Category Archives: Forgiveness

Bishop martyr of Argentina

“…we should have one ear to the Gospel
and the other to the people,
to know what God is saying to us.”
 Bishop Enrique Angelelli

Forty years ago, on August 4, 1976, Monseñor Enrique Angelelli, Bishop of La Rioja, Argentina, was killed. It was made to look like a car accident but it was the work of the Argentinian dictatorship. He was the first of twentieth century Latin American bishops martyred for their faith in a God of justice and love for the poor.

A few weeks before he was killed, he preached at the funeral of two of his priests who were martyred, Gabriel Longueville and Carlos Murias.

What was their final sermon – as I see it? It is very difficult to be consistent in one’s life; but they were; they achieved the privilege and the choice by God to give witness and to seal with their own blood what is means to be Christians.

What does it mean to be a martyr, a witness of the resurrection of our Lord? The witness is the one who has seen, has touched, has heard, has experienced, has been chosen, and even more has been sent to go and say to all: the Lord has risen.

Therefore, this blood is joyful, the blood of martyrs poured out for the Gospel, for the name of the Lord, to serve the people and to announce the Good News of peace and joy.

Within a month he himself was dead, another victim of the dictatorship. A briefcase he was carrying, full of documents on the crimes of the dictatorship, was suspiciously not found. In 2014 two former soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing him.

At the funeral of Father Carlos and Gabriel, Monseñor Angelelli addressed the question of forgiveness in a very profound but concrete way:

How difficult it is to be a Christian? Because the Christian has to forgive.

If someone would tell us, “We don’t have to forgive; to kill priest is not Christian, nor even human,” we would respond without hesitating: the Christian has to forgive everyone. But it’s another thing to approve their errors and another thing altogether to fail to work to stop these things from happening.

But surely the conscience of the person who is responsible has to tell him: “You did this!” I don’t know how he could sleep or, if he’s married, how he could kiss his wife and children. I don’t understand this from the perspective of faith, nor even humanly, in this and other cases…. I don’t understand how those men can take those like themselves, and,  calling themselves Christians, tear them into pieces and grind them up as one does with wheat to make bread, even though this time the wheat has yielded blessed bread. Don’t you remember that Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians. This, these very executioners are tools, in a certain way, of good, so that there may arise a community which is strong in faith, hope, and love.

We will be happy if God forgives them and we wish them to take account of what they have done. We also hope that those who have used their intelligence to perpetrate this crime find their mind enlightened by truth. And we pray that God does not permit whoever plotted this to think that they have done this in the name of faith; that would be an aberration. Let us forgive and ask God to forgive them.

Bishop Angelelli was one of the lights of the church in Latin America, calling for conversion – both personal and social. May his witness, his martyrdom, awaken in many the commitment to God and the poor.

Forgive and reconcile

How often should I forgive?
Matthew 18: 21

Today the Catholic Church remembers Pope Saint Pontian and the antipope Saint Hippolytus, both of whom died in 235 on the penal island of Sardinia during one of the Roman persecutions.

It is perhaps fitting that today’s Gospel is about forgiveness, something closely connected with today’s saints.

Hippolytus was a Greek priest and brilliant theologian who came to Rome. When Saint Callistus was elected pope in 217, Hippolytus was not happy. Callistus was a former slave and a mere cemetery-keeper. In addition, Callistus was not as severe with sinners as Hippolytus thought he should be, accusing him of forgiving sinners all too easily. As a result his followers elected Hippolytus as pope, making him the first anti-pope in history.

Hippolytus kept up his position as anti-pope during the papal reigns of Callistus’ successors, Urban I and Pontian. He was upset by their lax approach to forgiving sinners and their lack of sufficient zeal in combatting heresy. Hippolytus was quite a rigorist, believing that the validity of the sacraments depended on the sanctity of the ministers.

Both Pope Pontian and anti-pope Hippolytus were arrested in 235 and sent to the Sardinian salt mines. Pontian resigned his office as pope, bishop of Rome, and, according to some reports, Hippolytus dropped his claim to the papacy.

Supposedly they were reconciled with each other and died on Sardinia as the result of the harsh treatment they endured there.

Perhaps these two saints offer us a lesson for the divisions in the church  -rejecting the rigorist approach and always seeking and giving forgiveness.

If a pope and an anti-pope can be reconciled, what might happen for us and for the Church as a whole?

If a pope and an anti-pope can be reconciled, what might happen for us and for the Church as a whole?

A saint to end vengeance killings

Honduras is plagued with violent killings. In the big cities these are often related to gangs or to crime. But there are a significant number of killings that are related to vengeance.

In our area of Honduras there have been a number of vengeance killings in the last year. Two villages have been deeply affected.

At a recent meeting of catechists I heard a story from a few years ago of a feud within a family that started with a dog killing a chicken and ended with deaths of members of the family.

So I was surprised to learn of a saint who should be the patron of those who seek to end violence based in vengeance.

Last Sunday I was in the village of El Zapote de Dulce Nombre to lead a Celebration of the Word with Communion. They noted that they will celebrate Saint Rita of Cascia, their patron saint, on Friday with a procession, Mass, and baptisms.

