Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

Much is learned, says a priest, from visiting parishioners who have not been coming out to church.  From the way they speak and the attitude they have it is not difficult to determine their degree of sympathy for the Church. There are those who want nothing to do with the priest and don't even open the door, and there are those who respond with a meaningless, I am sorry. You also see a spark of faith in their responses, but it was the response of a middle-aged woman that moved the priest to write about his experience in the  Catholic Digest Reader.

When he asked the woman why she wasn't going to Mass, she answered that she couldn't go to Mass. A few years earlier her husband, a truck driver, had killed a child in a truck accident. The husband spent some time in prison, and they did come to an agreement with the family, but the wife lived with a heavy heart, especially because the mother of the dead child visited them screaming, "Bring my child back to life." The father of the child also came to the home and told her how would she like to have her child struck dead on the road.  She became afraid and started going to the Catholic Church, entered the catechism class, and was baptized.

One Sunday, she said, while at Mass, she was so shocked that her heart seemed to stop. The parents of the child who was killed in the truck accident were members of the same church. And her own child was playing with the younger brother of the child who was killed. She didn't know how she finished the Mass but left for home right after. From that time on, she never returned, fearing that the parents on seeing her, all the anguish of the past would return. She had heard that the dead child's parents were Catholics, but it never entered her mind that they were members of the same parish.

The priest understood how painful and frustrating the situation was for the woman. In any event, he thought; the parents of  the dead child had the keys to solving the problem. The parents of the dead child  were devout members of the community and were thought well of by everybody. They couldn't forget their dead child, but the animosity towards the driver had disappeared. The priest on a visit to their home revealed to them that the wife of the man who killed their son in the accident was a member of the same church. They were surprised to hear the news and remained in silence for some time.

After the start of the new year, the father of the dead child came to see the priest. He told the priest, with a trembling voice, that he and his wife went to see the family of the truck driver a few days before Christmas with a box of apples. They sincerely  apologized for their actions. All they could think of was their child and never considered the pain of the driver of the truck and his feelings. They were embarrassed and sincerely sorry for their wretched and rude behavior towards the family and asked for forgiveness. He even told the truck driver that if he decided to come out to the church, he would like to be his godfather at baptism. He told the priest that he felt a lightness of heart when he thought about all of them coming together at Christmas.

Forgiveness is a gift of grace. It is the ability to embrace all that was done, especially the scars, and emptying oneself of all that was standing in the way of going out to the other in forgiveness. There are probably few things that we know as well from the teachings of Jesus as the call to forgive. Let us expand this heartfelt gift from the individual, to groups, and to nations.

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