This weekend all of us will recall where we were when we first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. Then, there was a second. A plane hit the Pentagon and one crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Literally and figuratively our world was shaken and a sense of security collapsed. No one wanted to work. Parents wanted to have their children home with them. We watched television hour after hour in disbelief. We wondered, “is there more to come?” “Who could do this?”, we asked and “why?”
Now, on this tenth anniversary of this tragic day that changed the world forever, we gather to think and to pray. There will be memorial events all across our nation. Families who lost loved ones will gather together to continue to mourn the loss of children, spouses, parents. People of all races, religions, and nations of the world will continue to wonder “how could anyone do something like this?”
Politicians will debate whether we are safer today than we were ten years ago. Intelligence agents and security officials will make sure that they do all they can to make sure we are safe on our streets, in our places of work, and on means of travel. Food and water supplies will be monitored. Without a doubt, the life of everyone has changed since September 11, 2001.
Ironically, those who preach the lectionary this weekend will be faced with scriptures that challenge the believer to forgive. When thoughts of revenge are espoused and rationalized, the word of our God demands forgiveness.
Listen to what Sirach says [Sir. 27:30-28:7]: * the vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail; * forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven; * could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?
Then, in the Gospel of Matthew [18:21-35] we hear Peter ask Jesus: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus then answers, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of a servant who was forgiven much, but who was in turn harsh with someone who owed him much less.
To preach forgiveness this weekend will seem unpatriotic, weak, and naive. There are those who will say, this message is intended for personal life, for family life, for community living —- but not for international relations. Maybe, maybe not.
Let’s begin with some much simpler thoughts that we might be able to agree upon:
1- Each of us is in need of forgiveness. Each of us has done something, said something, or failed to do something that has caused hurt and pain. Each of us has strayed from God’s commandments.
2- There is “someone out there” with whom I am not at peace. Something has happened that has broken or strained a relationship. I can find reasons for being “right” and more than likely, they feel justified for feeling that they are right. I have not asked forgiveness of all those I have hurt/failed.
3- I am counting on God’s mercy on the day of judgment.
4- I need to forgive someone. I need to let “something” go. Maybe the person I need to forgive has died or moved away; but the hurt and anger lingers.
5. I need to forgive myself for some of the choices I have made, the mistakes of my life.
Was it Ghandi who said, “if we live by the adage an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will all end up blind and toothless”?
How can we ever make things even? Have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made things even? Have the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein made up for the deaths of more than 3,000 on Sept. 11? What else do we need to do to “even the score”? Do the families of 9-11 feel better today because “justice has been done”?
We really do not want to look at our nations history that has not been so pleasant. In retrospect, we must be honest in saying there have been times when we found reason to support ruthless dictators — like those in Guatemala who killed 1,000’s of Mayans and Kiche Indians. In recent days we have learned how our nation sent prisoners to Libya to be interrogated by Colonel Kadaffi’s intelligence agents. Remember, we sent money and weapons to Iraq to support Saddam Hussein’s army in its war against Iran.
Somewhere, at some time, we all have to draw the line and say, “enough is enough”.
Ok, let’s forget about international policy and politics. You and I will not be called upon to advise the President on what we should do in the next situation of warfare. BUT, IN OUR EVERY DAY lives, there are things we can do and people we need to forgive and situations that require that we acknowledge our wrongdoing.
Forgiveness DOES NOT ignore the wrong done, the sin committed, the evil perpetrated. Forgiveness does not minimize the pain or give the sinner a free pass. Forgiveness is about taking a step into a better future. Forgiveness frees me from being controlled by the person who has hurt me. They may be well living their on merry lives while I am tied up in knots of un-forgiveness.
Forgiveness often takes awhile. We begin the process today and we work on it over time. Rarely is forgiveness accomplished in one moment, with one prayer, one counseling session, one healing experience.
Who do I need to forgive? Who needs to forgive me? Can I let go of that rock that I have wanted to throw for too long? Are there people that I still wish ill upon? Now is the time to start the process.
At mass we pray that God will forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Do we really want God to answer that prayer?