Is there an “Unforgivable” act?
We are still within Eastertide and celebrating the hope and forgiveness that came through Christ’s death and resurrection. Lingering in my mind are the stories that were all over social media prior to Lent season this year.
From the unjust attack on the Covington High School for boys, to the sad Canadian story of an amber alert that ended in the discovery of the death of an eleven year old girl.
I can’t begin to explain how much hate and ugliness surfaced even from those who were generally regarded as being “good Christians”. Accusations flew and declarations were made that certain actions are “unforgivable”! I was so discouraged by the array of obscenities and shaming, wondering, how can we profess to be bearers of Christ’s love and be so vulgar and cruel to each other? Whatever happened to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’? (Matthew 5:45)
One of the most beautiful displays of true love and forgiveness I ever witnessed was by my mother when I was nine years old.
Into the arms of Christ
My four year old little sister was hit by a car. She had been waiting for her school bus and unfortunately, became confused when the bus pulled off to the side of the road just before her bus stop. The bus was allowing traffic to pass, but my sister thought it was safe to cross. She was hit by an oncoming car whose driver did not noticed the child. She was air lifted to the hospital for sick children and later died as she was held by my mother.
My mother, in an act that still leaves me in complete awe of her, sang praises to God as she rocked my sister and handed her back into the arms of Christ.
I still miss my sister tremendously. Her death was an event that changed our lives forever. It refocused my eyes on Heaven, because it now held someone so dear to me, and it shaped my perspective. No longer could I view life the same way, as I now understood that it was fragile and unpredictable. But the event also allowed for the imprint of beautiful examples of faith and love, like that of the almost supernatural trust and surrender displayed by my mother as my sister passed away.
One example in particular stands in defiance to the ugliness I spoke of above. It was the moment my mother met the man who had inadvertently taken my sister’s life: something that many would consider an “unforgivable” act.
The driver of the car in my sister’s accident arrived at the court house shortly before the trial for the incident. You could see the excruciating pain from the remorse he bore, as he kept his head bowed in shame. I can’t even imagine the immensity of emotions that saturated his entire being, throughout the trial. How he must have struggled at the thought of looking into the eyes of the parents of the child whose life had been taken.
Just like the Father running to meet the prodigal son when he saw him coming up the road, my mother sought out the man. She hurried over to him and wrapped her arms around him. She hugged him tightly, whispering, “It’s okay.” He broke down shaking uncontrollably, weeping as she told him that she was not angry. The only thing she held in her heart was love and forgiveness for him. She told him that my sister would not want him to be burdened with pain and guilt. She would wish him a life of joy and hope.
My mother also made sure she offered her love and forgiveness to the bus driver, who was visibly tormented by guilt.
Something Beautiful for God
I recently told my mother how much her example meant to me, especially in view of the appalling comments and interactions I keep seeing on social media from friends and acquaintances attacking each other.
She said the exchange was a gift for her too. It helped with her healing and freed her from the burden of anger and resentment. It left her with a hope that God was doing something beautiful through the tragedy.
She says she still prays for the driver to this day and knows that somehow God is working enormously in his life in spite of the devastation experienced from the accident.
Are you a light on social media? Are you someone who chooses an approach defined by charity- an attitude that affirms the inherent dignity of the other? If you must reproach, do you do so in a way that still speaks of your identity as a Christian who is truly invested in the good of the other? Are you someone who could forgive the unforgivable?
I hope to be. I want to be.
Our world desperately needs light, love, hope and mercy: not the vile assassination of the dignity of people with whom we disagree or whose actions we do not condone.
Dear God, help us to forgive all those who have hurt us, knowingly or unknowingly. Instead of grudge may our heart be filled with love and forgiveness so that our prayers for them be a blessing upon their lives. Amen.
© is the author and illustrator of the Catholic children’s book series “Little Douglings,” which promotes the sacraments and the culture of life. She is the mother of 11 children ages 14 and younger. Be sure to check out her site at littledouglings.com where she blogs about her adventurous life with her big Catholic family and shares the humor and joy in her comic series: Holy HappyMess.
