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Jan 08, 2018 855 0 David Torkington
Encounter

Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do

I simply worshipped the heroes of ancient Greece when I was at school. I loved to hear stories about Troy and the heroes who fought there. I loved to read about the Persian wars and the warriors who fought for freedom at Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae. Most of all, I worshipped Alexander the Great and marveled at the mighty empire he set up even before he was 30.

I could not help it if the hero I was introduced to in religious class seemed to be rather weak compared with those. He did not actually triumph over his enemies as my Greek heroes did nor was there much in it for his followers, unless you happen to like being thrown to the lions!

However, shortly before leaving school I had something of a conversion experience that led me to join a prayer group run by the school’s spiritual director. It gave me a new vision of the faith in which I had been raised. It enabled me to see that Jesus was a hero after all—He promised a new sort of heroism that was open, not just to a chosen elite but to all. He showed, not only by what He said but also by what He did, that the human weakness the Greeks despised becomes strength when it enables a person to experience his need of God’s strength.

It was this strength that enabled Jesus to do not only all things possible but the impossible—that was way beyond the strength of the mightiest Greek warrior. When a Greek hero was persecuted, he would curse his enemies and plan revenge. When Jesus was persecuted, He would bless His enemies and grant them forgiveness. Moreover, the forgiveness that He readily gave was not given later, long after the event “when time had healed”; rather, it was given at the time when they were in the act of torturing Him to the death. For it was while the nails were being driven into His hands and feet, sending shock waves of pain into every part of His person that He prayed for their forgiveness. This sort of heroism was way beyond the Greek heroes that I had once adored. It demanded a quality of superhuman strength that was first embodied in the man I had once considered weak and unworthy of my attention.

If all that is expected of us is to stand back and admire what Jesus did I could cope with it, but the truth of the matter is we are called upon to do the same. The words of the Gospel are clear and unyielding. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.” In addition, we are told to forgive them not once or twice, but time and time again—“seventy times seven.”

Those frightening words are not just addressed to a chosen few but to all who claim to be Christian. If we do not think they ask the impossible then we should thank our lucky stars that we have never really had an enemy, never experienced what it is like to be hated, especially by those you thought were once your friends.

Saint Francis used to say that we should call our enemies our friends, especially when they bring us down and humble us. For it is then, in experiencing our weakness, that we will fall down on our knees in the true and certain knowledge that only God can help us. Then He will give us the grace that pride had prevented before, to do what no Greek hero has ever done—the impossible. For it is only with God’s grace that we can forgive our enemies without hesitation, no matter what they would do to us. When we have done that we can be fully forgiven as well, because at last we can pray more sincerely than we ever have, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

I may well have started my conversion as a teenager many years ago, but by this standard I still have a long way to go. It does no take me quite as long to forgive my enemies as it once did, but I am still a long, long way from forgiving them at the time, especially when they are hell bent on doing their worst to do me harm when I am only trying to do my best!

David Torkington

(www.DavidTorkington.com) is a Spiritual Theologian, Author and Speaker, who specializes in Prayer, Christian Spirituality and Mystical Theology. He was educated at the Franciscan Study Centre, England, and the National Catholic Radio and Television Centre, Hatch End, London, where he was later appointed to the post of Dean of Studies. He was extra mural lecturer in Mystical Theology at the Dominican University in Rome (The Angelicum). In addition to giving Retreats and lecturing all over Europe, he undertook five prolonged lecture tours to Africa, mainly Equatorial Africa, speaking on Prayer and Spirituality to Religious, Monks, Diocesan Priests and lay people. His personal spirituality is predominantly Franciscan, his Mystical Theology Carmelite, all welded together with a solid blend of Benedictine moderation. He has sold over 300,000 books in more than twelve different languages. His most successful book is "Wisdom from the Western Isles," the popular "Peter Calvay Trilogy" (Hermit, Prophet, Mystic) re-edited in one volume in which he teaches the reader how to pray, from the very beginning to what Saint Teresa of Avila calls the Mystical Marriage. He is at present working on his latest book, "Wisdom from the Christian Mystics" which will be followed by his autobiography "Injured Innocence." When not writing, he spends time on his boat on the peaceful Beaulieu river in the New Forest, Hampshire, and exploring the Jurassic coast, Dorset. He is a member of The Athenaeum, Pall Mall, London.

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