Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
We remember that dark day of the Church in May 1981 when Pope John Paul II was shot by a gunman that got him seriously wounded. Sooner than he was able move around, the Holy Father went to the prison where his gunman was being held and made a scene of forgiveness before the whole world, marking the words of Jesus that unless we forgive our brother from our heart, the Father will not forgive us. A few years later, a Time Magazine correspondent would describe the Pope’s visit to his would-be assassin in prison:
In a bare, white-walled cell in Rome’s Rebibbia prison, John Paul tenderly held the hand that held the gun that was meant to kill him. For 21 minutes, the Pope sat with his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. The two talked softly. Once or twice, Agca laughed. The Pope forgave him for the shooting. At the end of the meeting, Agca either kissed the Pope’s ring or pressed the Pope’s hand to his forehead in a Muslim gesture of respect (www.time.com, Jan. 19, 1984).
How can anyone forgive perpetrators of evil? Answers to this question may seem impossible or at least difficult to comprehend, for we are used to hearing usual breaking news, like killing, wars, economic crises, accidents, abuse and others, while incidents, like forgiveness, restored relationships, service, celebration of the Eucharist, sacrifices, are not breaking news to us.
Martyrdom is a good example. The martyrs praised God for their suffering from their persecutors. Some even sought it. When Pope Sixtus was being led for execution, his deacon Lawrence exclaimed, “Father, where are you going without your deacon?” “I am not leaving you, my son,” answered the Pope. “In three days you will follow me.” And so it happened. Many instances of forgiveness have been shown. We can just look at the lives of the saints, and probably even in our families and among persons we know. In one of the parishes in the Philippines where I was assigned, a friend was murdered. When his mother arrived at the scene, in grief she just exclaimed the words Jesus uttered on the cross: “Lord, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Remember also 9-11 in 2001. What a manifestation of vengeance and unforgiveness.
There is so much unforgiveness in our world today manifested by the prolongation of wars, occurrences of hostilities among nations, and many instances of family disputes and court cases. Collapse of the sense of morality and peace has come about because many have been desensitized already by these things, especially as they are broadcasted in the media as ordinary daily events of life. And when unforgiveness takes root in people’s hearts, it begins to grow into bitterness and hatred, to the point of losing all opportunity to grow in love, and their hearts become cold and distant to others. Words that were once tender and loving are now filled with curses, accusations of misconduct and negative declarations.
We need to realize that our own insensitivity and unforgiveness keep the healing work of the Holy Spirit from renewing our lives. Many cherish their will to judge others that zap away all power to healthy and loving relationships. Many more have chosen to hold on to their past hurts and try to forget them. However, forgetting does not heal or take out the poison from the heart. Only forgiveness can take away the poison of pain and resentment, and with time, heal all hurts, for it is done in intimacy with the Lord of all consolation and love and in obedience and fidelity to His commands. We cannot wait till we feel the power to forgive, for it is not a feeling. It is a decision to obey the command of the Lord.
There is only one cure for unforgiveness; and that is to forgive. When we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, and we pray it a few times a day, we are doing it as a command from Him, not as a choice, for we are seeking the will, the mercy and the kingdom of the Father. We ask the Father to forgive us as we forgive those who have offended us, so that His Kingdom will reign in our hearts and in the world. As we always want to open ourselves to the vision of God, Sirach would say it another way:
Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults (Sir 28:6-7).
May the Mother of Jesus show us the way to the heart of Her Son Jesus, and may we be fully aware that the love Jesus brought to us in the Eucharist must be lived and shared with all God’s children.