A Model of Forgiveness

Do you have someone you have trouble forgiving? Is there some slight or injury done to you by another that you nurture some resentment about? If the answer to those is yes, you are not alone.

Forgiveness (a subject about which I’ve written before) is something that is often difficult for us. Yet is is something that is asked of us as Christians. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When Jesus gives instruction for forgiveness, Peter asks how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus’ response is seventy times seven.

I just read a homily by Oscar Romero that offers a useful lesson on this subject. Romero was preaching at the funeral celebration of Father Alfonso Navarro Oviedo, who was assassinated in the church where he was pastor. It was no isolated occurrence for Romero to be preaching at the mass of someone assassinated in El Salvador; just the previous day he presided over another one.

He began his homily with a story that he called a legend that became reality in their midst.

There is a story about a caravan that was traveling through the desert and being guided by a Bedouin. They had become desperate and thirsty and were searching for water in the mirages of the desert. Their guide said: Not there, over there. He had spoken these words so many times that the members of the caravan became frustrated, took out a gun and shot the guide. As the guide was dying, he extended his hand one last time: Not there, over there. He died pointing the way.

Even after they took an act that would mean his death, the Bedouin was still able to care about the wellbeing of his charges. Likewise the priest at whose funeral Romero was preaching, Father Navarro “died forgiving those who shot him.” Sharing the testimony of the woman who cared for the priest as he lay dying, Romero said

She asked him what hurt, and Father responded: I have no pain except the forgiveness that I want to give my assassins and to those who shot me and the only sorrow I have is sorrow for my sins. May the Lord forgive me! Then he began to pray.

Could I die with forgiveness on my lips if someone brought about my death? I want to say yes, but the more honest answer is probably, I hope so. But if Father Navarro was able to forgive those who killed him, is it really asking too much for us to forgive those who have done far less to us?