Most of the
world, most of the time, is hungry for justice. And most of the
world, most of the time, goes after it with a gun. That's how the
world works. And that's how individual people work usually
not with a gun, but with an angry heart. If people hurt us, we want
to hurt them back just as hard, or maybe a little harder, to teach
them a lesson. To even the score.
is hard. When we're hurt and angry, reconciliation feels wrong.
And yet God said to the Prophet Isaiah, "My thoughts are not
your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For
as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways, and my thoughts (higher) than your thoughts"
We call God
"holy" because He's different from us. That's what the
word "holy" means. It means different from. God's ways
are different from our ways. They're higher and better than our
ways, and when God calls you and me to holiness, He calls us to
be more like Him and less like the sins and instincts of this world.
The God who is all-just and all-powerful bases His relationship
with us sinners on forgiveness and mercy. And that's embodied in
His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God's forgiveness and mercy made
to reconcile us to His Father and to each other. If we call ourselves
His disciples, we share in that work. The paradox of God's plan
for the world is that we can really only achieve justice through
the practice of mercy. We need to forgive and seek forgiveness,
because mercy changes both the giver and the receiver. It creates
new possibilities and brings new life, which is why Scripture so
often likens mercy to water in a desert. It encourages conversion
and love, which breed acts of justice, which then builds peace.
So if we want justice for ourselves and others, we need to forgive.
If we put mercy first, justice always follows.
that's easy to say and hard to do even in the Church. Or
maybe especially in the Church. Catholics around the country have
had to face some terrible and ugly facts about some of the men who
served them as priests and bishops. And that's where all the piety
in the world about "reconciliation" begins to sound hollow.
How can we forgive people in positions of trust who betrayed that
trust? Why should we want to be reconciled to priests who abused
children, or bishops who seemed indifferent to the suffering of
their own people?
is that sin always requires punishment, and the clergy don't get
a free pass when it comes to the demands of justice civil
or divine. It's right to be upset about sexual misconduct in the
Church, and it's vital to do everything we can to prevent it in
the future. But unless we also make ourselves forgive, unless we
also temper our hearts with mercy, we infect ourselves with vengeance
and there's a reason Scripture says, "Vengeance is mine,
says the Lord." Vengeance is a cancer. It masquerades as justice,
and it poisons not just individual hearts but families, communities
and entire cultures. And it also perpetuates itself.
This is why
Pope John Paul II said after the terrible events of Sept. 11, "There
is no peace without forgiveness." Forgiveness renounces revenge
and responds with love even when we know the other person really
wanted to do us evil.
This is what
the Holy Father meant when he wrote that "human justice is
always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations
and egoism of individuals and groups," and therefore it must
be completed by the "forgiveness which heals and rebuilds troubled
human relations from their foundations."
This is what
John Paul meant when he said:
is not a proposal that can be immediately understood or easily accepted;
in many ways it is a paradoxical message. Forgiveness in fact always
involves an apparent short-term loss for a real long-term gain.
. . . (It) may seem like weakness, but it demands great spiritual
strength and moral courage, both in granting it and in accepting
it. (Forgiveness) may seem in some way to diminish us, but in fact
it leads us to a fuller and richer humanity, more radiant with the
splendor of the Creator."
like it or not, if Jesus forgave His betrayers and murderers, and
if we call ourselves His disciples, then how can we not forgive?
One of the
lessons in this terrible misconduct tragedy is that no renewal of
the Church is ever possible without it beginning first in your heart
and in mine. It begins in personal repentance, personal conversion
and personal renewal that lead each of us to become an agent of
conversion for others.
If our sins
divide us and cripple us and silence us, the devil wins. God is
inviting each of us today to be reconciled to Him and to each other
and in being reconciled, to become the leaven of His reconciliation
and peace to the world.