responders, survivors and all victims of terrorism around the world.

We did not pray for the terrorists.

We didn’t pray for them 10 years ago, either. Once again, I ask the question that I distinctly remember asking back then: if we are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, why don’t we pray for the bad guys? Why wasn’t Osama Bin Laden’s name among the prayers for the dead after United States forces destroyed his villa? Why don’t we pray for the men who committed the horrific 2007 Cheshire home invasion? Why don’t we pray for Al Qaeda terrorists and neo-Nazis and school shooters?

I’ll grant you that it is extremely difficult to pray for such evil men. People will jump to the conclusion that we are excusing their actions, which we most certainly are not. But if Jesus commanded us to forgive 70 times seven, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, just when do we plan to start?

Many people hesitate to forgive because they mistakenly believe that forgiving someone releases that person from responsibility or guilt. In fact, it does nothing of the sort. Neither does the act of forgiving mean that we condone the action. Rather, offering forgiveness releases us from the grip of rage so that neither the offense nor the perpetrator has any more power over us. The whole mess becomes God’s problem instead of ours.

Another incorrect belief is that God calls us to forgive and forget. The truth is that nowhere in Scripture do we find this phrase. We cannot make ourselves forget the intense pain from betrayal, divorce, abuse or abandonment. In human terms, it is impossible to forget such pain. We are commanded, however, to forgive the person who inflicted the pain. In so doing, we are freed from its terrible grasp so we can begin to heal.

Personal pain can be far more difficult to forgive than global pain. We may more readily forgive a terrorist than the person who broke up our marriage. The former is impersonal; the latter is intensely personal, maybe even intentional. It takes supernatural grace to forgive such a person, and yet this is precisely what we are called to do. Forgive the spouse who cheated on you. Forgive the family member who wreaks havoc, and the man who abused you, and the friend who betrayed you.

Forget? Not likely. In fact, you may need to steer clear of the offending person in order to maintain physical and emotional safety. Legal action may be required. Nevertheless, Jesus says to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This means to forgive, and forgive, and when we think we cannot do it any more, forgive again.

This Christianity stuff is radical; it’s no wonder that so many people deserted Jesus. Following Christ is hard, and anyone who says otherwise probably isn’t doing it right.

So we forgive others for their offenses. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. These actions may be the hardest things we ever do, but they will produce a peace in our souls that can only be found in Christ.

Time to start.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.