One sure sign that there is a God: To some, those are words that can evoke a number of questions, confusion or even incomprehension. Reverend Ron Rolheiser wrote them in an article about Sister Helen Prejean’s best-selling book, Dead Man Walking, a number of years ago, As I reflect on his phrase, what jumps out at me is his definition of forgiveness: The only thing that is new in the world.
Because the horrors that humans inflict on one another are not new. Wars, genocide, hatred, prejudice, racism, rape, incest, murder, torture- the list is endless, is it not?
But what is new is forgiveness. The reason, I think, that the book and later, the movie, The Shack, were such blockbusters…?
What? Forgive a murderer?
Worse, the murderer of your little girl?
Or of your only son?
Rolheiser wrote the piece because he evidently read Prejean’s book carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully. But, he declares, the most important story in the book is easily overlooked. Because it’s at the end.
“When he arrived with the sheriff’s deputies in the deserted field to identify his son’s body, he had knelt down beside the body and prayed the Our Father. When he came to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he had not stopped praying or made any mental reservations. Instead he added the words: ‘Whoever did this, I forgive them.’ “
Our culture’s never ending torrent of breaking news overwhelms us with the most recent salacious, depraved and/or corrupt action of President, priest, Cardinal or CEO, always with widened eye, surprise and shock, an implied, “Can you believe he/she did…?” The compelling, perhaps irresistible, temptation to focus on the other, look away from our own darkness, the evil each of us has done, in thought, if not in deed.
Rolheiser writes that the father’s forgiveness fades, even disappears. We understand. So many of us have been brainwashed into the language of victim-hood that we live there. Upon discovering a gem of a book a number of years ago, I sent over ten copies of Failure of Nerve. to good friends whom I hoped would read and remember.
Along with the book, I added a note saying that I wish this could be required reading for everyone in the world, once old enough to comprehend the meaning. But that’s just an aside, albeit an explanatory one. I hope the bridge to the segue and back wasn’t too contrived?
Okay back to my main subject:
In the words of Rolheiser on the book, Dead Man Walking,
I bring up the example of Lloyd LeBlanc because forgiveness is the one thing that we do not do well. Lack of forgiveness is our Achilles’ heal. As much as we like to protest – and for all of our moral, intellectual and technological achievements, our political correctness and our espoused sensitivities – our world, our communities, our churches, our families and our personal lives are shot full of hatred, anger, resentments, grudges and long-remembered wounds.
Only on our knees, begging him who did the impossible, implausible, always miraculous and yes, shocking event of human history: God became man to show us the path to life.
The phrase is worth at least one repeat
Thank you for reading,