Sunday, September 11, 2011


Homily from the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty
Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish priest who worked at the Vatican during the Second World War.  He made it his mission to hide thousands of refugees in the Vatican and throughout the city of Rome during the Nazi occupation of Italy.  The local Gestapo chief, Colonel Herbert Kappler, painted a white line on the pavement that marked the boundary between the Vatican and Rome and ordered that if Monsignor O’Flaherty ever crossed that line and was captured that he would be tortured and executed.  However, the priest frequently snuck out into Rome in disguise to find refugees and help them find safety. Throughout the war, he saved the lives of over 6,500 American soldiers and Jews.

Colonel Herbert Kappler
When the war came to an end, Colonel Kappler was captured and sentenced to life in prison.  During this time Colonel Kappler had a frequent visitor: Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. For many months, the priest was the only visitor the Nazi ever had.  Eventually, Colonel Kappler’s heart would be penetrated by the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  And in 1959, Colonel Kappler was baptized and received into the Catholic Church by Monsignor O’Flaherty.

This famous and moving story is depicted in the movie “The Scarlet and the Black.”  Gregory Peck plays O’Flaherty and Christopher Plummer plays Kappler.

There was a man watching this movie once who, when he saw how it ended, how Kappler was forgiven and welcomed into the Church, hit the roof.  He was a veteran of the Second World War who saw the horrors and atrocities of the Nazi regime. He had decided long ago that under no circumstances would he ever forgive them. They were too evil, they had done too much harm. To forgive them would be wrong because it would not be fair.

He is right. Forgiveness is not fair.  Forgiveness is not something that can be earned or merited or deserved.  Forgiveness is a gift; a gift given by the one who is offended to the one who offends regardless if they deserve it or not.

God gives you and I the gift of forgiveness.  And thank God that He doesn’t give us what we deserve.  We offend Him constantly by our sins; so what do we deserve for that?  Walking into the confessional with the mentality that we deserve forgiveness is a truly bad idea.  We receive forgiveness not because we deserve it. We receive forgiveness because God is merciful and loving and He forgives.  It’s a pure gift He gives to you and I.

We struggle however to forgive others as we’ve been forgiven.  C.S. Lewis once said that “Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have someone to forgive.”  We don’t want to forgive because we’ve been terribly wounded, we’re angry, it doesn’t seem fair, we don’t think we should let the offender off the hook.  When we’re in pain, being told we need to forgive can even seem offensive.

However, forgiveness is, in fact, a necessity in the life of a Christian.  Not because it’s a lovely idea.  But because if we fail to forgive how our hearts have been wounded, we will allow a callous to grow around our heart that will close out peace, goodness and perhaps even God Himself.

We need to forgive for ourselves.  There’s an ancient Chinese proverb: “If you’re not willing to forgive, you’d better get ready to dig two graves.”  Ironically, in refusing to forgive others, we’re the ones who often wind up hurt.

Perhaps we’re reluctant to forgive because we have a false understanding of what forgiveness is.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  You’ve all heard the phrase “forgive and forget.”  It’s not from the Bible.  It’s from the novel “Don Quixote.”  And it’s nonsense.  You can’t forget past wounds. Our brains are not hard drives that can be erased.  Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting, but it does require letting go. It’s about putting the past where it belongs: behind us.  It’s about not looking back in bitterness but instead looking forward in faith.

Forgiveness is not being a punching bag.  Sometimes people cause great harm.  That doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of our forgiveness, it means they’re not worthy of our trust at the moment.  If someone commits a crime they can be forgive and go to jail.  Do you remember when Blessed Pope John Paul II was shot? And how he visited his would be assassin in jail?   The Pope forgave him. Then he left and let him serve his time in jail.

Forgiveness is not kissing and making up.  Sometimes people are dangerous or unrepentant.  And sometimes we need to forgive from a distance those who need to be kept at a distance.

Forgiveness is possible and it is necessary.  And forgiveness is not offered only to those who ask for it.  Forgiveness is offered to those who need it.  And sometimes we need to forgive even those who are unwilling to ask for it.

This past Friday night, Dateline NBC did a story about the attacks of 9/11.  And in one segment they were telling the story about United Airlines 93. That was the flight where the passengers had learned about the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and decided to fight back. And because of their heroism, United flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania rather than the White House.

Todd Beamer
Todd Beamer was one of the heroes on that flight. Todd was the one who said “Let’s roll” as they ran to take back control of the airplane.  However, before Todd Beamer said “Let’s roll” he prayed with the only person he could get on the phone, a customer service representative from GTE.  Together, Todd and the operator, prayed the prayer you and I will pray in a few moments, the “Our Father.” And they prayed the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

On Friday night, Todd’s widow Lisa, said that “in some way he was forgiving those people for what they were doing; the most horrible thing you could do to someone.”

He did so not because they deserved it.  They didn’t. Forgiveness is never something deserved.

He did so, not because he wanted to be a punching bag or wanted to kiss and make up.  He was anything but.

He did so, not because it was fair.

He did so because in the midst the terrorism, in the midst of “those people… doing the most horrible thing you could do to someone,” as he was about to lose his life, Todd Beamer would make Jesus Christ present in that very plane by making Christ’s mercy present.  Todd Beamer knew he would be forgiven his trespasses only to the extent he was willing to forgive those who trespassed against him, even his worst enemies.

That is tremendous forgiveness. That is the same forgiveness Christ offered from His Cross. As He was about to lose His life He prayed to His Father to forgive us.

So who do we need to forgive? What do we need to let go of? What do we need to be freed from? And where do we need to make Christ present in the world today?


  1. Hi Fr. Andrew
    I am so grateful I was able to attend Mass on Saturday evening. Our daughter was sick so Sam stayed home with her so Evan and I came together.
    Your homily was so powerful that as soon as I came home I talked with Sam about it.
    I knew I was missing other parts of the homily so I had to reach out to see if you posted them online... and YES you do. I am now officially "following" your every word! :)
    Thank you!~ Kristy Cirillo

  2. Fantastic homily. We went to a party Saturday evening and several of us spoke about your powerful words. Thank you , Father Andrew, this blog is great.

    Valerie and Jack Goodwin