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.