In today’s Gospel, Jesus the Risen Christ offers, “Peace” to His agitated apostles who were filled with doubts about Him and about their lives. After proving to them beyond any doubt that He has truly risen from His death, by showing them the wounds of His crucifixion and eating a piece of grilled fish they had given Him, Jesus told them that they should preach and witness to the Truth of the need for repentance, so that sins can be forgiven.
In short, Jesus the Risen Christ is telling His apostles and us that if we wish to experience the grace of true and lasting “Peace” in our lives, then we must first open our hearts to experience “repentance” and thus, His forgiveness of our sins. We all know that while all of us wish to experience the true and lasting “Peace” that Jesus wants to give us, we do not seem to be able to “open our hearts” fully enough for Jesus, our Risen Lord to enter us and take root in our hearts and homes. This is because while many of us are blessed to have received the true “Peace” of Christ, many of us still find true repentance to be extremely complex.
There is a true story of Jacquie deKroon (which I will adapt here for our needs). She shares, “On January 25, 1987, I woke, completely dazed, with warm blood dripping from my face, I staggered and crawled towards my bedroom door, down the hall through the heat and flames and out the front door; escaping with only my life.
The intruders proceeded to douse the beds and floors with gasoline and set on fire our house, leaving us all for dead. While my father and I were able to escape the inferno, my mother was however, beaten to death by the intruders. The shocking truth is that these intruders were two friends of my brother and the third was my brother himself; my only sibling. Fourteen months later all were found guilty of the 1st degree murder and a life sentence.
I can never fully understand how and why circumstances worked together to produce such a tragedy. Perhaps, it as a combination of anger, jealousy, drugs, negative peer influences and sin that concocted this deadly potion in my brother and his companions. My mom’s brutal death left a deep void within me; an emptiness that I believe will never be filled and a pain that will never be soothed.
However, as I was being tormented by the meaninglessness of life I happen to read the words of the Gospel of St Matthew 6:14 that stung my heart. It says, “For if you forgive [those who] sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you?
I found it incredible to believe that these Words of the Gospel were meant for me and that I had to forgive the murderers, my brother. Didn’t God know what these murderers have done and the tragedy they have caused in my life? So, I rejected and refused to believe in the Word of God; I blocked out my mind from its Truth and numbed my heart from its stirrings. However, in spite of all my efforts to suppress God’s Word, I began to realise the irresistible and non-contestable Truth that if I wanted God to continue to forgive me, then I would first have to forgive those who have sinned against me.
That day; I somehow found the strength, in God, to walk into the prison to visit my brother and simply allowed the words of forgiveness to escape from my mouth; setting free my brother and me. I told him of my love for Jesus and thatI had the power to forgive because Christ has forgiven me and set me free of my sins.
Several years later, I was moved to realise that the other murderers too need to hear the powerful words of forgiveness. I’ve learned that God forgives instantly, but with me, He allows it to be a process. I know the process is working out when after forgiving my enemies, I no longer feel the rage, anger or bitterness within me, but instead the genuine sense of love for all of them. Such feelings can only come from Jesus.
My mother had two sapphire rings and since her death, both had been in my personal possession. I knew one had been meant for my brother. When I gave it to my brother, he wept uncontrollably and said, “I didn't know you cared about me this much? Tears rolled down my cheeks and I responded, “I still love you in spite of what you have done to mom, dad and me. In giving my brother the ring, I was reminded of how the Loving Father gave his prodigal son a family ring as a symbol of his unconditional love and forgiveness to him. We too, are not worthy to be reinstated to God’s family. But because of the power of Christ’s blood, shed on our behalf for our sin, Christ gives us the power to forgive – He gives us the power to change . . . And there is no greater love than this. (adapted from: “Serving Life in Christ – the Power of Forgiveness, Jacquie deKroon).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is good for us to take note that anger is a peculiar yet predictable emotion. It begins like a drop of water - an irritant; a frustration; nothing big, just an aggravation . . . someone then gets your parking place . . . a waitress is slow and you are in a hurry . . . the toast burns. All these little incidences are like drops of water . . . drip . . . drip . . . drip. Yet, if these seemingly innocent drops of anger continues to accumulate, before long, you would have a bucket full of anger . . . soon you would be walking around seeking revenge. And if these emotions are not checked, they will become blind bitterness and unharnessed hatred. You will then trust no one and bare our teeth at anyone who gets near. . . and you will soon become a walking time bomb that, given just the right tension and fear, would sooner or later explode. Do we want this to happen to us? (adapted from, Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him Savior)
We sometimes wrongly think that by not forgiving someone, we hold a power over someone. However, on the contrary, by choosing not to forgive, it is the person whom we have not forgiven who holds the power over us. When we do not forgive, the negative thoughts of the person hold us captive and imprison us. But, if we are able to offer true forgiveness, it will end a lifetime of pain. (Adapted, James Blanchard Cisneros, You Have Chosen to Remember: A Journey From Perception to Knowledge, Peace of Mind and Joy, pp. 36-37).
As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jesus, the Risen Christ wants you and I to be filled with the “Peace” that He wants to give us during this Easter season. However, unless, our hearts are open enough to receive them like Jacquie in our story and courageous enough to trust the God will heal us of our pains and free us from the bondage our anger and revenge, our lives will continue to be filled with anxieties, anger and antagonism.
We all know that if we do not forgive, the refusal of forgiveness can only divide relationships, destroy homes and families, and eventually draw us away from Jesus, our Risen Lord who wants to give us the gift of true and lasting “Peace” that leads to eternal life. Are our hearts ready to allow this Easter Peace to take root in our hearts? If so, then are we ready to forgive as God forgives us so unconditionally?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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