I wonder how God can be so generous in bestowing His grace on us at all times. In the past, all the holy people prayed and sacrificed much. I often feel that they were purer than us, simpler in intentions, thoughts and deeds. The present generation seems much more complex. Our knowledge has also increased with science, psychology, manipulation and even wickedness. We are more innovative in finding ways to sin and even encouraging others to do the same. Yet, when we pray God generously gives us His amazing grace. How are we receiving these graces in spite of our growing unworthiness? Do we deserve them? When you think of it, it does not seem fair to receive more for less work— Aha! This brings to mind the parable of “The Laborers in the Vineyard.” In this parable the workers who were called early in the morning to work in the Vineyard and worked the full day received a Dinari. Those who come at the end of the day also worked but only a few hours (or minutes) and they too received a Dinari. Here Jesus is talking about the generosity of God. Why does God show this generosity in grace? Why so much generosity now? There are two reasons—there is very little time left to work, and each one needs to earn his wages. Now the Lord knows those born long ago were born when life was simpler, purer and sin was scarce. People were more sensitive, caring and more prayerful. There were less temptations and reasons to fall. Hence those born then are like the workers who came in early at the break of day or even midday. We have many more temptations and the road is slipperier than ever. It is an easy glide into sin. So we need to exercise more restraint in circumstances, more courage to do the right thing, strength to face the opposition when wading upstream. It is difficult. Modern life is much busier than in the past. People do not have time to think or even relax—so when will they pray? These are the folks who came in the last hour of grace (work day) and they also are struggling to work, to live (to earn eternal life). Now that we are willing to work, even if it is at the 11th hour, how do we earn the graces we so badly need? This is where the Church comes in and the gifts the Lord has given us in the Holy Mass, the rosary, chaplets and the many treasures of the Church. Now imagine the scene where the ground below is dissolving and in a few moments you could be plunged into darkness and death. Suddenly a rope ladder comes down from a helicopter. This is a last- minute rescue mission. What would you do? You would immediately grab it, climb and hold on as you are whisked away to safety! The prayers are the rungs of ladder sent our way from heaven, by our mother. Do we want to be rescued? Are you willing to be rescued? Let us take hold and hang on—until we reach home. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the amazing grace you pour on us each day. Even though we really do not deserve it, Lord, Your mercy is far beyond our thinking. Help us to be faithful to the gift of grace, that we may not be plunged into wickedness of this world. May we always strive to reach our Fatherland and sing everlasting praise to You. Amen.
REAWAKENING As I walked through my new neighborhood in Paterson, I wondered where I could find a Christian bookstore. From a truck, a man called out, “Would you like to find a Christian bookstore?” I was amazed that God would answer me so promptly! The owner of the shop assured me “The Cross and the Switchblade” would be a fine gift for the student in my fiction course, so I bought it. Reading the book before wrapping it, I was mesmerized by the author’s midnight prayer experience. He was haunted by the “TIME” magazine cover picturing six young drug addicts on their way to trial. Several times he clearly heard the Lord urging in his heart “Go to New York City.” This minister got in his car and drove hundreds of miles. With Bible in hand, he tracked down the addicts and told them that Jesus could save them. He spoke not as a professional doctor or teacher, but only with the power and love of the Holy Spirit. Some addicts accepted Jesus and were delivered from drugs—thus opening an extensive ministry to them and others. As I finished the book at 2 am, I felt wrung through my own conversion, guilty because I knew Jesus was real but had done little to share this treasure. I had even neglected to pray deeply and said “no” to a request that had left me depressed the entire year. After 10 years as a Sister, how few people I had evangelized! The spirit our pioneer Sister-missionaries had, in the 1960s, succumbed to a popular phobia against “fanatic behavior.” People say, “Don’t talk about Jesus, just show Him through your teaching.” These new ways did not seem to work for me. When I returned to buy more copies of the book, the owner told me, “There’s a Catholic group in Rutherford that holds prayer meetings every Thursday evening.” Renewal Though I yearned to run off to Rutherford, I had obligations with our college’s girls’ basketball team. Instead, I devoured books on this phenomenon called Charismatic Renewal. It was what I had been seeking all my life. I became an instant convert. I learned more deeply on how to help people have a personal relationship with Jesus. I was surprised about people receiving spiritual gifts as the apostles had in the Bible’s Book of Acts, especially moved that ordinary people could speak words of convicting prophecy, pray immediately and anywhere for the Lord to heal people, and use a prayer-language called “tongues.” Some of our Sisters returned from prayer meetings with true miracle stories, “Young men stand and tell how Jesus totally changed them.” “They talk about scripture like priests.” I finally got to these prayer meetings and saw for myself the great things about which I had heard. I truly could say “I want the power to share Jesus and His love. I want Him to baptize me in His Holy Spirit.” After I was prayed over, the Spirit who had first come to me in my baptism, who renewed me in my confirmation, now took over my life. At one meeting, I felt a queasy “prompting” to divulge my early story I had been unable to open even to sisters. I promised, “Jesus, I will tell my story if I hear the word, rescue, since that’s what I thank You for every day.” A girl with a small Bible began to read Psalm 17 and three times I heard my fleece-word. My voice shook but grew steadier as I described my agonized search through supposed sins, fears and missteps. “Although I have known Jesus since my childhood, and I felt His Love burning in my heart, I could not communicate how much I love Him and how others could also find Him. In the Charismatic Renewal, I learned to really hear the Holy Spirit in my heart and what the Spirit calls me to do.” Life in the Spirit! While I had many things to work through, I knew the Holy Spirit in me was the most true gift I had, that He would lead me and that He had many gifts to assist me. He put the inner and outer me together. He showed me how to share Jesus and to evangelize wherever I was. He gave me the courage to say “Yes” to two foreign mission calls among the Chinese. He led me to find support systems with other charismatics during decades of ups and downs in the church, the world and in my various ministries. For the past six years. I have shared with a diocesan service team giving “Life in the Spirit” seminars. I am only one of millions of people throughout the world who has come into this great charismatic renewal. I praise God for His grace beyond anything I could have imagined.
