Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to Destroy Your Enemies

Dona nobis pacem.  Grant us peace.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A small town boy from middle America
enlisted in the Navy during World War II.
And though he’d never even been in a rowboat,
his gifts for leadership were soon recognized
and he found himself commanding an entire ship in the South Pacific.
When Japan’s surrender was announced,
he and his men were sent to pacify a few small islands
where some of the Japanese forces remained.
The Japanese expected the worst at the hands of the victors
and mustered as much courage as they could
while watching the Americans come in to shore.
How surprised they were when these same Americans
shook their hands, offered them food and clothing,
and treated them with the utmost respect.
Attributing this to the integrity of the young U.S. Naval commander,
the head of the Japanese forces,
as a gesture of gratitude and honor,
presented him with a samurai sword--
a treasured heirloom that had been in his family for many generations.
The American took the sword home as a souvenir--
one of the trophies which conquerors
tend to claim from those they’ve defeated.
But he was unable to forget the look in the Japanese officer’s eyes,
and promised himself that he’d return the sword some day.

Years passed, and the sailor made a few inquiries
about his Japanese counterpart--but to no avail.
It was decades later when his own son was studying in Japan
that he began to think again about handing back the antique sword.
It took several months and the help of a number of Japanese officials, 
but the now-elderly officer was located and the sword returned.
He received it as if a long-lost son, presumed to be dead,
had suddenly walked through the front door.

The two men then began a most unlikely correspondence,
writing to one another about their lives and their families,
about their memories of the past and their hopes for the future.
By this time, the retired U.S. commander was much too ill to travel,
but he dreamed of meeting the Japanese officer again, face-to-face.
And so, as a surprise, not long before he died,
his family arranged a visit from the man
to whom the samurai sword had been returned.
Thus these two men, who first met as avowed enemies
now embraced each other as the dearest of friends.  (cf. K. Nerburn)

How often must I forgive my brother?
The answer lies in how often
I want to be forgiven by my heavenly Father.

You see, God’s forgiveness does not mean
that my evil deeds are undone.
I did them, and the past cannot be changed.
God’s forgiveness does not mean that my sins weren’t so bad after all.
They were bad--God knows it, and I know it.
And God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that he’s willing
to cover up my wrongdoing and look the other way.
What good would that really do?
No--God’s forgiveness runs much, much deeper than any of these.
God’s forgiveness means that, in his eyes,
I am no longer seen as a sinner.
And God’s forgiveness means that, in the depths of my soul,
I am no longer guilty.
Because he is all-Good and all-Just,
God rejects sin and God condemns sin.
But because he is also Almighty and all-Merciful,
God is more powerful than sin
and God’s love has the ability to wipe it completely away.  (cf. R. Guardini)

One translation of the Lord’s Prayer reads,
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
It vividly calls to mind the parable of the two servants
which we hear this Sunday morning.
The challenge set before us, then, is to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Seventy-seven times may refer to the repetition required
for mending relationships after minor hurts and slights.
But when we’re dealing with deeper, more painful wounds,
seventy-seven times points to the fact that true reconciliation
calls for more than simply saying, “Apology accepted.”
As he hangs upon the cross, Jesus prays, Father, forgive them.
Christ’s prayer does not remove the nails which hold him fast,
but it does offer freedom to those who put them there.
We need to find within ourselves a love like God’s own
which may not undo or overlook the past,
but which alone has the power to eliminate
the blame and the bitterness, the disgrace and the shame.

Near the end of the Civil War,
Abraham Lincoln made a speech
in which he referred sympathetically to the rebels.
A woman in the crowd dressed him down
for speaking kindly of his enemies
when he ought to be thinking of destroying them.
“Why, madam,” President Lincoln replied,
“am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
Indeed, the greatest victory we can hope to achieve
over those who have hurt us
comes not from seeking vengeance,
but by seeking understanding;
not from brooding over injuries,
but by working for healing;
not from nursing our wrath and anger,
but by nurturing forgiveness in our hearts.

Ten years ago today,
acts of senseless violence left us all quite afraid.
Let us pray that the legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear,
but one of hope:
hope for a world made new;
a hope founded on the courage to forgive.

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