I remember September 11, 2001, quite well. I was in my senior year of college in the seminary. I was in my dorm room on a break between classes when I heard an odd sound for the halls of a seminary. A young freshman was running up the hallway, stamping and swearing. I leaned out the door: “Charlie, we do NOT act like this in the seminary.” “But…but…they just flew a plane into the World Trade Center!” And my world changed with everyone else’s.
What happens next? After your world is shattered, what happens next? Whether you were old enough for it to shatter on that Tuesday morning or it shattered in the decade long war that has followed, what happens next? It is worth noting that, though these Scripture passages are full of forgiveness, they were not picked especially for today. They were selected years ago in the 1960s and have been on a three-year cycle ever since. God provides these readings through the Church to teach the world, to teach you and I, where to go next.
To know where to go next we need to understand some basic information about our humanity. Anger is not a sin in itself but there is sinful anger. Anger is a natural passion who’s purpose is to tell us when we’ve suffered injustice. 9/11 was more than a tragedy, it was an unjust action by unjust men. It is right to feel angry.
Sin corrupts our natural passions: hunger, sleep, attraction, and anger. How does sin corrupt our anger? The book of Sirach tells us that “the sinner hugs [anger] tight.” What is anger hugged tight but bitterness and grudges. Bitterness and grudges poison us and bring no relief.
How, then, do we forgive? We must first learn forgiveness by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I ask you, if you struggle to forgive those who have harmed you, are you going to confession yourself? Are you learning forgiveness by hearing the priest absolve you from your sins and treating you with justice and mercy? Are you learning mercy by hearing it in the voice of the priest?
Finally, it takes faith to forgive. Forgiveness on its own seems weak. Forgiveness apart from faith seems foolish. Sin speaks in our hearts: “If you forgive them this, then they will do more and worse things to you.” Unless we are confident that Jesus Christ will bring victory and vindication: whether in this life or the next, the voice of sin will win out in our hearts.
Violence never defeats violence. Sacrifice and love defeat violence. Sacrifice and love swallow violence. Jesus Christ has swallowed up sin, violence and death on the cross; we await his victory. While we wait, we forgive because we know love in Jesus Christ. We forgive because we love our enemies and want them to have the same chances we have had.
Cross posted at www.piusxiinewman.com