These are ground-floor, basic, “rubber hitting the road” questions. There is a lot riding on our responses. If we get them wrong, then we have assigned ourselves to a miserable, unfulfilled life. While these questions are perennial, in our 21st-century world the answer seems to be that happiness consists in having the goods of the world—the more the better. Are You ‘Having’ or ‘Being?’ By “having” lots of money and other stuff of the world, fulfilling all the material needs, one is assured of happiness. Along this line, we need to be in control of our lives, to have power to do whatever we want and whenever we want, as long as it does not interfere with others’ private interests. The assumption behind much of the assaulting commercial advertising is that we can be happy if we acquire stuff outside of ourselves! In short, being human means to embrace a lifestyle of having! It is akin to the voracious plant in the Little Shop of Horrors who demands “Feed me, feed me!” The teachings of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, offers an alternative contrary view and raises the question of true happiness. Jesus challenges our easy assumptions that happiness is attained through money and possessions, status and prestige, control and dominative power, and self-indulgent pleasure. Our Lord knows that true happiness consists not in “having” the goods of the world but “being” in right relationship with God. Being made in the image of God, who is love, we are most human when we are in love with God and our brothers and sisters. Money, fame, pleasure and power cannot bring us happiness because they simply cannot love us. A Beautiful Way Jesus insists that what can make us truly happy, and really blessed, is being in a singular relationship with God and living in His kingdom. That means our lives are no longer about us but about God, to whom we owe our total commitment and surrender. We move from having the goods of the world to being in a right relationship with God. Such a conversion will have a profound impact on how we live our lives and how we relate to others. The Beatitudes are the prelude to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which describe what it is like to live a happy life, a freed life, a united life. Jesus is not presenting us another list of Commandments—a list of actions we must do or not do to get into the kingdom. Rather, He is teaching us that those who are living in the Kingdom of God will live in a certain way. They will strive to do the Father’s will here and now. What does that look like in our daily life? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. To begin with, they will be happy because they are poor in spirit. They peer into the depths of their hearts, where they realize that real security in life does not come from riches that come and go, but from the Word of God and His love that endures forever. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. They will do so not through intimidation, domination and violence but through humble submission to God’s will. They will be meek because they see God’s promises being performed in their lives. They recognize that God is the doer and they are His instruments which brings them joy. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The world tells us to be attached to our feelings. If it feels good, go for it. A person who is present to others, however, is unafraid to join the suffering of others and walk with them in their pain. The following story illustrates this point. A little boy was late coming home from school. When he finally showed up, his concerned mother asked, “Where were you?” He responded, “When I was walking home, I saw Jennie sitting on her step, crying.” I asked her, “What’s wrong?” She said, “My dog Champ just died.” His mother asked, “What did you say?” They boy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nothing. I just sat down and cried with her.” Yes, it is a paradox—we are mourning yet we are consoled. We find meaning in coming to the aid of those who are suffering. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Those who are living with Jesus go beyond satisfying their basic needs for survival. Knowing they are members of the universal Church, the mystical Body of Christ, they desire justice for everyone because they recognize that all human beings have inherent dignity so they pursue justice for the weak and vulnerable. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Those who are grounded in God’s love will have hearts that are simple and pure. Their hearts will admit nothing that might harm others or weaken their love for God and others. As they become less self-absorbed through self- emptying love, they begin to “see” God in their ordinary experience. Blessed are peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. This Beatitude makes people bridge builders between conflicting parties. They run counter to what Pope Francis said upon his return from WYD/Panama: “The sad tendency toward hostile nationalism builds walls and is closed to universality, to the encounters of peoples.” Instead of fighting evil with more evil, violence with more violence, they are conduits of God’s generative love, which unites people in their true identity. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters, living in the alternative consciousness of the Gospel we will have a target on our backs. We will be a challenge to the powers of the world, which are based on the false kingdom. If we cannot be happy “when people hate us, when they exclude and insult us, when they denounce our name as evil on the account of the Son of Man,” then we know we are not yet living in the true paradigm of eternal life—we are not yet Kingdom people. Transformed for Happiness Though we may not be there yet, we can set ourselves in that direction by accepting metanoia, conversion, as we embrace the process of being conformed to Christ’s mind and heart. We can honor the Sabbath by gathering together in a church assembly as we give God praise and glory. We can participate in trinitarian love through the mysteries of the Holy Mass, which is “fount and summit of our worship.” We can immerse ourselves in a regular, disciplined and deep prayer life so we can discern the workings of God in our lives. If we live our lives dying to our false self and God substitutes, then we will gradually be raised to a new and transformed life. As we begin to believe that the Paschal Mystery is the template of genuine human existence, our lives will manifest that mystery. We will become walking billboards for the Beatitudes. Our belief that Christ has died and Christ is risen will be shown in the lives we live in faith. The challenge is to live by faith in the Risen Christ who actively dwells among and within us. If we do this, then surely we will find true happiness.
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