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More on forgiveness


More on forgiveness

I should have drawn a better distinction between those who memorialized the Columbine killers alongside their victims and the people who today blame Virginia Tech administrators and police for their failure to avert the latest massacre. I believe the former were indeed morally confused while the latter are merely confused.

I am a Catholic, and I am well aware that, as Ramesh writes, “The notion that we are called upon to forgive others, even those guilty of heinous acts, even the unrepentant, is well within the mainstream of Christian thought.” I have long been troubled by this notion, perhaps due to my having spent more than twenty years seeing countless evil acts go unpunished. My faith offers me the hope that while the wicked may escape their just deserts in this life, God’s justice awaits them in the next.

In a quest for authoritative guidance I consulted Richard P. McBrien’s “Catholicism,” a work of more than 1,200 pages. Even in a book of such considerable heft, only a single paragraph is devoted to forgiveness. It reads as follows:

    Like mercy and concern for the poor, the particular virtue of
    forgiveness is rooted in the fact that God has first forgiven us.
    “Forgive us our trespasses,” Jesus taught us to pray, “as we forgive
    those trespass against us.” Indeed, our sins will be forgiven only
    to the extent that we are prepared to forgive others. (Matthew 6:15;
    see also the parable of the unforgiving slave, Matthew 18:23-35).
    And there is no limit on the Christian’s call to forgive others.
    Peter asked Jesus how many times he would have to forgive a member
    of the Church who sinned against him: “As many as seven times?”
    Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven
    times” (Matthew 18:21-22).

This hardly cleared things up for me, especially when I compared the above passage from Matthew 18 with this one: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; /and if he repents/, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4, emphasis mine). I’m left to wonder, then, is forgiveness contingent on repentance?

Also, McBrien’s reference to the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) raises the question of just who may offer forgiveness to those who “trespass.” Are we called to forgive only those who trespass against us, or did Jesus ask us to forgive those who have trespassed against others? In the case of the Columbine killers, it offended my sense of
justice to see forgiveness so readily dispensed by people who weren’t harmed in the least in the slaughter and were thus in no position to offer it. If a parent chooses to forgive the man who has murdered his child, who am I to question it? But as a police officer, I think God
expects me to be angry at criminals, most especially those who commit murder, and to do my best to bring them to justice. I’ll leave the forgiving to others.


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