Sunday, September 11, 2016

Participating in God's Forgiveness

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells three parables.

God is likened to a shepherd who searches until he retrieves the lost sheep.

God is likened to a woman scouring the house until she finds the lost coin.

Rembrandt's Prodigal Son
And God is likened to a father whose son runs away and returns to be embraced.

In all three parables, God never gives up on us.  Like the “hound of heaven” in Francis Thompson’s poem, God relentlessly pursues us until he catches up with us.

God loves us unconditionally, forgives us unconditionally and accepts us unconditionally.

Here are two modern-day true stories: one about the lack of forgiveness; the other about forgiveness.

Simon Weisenthal in his book The Sunflower raised the question: how does one forgive the unforgivable, when many in his family died in Nazi concentration camps. One day, a young SS trooper who was dying told Weisenthal how his SS unit herded Jews into a building, doused it with gasoline and shot those who tried to escape.  This horrible atrocity haunted him.  The young soldier begged Weisenthal for forgiveness.

Weisenthal got up and left without saying a word.

Later on, this troubled Weisenthal.  Should he have forgiven the dying soldier.  Weisenthal concludes with a question:  What would you have done if you were in my shoes?

Now put yourself in the young soldier's shoes.  What if others are unable to forgive you.  And what about people we've wounded who won't forgive us.

It is then that Jesus steps into the shoes of the Simon Weisenthals and comes to our broken hearts.

The gospel challenges us to forgive.  And if  we want forgiveness, and the people we  have wounded can't or won't, Jesus Christ will stand in their place.  This is also why Jesus gave us the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.  It's the place where we are reconciled to God.

We looked at a true story about lack of forgiveness; here's one about forgiving.

In 1983 during the Christmas season, two men sat in a prison cell in Rome.  TIME magazine described the photo: in an extraordinary moment of grace the violence in St. Peter's Square was transformed.  In a bare, white-wall cell, John Paul II tenderly held the hand that had held the gun that was meant to kill him.

For 21 minutes, the Pope sat with his would-be assassin.  The Pope forgave him.  That photo challenges us to forgive.

A folk wisdom says: “forgive and forget.”  Sometimes we can’t forgive unless we remember: for example, a once happy relationship, then a wrong done.  At times, we have to forgive ourselves and others so we can move forward.

Sometimes to forgive as Christ forgives is impossible to do on our own.  But Christ doesn’t ask us to be on our own.   He asks that we participate in his gift.  God has already forgiven those who are truly sorry—all he asks us to do is to participate in his act of forgiveness.  

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