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  • David Carlson

399 Obedience to the command to forgive is eucharistic: it leads to Holy Communion

Day 399: Monday April 19th 2021:

Obedience to the command to forgive is eucharistic: it leads, slowly and often with great difficulty, to Holy Communion.

A Reflection by Jim Fredericks

One day in October 2007, in Nickel Mines, PA, a young woman and her three small children gathered in the cemetery to bury her husband. Nickel Mines is in Lancaster County. It’s Amish County.

It was a lonely funeral. The man had shot himself. But then, a group of Amish people approached the grave site. They said some prayers and offered words of comfort to the widow and her children.

This was the second funeral in as many days for these Amish families. They had just buried five of their own children. The previous week, the widow’s husband had entered an Amish schoolhouse with a gun. He shot ten little girls, wounding five and killing five. When the authorities showed up, he turned his gun on himself.

The families of the dead and wounded had come to offer words of comfort to the widow of the man who had shot their children. They also had come to tell her that they had begun to forgive her husband for what he had done.

In the days after this funeral, some people were saying that the Amish had somehow “shrugged it off” and now were “getting on with their lives.”

This is nonsense. The Amish people were struggling to practice their Christian faith.

We are commanded to forgive. Obedience to this command takes us into the depths of our faith. Maybe I should say that obedience to this command throws us into the depths of our faith – for forgiving those who have trespassed against us can be terrifying to contemplate. We are not only commanded to forgive. We have also been given the grace to obey this commandment. With this grace comes the awe-full responsibility to forgive.

Last week, in the Gospel reading from John, the Risen Christ says to his disciples,

“Peace be with you.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,

and whose sins you retain are retained.”

In becoming witnesses to the Risen Christ in the world, we have been given the power to forgive those who sin against us.

And since we have been given the power to forgive, we have the responsibility to forgive. The responsibility to forgive begins at our Baptism. And every time we are obedient to the command to forgive, we are plunged into the waters of Baptism anew. This is the meaning of Easter.

Let me say it again: The Amish folk were not just “getting on with their lives.” The Amish were pursuing the difficult practice of Christian faith. We are commanded to forgive.

This story of obedience opens up the second reading for us.

My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.

I suspect that the sin in question here is the sin of despair. If obedience to the command to forgive is faith, then the refusal to forgive is despair. Do not confuse a righteous refusal to forgive with virtue. The refusal to forgive is the opposite of faith: it is despair.

But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.

In rising from the dead, the Risen Christ has become “expiation of our sins.” I suspect that herein lies the profound connection between forgiving sins and the resurrection of our flesh. The Riseen Christ is expiation not only for our sins, but “those of the whole world.” Remember what we say at mass,

“Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

In our Holy Communion with the Lamb of God, we become the one “who takes away the sins of the world.”

And this is how we come to know that Christ is rising in our own flesh.

The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments.

Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.

After the funeral of the five little girls who died, the Amish community established a fund to support the families touched by the violence. Then they established a fund to help support the widow of the man who committed this terrible sin and his three children.

The widow of the shooter has been going every week to the home of one of these girls. The girl cannot speak and still suffers seizures. This good woman washes the girl’s hair and reads to her. The widow reports that she thinks the girl knows who she is. I think the little girl has forgiven the shooter as well.

Obedience to the command to forgive is eucharistic: it leads, slowly and often with great difficulty, to Holy Communion.

Sometimes I think that the practice of the faith is never more difficult than it is in the commandment to forgive. But this is how Christ rises in our wounded flesh. Feeling forgiveness toward those who have wounded us does not come first. Obedience to the command to forgive comes first. And this is hard.

So I recommend that you dwell a while on the last verse of John’s letter and do not lose hope:

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.


Of The Empire By Mary Oliver We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. © 2008 by Mary Oliver From her 2008 collection, Red Bird, p. 46

Published by Beacon Press 2008


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