We pray it every day. “…Forgive us as we forgive those who…” But too often, the routinized words fall from my lips and disappear into the petty details of the day’s tasks. I know well the essential correlation between forgiveness and redemption in my own life and therefore I’ve written about its essential components. Like the truth that forgiving ourselves is the first step in spiritual growth. And that the act of forgiveness can function as a razors edge.
Until the last couple of weeks, however, I’d not considered the essential correlation of forgiveness, ignorance and redemption. I understand this now for two reasons. First, an excerpted article from Pope Benedict’s book: Jesus of Nazareth Part Two, Holy Week. Secondly, a meditation on forgiveness by Father Ken Geraci at St. Joseph Catholic Church last Divine Mercy Sunday afternoon.
Before proceeding to these two points however, a reminder that the soil of prayer is peace. Not ‘peace in the world’ but in each heart, beginning with my own. A peace which is, at times, elusive or absent. Although anxiety and worry are unwelcome, at times they overwhelm.
Saint Vincent de Paul, the last person anyone would ever suspect of being lazy, used to say: “The good that God does is done by God Himself, almost without our being aware of it. It is necessary that we be more inactive than active.”Searching for and Maintaining Peace
In his excellent book, Fr. Jacques Phillipe declares, “We believe, for example, that to win the spiritual battle we must vanquish all our faults, never succumb to temptation, have no more weaknesses or shortcomings. But on such a terrain we are sure to be vanquished! Because who among us can pretend never to fall?…The first goal of spiritual combat, that toward which our efforts must above all else be directed, is not to always obtain a victory (over our temptations, our weaknesses, etc.), rather it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat.”
Will I ever realize that it’s all God?
Each tiny or ginormous obstacle can be overcome only by surrendering: The Surrender Novena.
And so, when I read, then reread, Not Knowing What We Do-and the Cross, the power of Pope Benedict’s prose begged for far more than a read, but rather rumination. Ruminate: chewing, over and over.
The paradoxical association between knowledge and ignorance is real. I mean here that the more real knowledge we gain, the deeper we plunge into the vastness of our unknowing.
What Pope Benedict suggests here however, is something else. And that something is both consoling and disturbing at the same time: Our sin, at its foundation, is due to our ignorance. Even when we knowingly and intentionally sin, it is because we don’t know: Forgiveness ignorance and redemption.
That’s a wholly radical thing to say—isn’t it?
Pope Benedict writes, “You “denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer” to be granted to them. (3:14) You “killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” (3:15) After this painful reminder, which forms part of his Pentecost sermon and which cut his hearers to the heart (cf. 2:37), he continues: “Now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” (3:17)
Then quoting Paul, “He recalls that he himself “formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted” Jesus. Then he continues: “but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Tim 1:13) In view of his earlier self-assurance as a perfect disciple of the Law who knew and lived by the Scriptures, these are strong words; he who had studied under the best masters and who might reasonably have considered himself a real expert on the Scriptures, has to acknowledge, in retrospect, that he was ignorant. Yet his very ignorance is what saved him and made him fit for conversion and forgiveness.
This combination of expert knowledge and deep ignorance certainly causes us to ponder.”
Father Gerasy was speaking about forgiveness. About the many references in Proverbs to the prison that is unforgiveness. And Jesus’s own words that we will be forgiven… to the extent that we have forgiven others. Just as we pray in the “Our Father.”
Looking out at the packed church, he asked quietly, “Are there people you need to forgive? But have not?
“People in the Church?
“Even those very high up in the Church?”
After a few moments of silence, Father Gerasy said that one day, while hearing confession, he was struck dumb by a woman who came for confession because she could not forgive someone.
“Father,” the woman said, “I cannot forgive the man who murdered my daughter two years ago.”
Looking out at our rapt, attentive faces, Fr. Gersay said, “There was nothing I could say to this woman. What could anyone say to her?
“And so I prayed. ‘Tell me please what I should say to this person…And I heard in the interior of my heart, “This is the perfect prayer of forgiveness.”
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
You really are in love with what you have made! You, God, cannot suffer, yet
you wanted to make peace with us, and the sin we had
committed had to be punished. But we are not capable
of satisfying in any way for the great injustice done to
you, eternal Father. So in your love for us you found a
way. You clothed the Word in our flesh, and he at one
and the same time offered you honor and bore the
punishment in his own flesh, taken from Adam’s clay
that had sinned.
How then can we do anything but surrender our
selves? We see how he wrestled on the cross and let
himself be conquered even as he won. For death con
quered death even as death conquered life, and life
conquered and killed and destroyed death. They joust
ed, and death was completely defeated, and life rose
to life in us.
So let your heart hold back no longer. Let the city of
your soul surrender—for Christ has set fire everywhere,and there is nowhere you can turn, physically or spiri
tually, without encountering the fire of love. St. Catherine of Siena