Tag Archives: forgiveness

Loving enemies, My Lai, New Zealand

Love your enemies.
Jesus

A day after the killing of almost 50 in mosques in New Zealand by a white terrorist, fifty- one years after the massacre of almost 350 civilians in My Lai, South Vietnam, by US troops, today’s Gospel reading (Mathew 5: 43-48) ought to challenge us.

How can we live as people of peace if we do not love even our enemies, as God showers rain and love on all of us?

The perfection of God is in love – and so we can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, merciful as God is, if we too love our enemies and do good to them.

Perhaps the best commentary on this text comes from a poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist spiritual master and advocate for his people, Thich Nhat Hanh. The poem, “Condemnation,” was written before the My Lai massacre in 1968. The full text can be found here, but here are several verses which, in my mind, reflect the call of Jesus to love even those who hate us and do us harm. They are also a call to live that love in concrete.

Listen to this:
yesterday six Vietcong came through my village.
Because of this my village was bombed — completely destroyed.
Every soul was killed.

Here in the presence of the undisturbed stars,
in the invisible presence of all the people still alive on earth,
let me raise my voice to denounce this filthy war,
this murder of brothers by brothers!
I have question: Who pushed us into this killing of one another?
Whoever is listening, be my witness!
 I cannot accept this war.
 I never could, I never shall.
 I must say this a thousand times before I am killed.
 …
Men cannot be our enemies — even men called ‘Vietcong!’
If we kill men, what brothers will we have left?
With whom shall we live then?

The final words are at the heart of the love of enemies:
If we kill our sisters and brothers, with whom shall we live?

I wonder if we citizens of the United States must ponder these words of Jesus even more seriously. Have  we exported violence – not just by the killings in Viet Nam and other places throughout the world, not just by exporting arms to dictators in the Mid East and in the Americas, but by exporting hatred of the other, the stranger, the enemy?

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Sculpture at Coventry Cathedral

Saint Rita and the cycle of violence

saint ritaToday is the feast of Saint Rita of Cascia, a saint of impossible cases, like Saint Jude. I recall that devotion to her was strong in the Italian-American Catholic community of my youth.

But there is something about Saint Rita that I think is much more important for our world than her miracles or even the mark of a thorn on her forehead, recalling Christ’s crown of thorns.

Saint Rita was married to a man who did not share her piety. He was brash, a womanizer, and a brawler. Together they had two sons who shared their father’s character.

Rite persisted in prayer and her husband experienced a conversion, but shortly after he was killed by members of a rival family.

She forgave those who killed her husband, but her sons wanted to avenge his death. Saint Rita prayed that they would die rather than murder their adversaries. They finally ended up giving up their desire for revenge. But they died.

Rita was then free to pursue her earlier dream of being a nun and applied to the local Augustinian convent.

They rejected her, supposedly because she was not a virgin. But the real reason might have been that there were sisters in the convent who were members of the family that killed her husband. They were afraid of the consequences and the potential conflict.

Not one to be easily dissuaded, Rita started talking with members of her husband’s family as well as with the family of the man who had killed him. Her efforts resulted in an agreement between them to not pursue any violence or retribution.

That done, she was accepted into the convent.

I discovered this story when I went one Sunday to preside at a village church dedicated to Santa Rita a few days before her feast day. They were going to have a Mass and a celebration for that whole sector of the parish, in which there had been a death a few months ago as an act of retribution, not uncommon here in Honduras, where the “justice” system does not function and so people take the “law” in their own hands.

Saint Rita is one of those who broke the cycle of violence, seeking reconciliation. I pray that she may intercede here in Honduras, as well as in other prats of the world where revenge causes deaths.

I especially pray for two men killed a few days ago here in our parish – probably as acts of retribution.

 


Photo taken from this site.

Violence redeemed

I am often troubled by the violence around me in Honduras. Though it hasn’t touched me, it touches people I know and minister with.

Yesterday I went to a distant village for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. As is my custom, I try to visit the sick after the Celebration, bringing them Communion.

I went to visit the blind mother of one of the people involved in the local church community. His son, recently married, led me to her house.

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Seated just inside the door, I sat and greeted her. As is my custom I began to ask about her life, her health, and her family. The tears began to flow as she recalled a son who had been murdered about five years ago. The pain of such a loss still overwhelms her.

After a short prayer, she received communion and I blessed her.

But then the mystery of salvation became all too real.

Her grandson told me how about eight years ago, his brother was killed by someone in the community.  Yet his father and the family have forgiven him and the murderer still lives among them.

Though there was a sort of reconciliation between the father of the young man murdered with the murderer, the murderer still doesn’t acknowledge the greetings of the brother of the man he killed. But this man does not harbor revenge. In fact, he was going to visit the mother of the murderer and give her an injection – a medical treatment very common among the poor.

As we talked, it was clear that he and his family had forgiven the murderer because of their faith in a God who loves all and calls us to love our enemies.

Here is a case of violence redeemed by love. What a way to celebrate Sunday in Easter-time, when we celebrate the redemptive death and resurrection of God-made-flesh.

 


Photo of a sculpture of Kathe Kollwitz in Berlin, taken November 2016.

 

 

El Perdon

There’s a song of John McCutcheon, “El Perdon,” in his album “Untold,” which has touched me deeply ever since I first heard it a few years ago.

McCutcheon sings of a soldier sent to kill a priest in the San Juan de Dios hospital who tells them:

Mátame de frente, porque quiero verte, para darte perdon.

“Face me when you kill me, for I want to see you to give you my final perdon.”

Memorial to Padre Joan Alsina

Memorial to Padre Joan Alsina

I wondered whether this was a true story until I looked up Joan Alinsa who was killed on September 19, 1973 in Santiago, Chile. The Wikipedia article in Spanish is here.

The story is true.

Padre Joan was a Spaniard missionary and worker priest in Santiago, Chile.

He was arrested in the hospital and shot at the Bulnes bridge. According to the report of Nelson Bañados, the 18 year old soldier who killed him, he told them:

Por favor no me pongas la venda, mátame de frente porque quiero verte para darte el perdón“.

“Please don’t blindfold me, kill me face to face, because I want to see you to forgive you.”

Perhaps in a world where violence and revenge are all too common and people are killing others in so many ways, we need to recall the witness of Padre Joan Alinsa.

There is a very sad follow up to this story. Bañados confessed the killing to a priest and then let his role in the killing be known. He later committed suicide.

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Information on the photo:
«Memorial a Joan Alsina 03» de Ciberprofe – Trabajo propio. Disponible bajo la licencia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons – here