A blog of resources, writings, and thoughts from the rector of St Timothy's Episcopal Church, Salem, Oregon.
Friday, September 9, 2011
9/11 + 7x70: A formula for forgivenes
Every now and then the liturgical calendar, history's calendar and our own collective emotional calendars are precisely in synch. This Sept. 11, 2011, is such a day.
Ten years after the atrocities of 9/11, the pain remains -- intense for those closest to the victims, a dull ache for those of us further removed. Jesus reaches out from the day's Gospel to take our pain -- if not with an instant remedy, surely with a sound road to recovery.
Forgiveness is the essence of Christian love. It is not restricted to overlooking petty faux pas or even gross insults. Forgiveness is the transcendent courage to absorb a despicable blow without being consumed by a blood-lust for revenge. Forgiveness is not a largesse we dispense by power of our innate superiority. It is the grace of God transmitted through us. It is the ultimate witness of Christ's love in the world.
But don't be confused. Forgiveness is not a get out of jail free card for perpetrators. Civil justice should be tempered, not eliminated, by Christian love. God has not issued an easy-pass for evil in the world to benefit the bad guys. We are the principle beneficiaries of our forgiveness, both in this world and the next.
We can choose to spend our lives obsessed with settling scores with terrorists, with rivals, with noisy neighbors, with line jumpers, with the wise guy in the other lane or even within our own families. Life presents us with infinite opportunities to constantly get even or to forgive "seven times seventy" (Matthew 18:22). The choice is ours. We can live in love or we can live in hate. Both are transformative forces. We become what we value and love or we can risk becoming the evil we obsess upon. From painful personal experience, love is better.
You can't fake forgiveness. It's a hard road. Our primal instincts reject it. We have to work on it. We have to pray on it. We have to commit to it, even when our instincts repeatedly keep rejecting it. It is a long painful process, not a shake-and-bake solution. It requires muscles built by the rigorous exercise of living in Christ's love. But we have no useful option. We are not being advised to forgive by our therapist. We are being commanded to forgive by our Lord and Savior. And lest there be any room for confusion, our loving, forgiving God puts it plainly, we can forget about our own forgiveness unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart. It is the essential Christian quid pro quo… our formula for forgiveness.
-- Father David F. Sellery is rector of St. Peter's By-the-Sea Church and Day School in Bay Shore, New York; he is a friend (and seminary classmate) of Fr. Brandon's