As so many of us do, I occasionally embark on an all-out clean-up campaign at my house. This year’s event took place this past week with a hired group of three excellent housecleaners. While they were doing their thing, I was trying to organize and simplify my life by eliminating the clutter that had built up in closets and drawers. Each time I do this, I get bogged down by my files: I lose myself in nostalgia when even 1975 can seem like ancient history. I shake my head or laugh at something I wrote back then, hoping that no one else has saved it!
And then my heart pounds and my mouth goes dry as I relive some sensitive conflict graphically recounted in the thrust & parry of exchanged letters.
You know the drill well, I’m sure.
On one of these assaults a few years ago, I found the deliberately saved letter of a man concerning the very hurtful, unchristian behavior of another in a very serious and consequential matter. The writer of the letter was deeply offended by the behavior in question, yet he was able to say, with unmistakable sincerity and not a hint of condescension, “I feel sorrow for the terrible thing he has done, because he has wounded himself more than anyone else, and it grieves me to see such needless, self-inflicted pain. I pray for him, that he’ll recover from this lapse and be his true self once more.”
I thought it was providential, that I should have come upon that letter in time to use it as a way of appreciating more deeply the gospel account proclaimed on this 5th Sunday of Easter. Jesus knows full well what Judas’s act of betrayal will cost him – his life. Despite that, we hear from him not a word of anger or vengeance or condemnation, but only love. This is a perfect example of Jesus showing us how to be human. Can we imagine a response more godly than this one – to love the one who is facilitating your execution?
Down the ages, fiction has celebrated such heights of unselfish, forgiving love. In that connection, I always think first of Billy Budd, unjustly condemned and asking God’s blessing on the ship captain who ordered his hanging. Real life can be every bit as noble and inspiring. In his book Days of Grace, that great African American, tennis world champion, loving husband and father, Arthur Ashe answered the question about how he felt toward the anonymous person who passed on to him the lethal AIDS virus in a blood transfusion. He expressed only sentiments of compassion and concern for the person, whoever he or she was, who caused his death.
No matter the crude, rude, vitriolic words we are daily hearing from the presidential election campaigns, it is not true to say that people really don’t act in such decent, heroic ways. They do. Many known and unknown heroes do. The Jesus who forgave Judas continues to forgive in the lives of such good people. If you look around again, you will see them. You may even find yourself among them.
We say so often and so glibly, “Forgive us, Father, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we gave to that challenge only half what we have given to “being good Catholics,” we’d be so much closer to the Creator’s will for us. The folk philosopher and wit, Garrison Keeler, says there’s no more chance of our becoming real Christians simply by going to church faithfully than of our becoming a car by sleeping in the garage. Now there’s something to think about.
With increasing age, I find myself leaning more & more toward the conviction that the ultimate test of our Christian spirituality is our willingness to forgive and to love those who have hurt us.
Let’s keep trying, especially in this time of Easter grace.