Fall Reflection Series: Learning to Forgive (Week 1)

In the Lord’s Prayer Christians pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Many of us say those words many times each week and some every day. Yet forgiveness is something we struggle with. For many of us, accepting God’s forgiveness of us is difficult. Even more of us struggle even harder with forgiving those who have hurt us or those we love.

Because the forgiveness is so important, I picked it as the focus for our Fall Reflection Series, the first session of which was held earlier today. The series is aimed at helping us learn to forgive more easily. It will help us get in touch with those things that make it difficult for us to forgive, to deal with anger and hurt that hinder forgivenesss, to think about how we might better separate forgiveness from our notions of justice and desert. It will also address the difficulty of accepting, as well as granting, forgiveness.

After all of the participants introduced themselves,I gave the opening talk of the series. (Subsequent weeks will include talks by Mark Osler, Fr. Dan Griffith, Chato Hazelbaker and Jennifer Wright.) I talked about how the series would proceed and then focused on the effects on us of failing to forgive. I then spent time going through the prayer material for this coming week.

Following my talk, we had a good opening discussion raising various issues that relate to our difficulty forgiving. (The podcast ends right after the beginning of that discussion.) Before we ended I suggested that it is good to have high aspirations as we think about this topic. I shared that as I was preparing for this series, I was reminded of a homily given by Oscar Romero. 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. It was a story about a caravan that was traveling through the desert and being guided by a Bedouin. The travelers 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. And he died pointing the way to the water.

Romero remarked that 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, Romero pointed out, the assassinated priest Father Navarro “died forgiving those who shot him.” Romero sharing the testimony of the woman who cared for the priest as he lay dying:
“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. For me, it is something to aspire to.

You can access a recording of my reflection here or stream it from the icon below. It includes a guided meditation on a shortened version of an examen. (The podcast runs for 22:28.) You can find a copy of this week’s prayer material here.


Eleven Years Ago

Eleven years ago today, I sat in a Greenwich Village office at Cardozo Law School (which kindly provided me with office space during my sabbatical from St. John’s). As I worked, I heard sirens and other loud noises and I thought, “NYC is a lot louder than it used to be.” After some time, I realized that what I was hearing was not normal NYC traffic.

Eleven years ago today, my uncle Mike – then five years younger than I am today – called his wife from his office in the WTC to say a plane had hit the other tower, but that they had been told not to evacuate. That was the last time anyone heard from him.

Eleven years ago today, my uncle Mike, my friend Clarin and my friend Nancy’s brother and my law school classmate Chris and and so many others lost their lives.

Eleven years ago today, my nephew Michael stood at his high school classroom window and my cousin Carl stood in a doorway (having himself just gotten out of one of the towers), each watching bodies fall from the roof to the street.

Eleven years ago, and I can still close my eyes and remember the sounds and the smell and the feelings. I can still feel the horror when I went to the New School to look at the list of the dead and could draw no comfort from the absence of my uncle’s name because all the names listed were “John Doe”s. I can still remember standing in the long line outside the Armory in Manhattan to register my uncle among the missing persons. I can still see in my mind the white ash that covered the fire trucks at the fire station down the street from Penn Station. I can still taste the fear as I took the train in and out of Manhattan in the ensuing days, wondering if an explosion would prevent me from making home to my young daughter and my husband. And I can still feel the pain I experienced every time I looked at the flyers put up by hopeful people who thought someone, anyone, might somewhere, anywhere have seen their missing loved ones. I can still feel and see all of these things as though it were yesterday and I wonder sometimes, if it will ever seem a distant memory.

Eleven years is a long time. But there are still moments, like this morning, when the grief rises up. Moments when the feelings overwhelm.

I have only one answer for those moments: prayer. I pray that we will one day learn to resolve our differences without bullets and bombs and without flying planes into buildings. I pray for peace – peace in our hearts…peace in our minds….peace in the world.