S._Rita I have heard of Saint Rita and know that she is revered by many Italians and Italian Americans, but I didn’t know much about her. As I sat listening to the village’s plans, I looked up her short biography in the missal I had with me and was surprised about a few details of her life.

Saint Rita lived between 1381 and 1457.  I know that she is often invoked as the saint of impossible cases, but she really should be the patron saint of peacemakers within families.

Though she wanted to become a sister, Rita was forced into a marriage with a man who was not very faithful. They had twin sons.

After several years of marriage, he was killed by some members of a rival family. His sons wanted to take vengeance on the family of the assassins but their mother forbid it. There is even a story that she prayed to God that it would be better for them to die than to take the lives of others in vengeance.

They did die and she decided that now was the time to follow her dream of becoming a sister.

She applied to the town’s convent of Augustinians sisters. She was refused because the sisters were afraid that vengeance killings – or at least disharmony – would follow her into the convent, since some of the sisters were members of the rival family that had killed her husband.

As Michael Di Gregorio, OSA, put it here:

…inspired by her three patron saints (Augustine, Nicholas of Tolentino and John the Baptist), Rita set out to make peace between the families. She went to her husband’s family and exhorted them to put aside their hostility and stubbornness. They were convinced by her courage and agreed. The rival family, astounded by this overture of peace, also agreed. The two families exchanged a peace embrace and signed a written agreement, putting the vendetta to rest forever.

There are other details of Saint Rita’s life which are fascinating but I really think that she needs to be looked upon as an example of how to live the loving reconciliation of Christ and as an intercessor for those places where vengeance and vendettas lead to death.

And so today I pray to Saint Rita to help us find ways to stop the cycle of violence that so often plagues us here in Honduras and many other places of the world.

__________________

Photo credits:
“S. Rita”. Tramite Wikipedia – http://scn.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:S._Rita.jpg#/media/File:S._Rita.jpg

Confronting and forgiving sinners

When I first read the first reading in today’s lectionary (2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13), I didn’t see its relation to the Gospel – the public sinner who washes the feet of Jesus to the consternation of the Pharisee (Luke 7: 36-50).

The prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin – impregnating Bathsheba, having her husband Uriah killed, and then taking her as another one of his wives.

In one way, both readings talk of God’s mercy and forgiveness. “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.” Nathan tells David. “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace,” Jesus tells the woman.

God’s forgiveness is a crucial message today.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez commented (Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year, p. 167) :

In the context of our violent and vindictive society, we should reflect more creatively on the effectiveness of pardon granted not as a sign of weakness and impotence but as an expression of a love which can generate new behaviors that respect the dignity of [persons] and build up authentic peace and justice.

But something else struck me.

Nathan clearly tells David that he has sinned in killing Uriah and taking his wife as his. But Jesus does not ever mention the particular sin of the woman who washed and anointed his feet.

David did not recognize his sinfulness, but the woman’s tears reveal her recognition of her sinfulness.

But there is something else.

David is a man of power, whereas the woman is an outsider, despised by the Pharisee and others. The outsider is received with mercy and compassion and is sent away with a sense of her dignity” “Your faith has saved you.”

Often, the powerful need strong and direct words so that they might change.

God seeks the conversion of all – but is more direct with the powerful. The weak are treated with mercy and compassion – and understanding.

So too in our speaking of sin we should probably be more critical of the powerful than the weak.

But it is easy to demean the poor for their supposed laziness and sinfulness. How often do we neglect to speak forcibly to the rich and the powerful. We want to get on their good side, to get some benefits – financial or other.

But God loves the poor, the sinful, the outsiders with a special love.

Should we do any less?

An African bishop martyr

“There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.”
Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa, S.J.

Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa, S.J., (1926-1996) archbishop of Bukavu, Zaire, protector of Hutu and Tutsi refugees, proponent of democracy and reconciliation, was assassinated by Rwanda soldiers in Bukava, on October 29, 1996.

Here are a few quotes that reflect his deep spirituality:

“God’s mercy, which breaks the chain of vengeance, is hurtful to militants on every side. But in reality, that is the only thing that can definitively shatter the infernal circle of vengeance.”

“Despite anguish and suffering, the Christian who is persecuted for the cause of justice finds spiritual peace in total and profound assent to God, in accord with a vocation that can lead even to death.”

 

 

No to vengeance

Archbishop Joachim Ruhuma, archbishop of Gitega, Burundi, was murdered together with two sisters and other persons, on September 9, 1996. At a July 23, 1996 funeral for massacred Burundis, he said:

“Burundians, my brothers and sisters, let me speak to the assassins and those who command them. I lift up my voice – may the world listen. Their crimes are a shame for humanity. I beseech them: ‘Abandon your weapons, cease the massacres. This is the price of peace. Do you want peace? So do we. Let others live in peace. Let us seek together a common path in harmony and agreement.’

“I ask all those who have lost their loved ones that they do not fall into the trap that leads to vengeance. It is clear those who have lost their lives have lost them because of their tribe. The assassins who wish to avenge or defend their tribe have just committed a crime which is the worst of all sins. They have denied God, their Creator. Let no others allow themselves to be dragged by tribal sentiments to avenge the dead in this way. Killing again will not bring your  loved ones back to you.”