The terrorist attacks that occurred on American soil ten years ago remind us that we live in a world of eclipse; in a world consumed by darkness—the darkness of drought and famine in Africa, of the build-up of nuclear weapons in North Korea, of the continued unrest in the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the darkness of war in Afghanistan. Night after night we see television images of families losing their loved ones, wives and children becoming widows and orphans, bodies being torn apart by bombs and bullets, innocent citizens being tortured and brutalized; children starving to death as their parents watch helplessly, and nationals becoming refugees in their own country. We need God’s light in our world now more than ever.
War presents us with many spiritual dilemmas and challenges that shake the very foundation of our faith. Jesus said to love our enemies but our emotions lash out against those who threaten the lives of the soldiers who protect and defend us. As Christians, we must maintain a delicate balance between rejecting terrorism and unjust war without demonizing those who promote and support these activities precisely because the Bible and the Holy Mother Church proclaim that all people are children of God, are loved by God, and that the dignity of every human being must be respected despite their evil deeds.
Sacred Scripture can be a source of solace and comfort during these sober and troubling times. God’s Holy Word is a beacon of hope that pierces the dense fog of anxiety and trepidation, and illuminates our path to the solid rock of our faith who is Jesus Christ. As the psalms tell us: “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink? […] Though an army encamp against me, my heart would not fear. Though war break out against me, even then would I trust. […] Hope in him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord!” (Psalm 27: 1, 3, 14). Yet, in the midst of unimaginable anguish and pain, our Lord call us to do the seemingly impossible: he tell us that we must forgive. Our Lord gives us no other options and makes no exceptions. It’s no mistake that Jesus’ most powerful and important parables concern forgiveness. Christ is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, and he saw first hand how evil and corrupt sinful human nature can be. Yet, He who can read the hearts of all loves each one of us totally, completely, and unconditionally. He sees our flaws and weaknesses, and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he forgives us; he wipes the slate clean.
We may say to ourselves, “Well, Jesus is God and we’re not, so it’s easier for Him to forgive.” Yes, Jesus is truly God but He is also fully man; He worked with human hands and loved with a human heart. He not only taught about forgiveness: He was a living witness to and the embodiment of forgiveness itself.
While Jesus hung on the Cross dying, as those who condemned him to death mocked him, Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even while enduring agonizing torture and in the midst of excruciating suffering, Our Lord pours himself out in complete and perfect love. Jesus calls us to love as He loves, for it is in the crucified Christ that the true meaning of forgiveness and freedom are revealed. Jesus personifies the freedom of forgiveness in the total gift of Himself and invites us to share in His gift of life-giving love. We are called to live in Christ: to follow him, to carry the Cross, to pour ourselves out, to sacrifice ourselves in love, to forgive—for it is in giving ourselves away that we truly find our freedom in God.
Forgiveness was so essential to the purpose and mission of Christ, that when the apostles asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them the Our Father, in which we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christ wanted to make a very a strong and direct link between God’s forgiving us and our forgiving others. Jesus knows the human heart, and when our hearts are angry and bitter, when we harbor deep resentment–even though it may be justified–there is a part of us that is imprisoned by hate; a hate that can diminish or even block being open to forgiveness from others and receiving forgiveness from God.
God the Father’s “outpouring of divine mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have failed to forgive those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the person we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and this hardness makes us immune to the Father’s merciful love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2840). “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” means “help me, Lord, to forgive others so that I may receive the forgiveness that You offer me.”
Once we begin to live our lives in communion with God and his holy will, in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, we as Christians will bear witness to a self-centered, confused, and angry world that love is stronger than sin. Jesus says that we must forgive from the heart because he knows that in order for us to have eternal life with God, we must participate intimately and personally, from the depths of our heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2842).
We cannot turn-off our feelings or simply forget the heart-wrenching and horrific images of thousands losing their lives in the 9/11 attacks. We can never forget—but we can, we must, come to a place of forgiveness. The heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and transforms the hurt into a prayer for those who harmed us (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843). This is why Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins in his name. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our hearts are opened to His grace that frees us from resentment and hatred which enslaves us. We ask God for forgiveness so that, with clean hearts and steadfast spirits, we can be free to engage in the difficult task of forgiving others—difficult, but not impossible, for “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers