Saturday, March 31, 2018

Forgiving the unforgivable

I stepped inside the cavernous, historic Chicago basilica. It was just after noon on Good Friday of this week. Having ducked into a nearby market to grab a few of my old world Polish favorites for our Easter table, it was time to  honor the solemn day that Christians have relived for more than two millennia.

You could hear a pin drop as I moved around the rear perimeter of the near empty, 124-year-old  church. A brightly lit grotto dedicated to "Our Lady of Sorrows" beckoned me to visit and ponder the day. The scene was larger than life. It featured the body of a crucified Jesus draped across his mother's arms and lap, a la Michelangelo's "Pieta." She gazed upward as if to beg the divine for an explanation.

Her eyes said, "Why? How do I go on? How do I forgive those who savaged my son?"

The sculpted face bore the indescribable pain every mother or father endures when they lose a child to violent death. On the battlefield.  In unselfish service to save others, fighting crime. The victim of gunfire in a suburban classroom or in an alley where street gangs run the neighborhood. Wherever, for whatever reason, the loss is the same to the parents. A piece of them has been mercilessly destroyed. They wonder about how their loved one endured the vicious assault or tortuous death and there is nothing they can do to make it better.

Except forgive. And sometimes you have to forgive God.

I've met a Chicagoland priest who introduced a mother in his parish to the gangbanger who shot her son. The shooter lived in prison at the time the met. She found the grace to forgive and free her soul of the poison that is vengeance.

I once met a little girl whose brother was murdered by the Boston Marathon bomber. Her parents would later testify in federal court and beg the judge for leniency and the bomber's life. They fought against revenge and the death penalty.

St. John Paul II once met and forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him while he was pope. They formed a lasting friendship.

Remember years ago, when a crazed gunman massacred children at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. The murderer killed himself after his crime. The parents of the dead children attended his funeral and consoled his wife and family, extending their forgiveness.

I could go on with many other stories. Check out Azim Khamisa's response to the brutal, senseless murder of his son at the "Forgiveness Project":

Whether you believe in the resurrection of Jesus or not, there is something miraculous about the example he set during his crucifixion. From the cross he said, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing?" Try to imagine the courage it takes to turn the other cheek when someone is torturing you to death or cutting off your head.

Many iconic peacemakers have been credited with this piece of wisdom: "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Choosing reconciliation over revenge, even if only in your heart, is the way mere mortals gloriously rise above the power of death and triumph over our sorrows.  Happy Easter!

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