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Friday, September 30, 2016

Taking Jesus at His Word: Forgiveness

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Taking Jesus at His Word: Forgiveness

There was a school shooting on October 2, 2006. That alone, sadly, is no longer impossible to imagine; but what the public did find nearly impossible to imagine was the response of the victims’ families and community.

Because before they even grieved, they forgave.

The victims were all Amish girls between the ages of six and 13; their killer was a non-Amish man named Charlie Roberts. But the Amish community didn’t cast blame. No one pointed a finger, no one held a press conference with attorneys at their side. Instead, the community reached out to the killer’s family with grace and compassion.

The very afternoon of the shooting one of the girls’ grandfather expressed forgiveness toward the killer. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain. There were more Amish than non-Amish at Charlie Roberts’ funeral: "Several families,” writes author Donald Kraybill, “Amish families, who had buried their own daughters just the day before, were in attendance, and they hugged the widow and hugged other members of the killer's family."

And the world looked on in shock.
Forgive yourself, forgive others. Be grateful for all you are, all who have touched your life, and for God’s many blessings. Surrounding us all is a padding called forgiveness. Reach for it like a wish, then feel its power.
Carol Gordon Ekster
News outlet after news outlet rushed to account for this extraordinary behavior. Amish culture, they explained, adheres to the teachings of Jesus, who told his followers to forgive one another, to place the needs of others before themselves, and to rest in the knowledge that God is still in control and can bring good out of any situation. Love and compassion toward others are life’s theme. Vengeance and revenge are left to God.

For the Amish, it was simple. The Gospel says to forgive: they forgave. Every day they pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The thing is, we pray those same words, but most of us don’t live them out that completely in our lives. We say that we have to draw the line somewhere, that there are actions that simply cannot be forgiven.

Like the shooting of ten little girls?

In our Catholic tradition, there are people who take the Gospel as seriously as the Amish do, who live Jesus’ teachings every day. And that is so extraordinary that we call those people saints. But Jesus’ words aren’t just for the Amish, or the saints: they’re for us. We have the same expectation of forgiveness, and the same opportunity to follow the Gospel’s mandates. Forgiveness is not optional. Learning to forgive may take a lifetime, but it is an essential lesson.

Blessed Lord, as we remember this anniversary of the worst a human being can do to others, help us to learn from our Amish brothers and sisters, and truly forgive with all our hearts. Amen.

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