On this, the 24th Sunday on Ordinary Time in the Roman liturgical calendar, we are challenged by our Lord Jesus to be a forgiving people. Peter asks if he should forgive the brother or sister who has hurt or offended him up to seven times - probably a magnanimous number in Peter's eyes. But Jesus tells him he must go further than that - up to seventy times seven times - in other words, there is no limit to be placed on the number of times we are called to forgive those who have hurt us.
This challenge of Jesus is perhaps one of the most difficult things we are called to do as Christians. When he have been hurt, especially if the hurt is a great one or occurs a number of times, the most human and natural response is to lash out at the offender - to "get even" if possible - but certainly not to forgive the offender. Yet Jesus calls us to do just that. When we come to liturgy we pray together just before Communion the Lord's Prayer. Do we speak these words: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us - do we speak them from our heart and mean them or are they just words that trip off our tongues by rote?
Jesus was the perfect model of forgiveness for us. On that bleak Good Friday when he was lifted high upon the cross he asked his Father to forgive those who had brought him to that moment. As disciples of Jesus we are called to offer the same forgiveness to others who have brought us to dark moments in our lives.
This weekend in our country - the United States of America - we pause to remember that tragic day ten years ago when the greatest attack ever perpetrated against our country took place in New York City and Washington and for some ended in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost three thousand people lost their lives in those tragic moments as planes became instruments of death. It was one of those days that we can vividly remember and remember exactly what we were doing when the attacks occured. Emotions ran very high that day; emotions of grief, confusion, disbelief, anger and thoughts of revenge. Certain people among us became targets of our emotions because they held particular religious beliefs and looked and sounded like those who had become our attackers. Even today the discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters remains even though some of them were innocent victims that day as well, and good living American citizens who happened to be Muslim became targets of our frustrations. It is against feelings like this that Jesus challenges us to be faithful Christians and respect others no matter what their beliefs or nationality. We need also to be reminded that those who were our attackers also died that tragic day believing themselves to be martyrs for a cause but the judgment of their behavior lies in the hands of God and not ours.
The American Catholic bishops wrote in a pastoral letter in response to the events of September 11, 2001: True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart. Without both courage and charity, justice cannot be won. In the absence of repentance and forgiveness, no peace can endure.
Looking through my resource file a few weeks ago, I came across some items written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, web editors for Spirituality and Health. Let me share some of those voices that come to us from that tragic Tuesday morning in September of 2001:
I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding upon myself and collapsing to the ground. May I rest in peace.
I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane not known where we are going or that I am riding on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death, and I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing that in just a moment my future will be obliterated. May I rest in peace.
I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me, and I am a rescue worker risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive. May I rest in peace.
I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth, and I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy. May I know peace.
I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home, and I am a boy in a faraway country rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone has hurt the hated Americans. May I know peace.
I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set, fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible events, and I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of God/Yahweh/Spirit/Allah. May I know peace.
And I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of each other. May we all know peace.