|Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty|
|Colonel Herbert Kappler|
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.
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?