“Hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here. Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.”
As we approach the end of another year, perhaps it’s a good time to ask the risen Lord to give us all the gift of his forgiveness.
For one is struck, at times, at how much anger and resentment exists today in the Church, and society, at so many levels. The tragedy is that if we do not forgive those who hurt us, we actually destroy ourselves and become paralysed, unable to move forward in discipleship.
But forgiveness and healing are possible!
Several years ago, a brief but moving report about a tragic terrible accident, featured in The Sydney Morning Herald.
It concerned the forgiveness extended by a Samoan family to a young man who had gotten into a fatal fight with their son outside a Sydney pub.
In an extraordinary scene inside the King Street court complex following an accidental death verdict, the family of the dead man wept and embraced the young, accused rugby player, in an expression of forgiveness, some kissing his cheek.
One female relative who did not want to be named told him, after kissing him, that she hoped his life would change for the good: “You will always be in our prayers”.
The accused young man shed tears as he embraced the deceased’s sisters and nieces and a nephew, who had travelled from Samoa and New Zealand for the trial that ran for seven days.
These Samoan relatives also embraced and kissed the Australian defendant’s parents and relatives, who were weeping as the jury brought in their verdict. Both families were like two sporting teams leaving a playing field, embracing, hugging, weeping and kissing.
The Sydney detective sergeant, who investigated the matter throughout, said of the Samoan family: “They are simply the nicest family I have ever encountered. A deeply religious and loving family who heard the evidence and prayed constantly throughout the trial, not only for the defendant, but for his family, the judge, the jury, the legal counsels and the police.
“I have never seen anything like this in my career as a police officer; the ability of people to accept and forgive,” he said.
Before leaving the court, the family joined hands in a room and held a collective prayer for the young man who accidentally killed their son.
How is such forgiveness possible? It defies belief at one level, given the human desire for revenge, which is so deep in all of us. Clearly, the remarkable love and compassion of this Samoan family can only have come from a divine source.
It was the late Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt who once said that Jesus of Nazareth introduced forgiveness into the human condition. For Arendt, the power to forgive constitutes the true content of Jesus’ miracles. So often Jesus proclaimed: “Your sins are forgiven – get up!”
A blessing of the Catholic tradition is that forgiveness, healing and mercy are readily accessible in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We also need to understand the importance of community reconciliation as families and groups. The Samoan family forgave both individually and as a unit.
Pope John Paul II also acted for all Catholics when he led our entire Church, in the Jubilee Year of 2000, asking for forgiveness and reconciliation for errors made and sins committed by Christians over the centuries, that disfigured both humanity and the Body of Christ.
May we too in our own journeys, especially this Advent, follow the witness of these fellow Christian disciples. There is no more powerful witness to the Good News of the Word becoming flesh, than to see divine forgiveness and compassion gracing human hearts.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.