Friday, September 15, 2023

Thoughts post 9/11

 I have always had difficulty with the clamor to rush out and forgive any and all perpetrators of publicly shocking events, like mass shootings, from the comfort of our untouched lives. I have even seen this put forth as a Christian thing to do.  I have also seen it called “cheap grace.” It has been a subject of some considerable prayer and meditation for a long time.

 The Our Father is pretty straight forward about mutual forgiveness; if I want God to forgive me I better forgive you! That gets spelled out pretty clearly to St. Peter in answer to his question on the numerical limits of forgiveness; there are none [Matthew 18:22]. That, however, is not the whole of it, as the instruction Jesus gives Peter has a condition, which we find is that we are bound to forgive if our brother repents and asks for it [Luke 17:4].

 A Catholic knows that his mortal sins will be forgiven only under the condition that he repent and ask the always merciful God to forgive him (perfect contrition carries the obligation of the confessional). This is perfectly in accord with Luke 17:4 above. If one does not ask, one is not forgiven.

 So if God sets this limit, why do people think that they need to forgive, oh say, the suicide attackers of 9/11?

 Frequently there is a mention of Jesus on the cross saying “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34]. Do notice that Jesus, though God, does not forgive them, but asks the Father to. And who is He asking this on behalf of? If you read the Patristics on this, Jesus is asking on the behalf of the soldiers who were executing Him in accord with their duty; not the temple leaders to whom Pilate said “His blood is on your hands”.  

 There is another time when Jesus raises eyebrows by forgiving a man who did not ask for it. This was the paralytic whose friends tore the roof off and lowered hid bier into Jesus’ presence [Mark 2:4]. Yet even here the Patristic explanation has been that this is an example of the power of intercessory prayer; in this case the diligence of the friends who brought the paralytic to Jesus.

 If someone sins against me I am bound to offer my forgiveness to a repentant heart. And what is more attractive to a soul, that a “humble and contrite heart” [Psalm 51]? Jesus said “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48].  Thus I find that the way to approach forgiveness is with the same charity as God, which does not exclude justice, nor attempt to outdo Him!

 A couple of final thoughts; St James in his epistle makes it clear that we are not obliged to pray for those in mortal sin [ 1 John 5:16]; Charity can go beyond this but doesn’t require it. Also, at death our eternal destiny is ratified and the time of forgiveness is over. And finally, only God can forgive sins [Mark 2:7]. We have another obligation.

 et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris

 This meditation is submitted with the acknowledgement that it is my own work and is subject to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

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