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Seven Last Words: "Father, Forgive Them..."

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Seven Last Words: "Father, Forgive Them..."

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  Luke 23:34

We may have previously shared with you the words every Pauline religious sees daily surrounding the tabernacle in the community chapel. These words—Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here I want to enlighten. Be sorry for sin—were revealed to our founder, Blessed James Alberione, in what he called a “dream.”

If we think of the last of those words, “Be sorry for sin,” we find ourselves grappling with one of our least favorite topics. Not only are we uncomfortable with sin itself, but also with the idea of being sorry for it. To be truly sorry for sin would, after all, mean admitting we committed sin. And that would necessitate examining our conscience, which to tell the truth, we may not even be all that sure of having. We know that we are conscious, but is there really such a thing as a conscience?

A partial answer is suggested by the quote from Luke that we are considering here. In this line from Luke, Jesus is praying to God his Father to forgive his executioners because they do not know what they are doing. In other words, they have buried their conscience, the inner voice of good and evil, within their duty as law officers of Rome. We all admit that considering duty over heart can be a real dilemma for persons in law enforcement.

Looking now at ourselves we might notice a personal penchant for law enforcement. What do I mean? Well, unless we are stone deaf to our own conscience, we have probably found it sending out little warnings when we have become obsessed with a certain behavior of another. “Why does that one do that?” “What brought that on?” “I bet she means me when she says that.” “He should be ashamed of himself, his action is a scandal.” “I’ll never forgive them for the harm they did to my reputation.” And so on.

What do we see going on within our own heart? Aren’t we judging someone on their exterior actions or words? Actually, we are judging them on our perception of what may be their intentions. If the person we are judging was aware of our thoughts they might rightfully say, “Who appointed you God?”

Major embarrassment can be avoided, however, by following the example of Jesus’ dying words as Luke recorded them, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He didn’t say anything about what they should have known; Jesus tells the Father that these men don’t know what they are doing. And, really they didn’t know what they were doing. (Christian tradition does celebrate one soldier, Longinus, who realized what he had done after the fact and publically declared that Jesus was truly the Son of God.) The larger group of soldiers were simply doing their duty, totally ignorant of the wondrous drama of salvation they were participating in.

Think again of that moment. God’s salvation is playing out on that hill. The scene is terrible, violent, bloody, frightening, yet at the same time, glorious and grace-filled, the most beautiful moment in human history. It is our moment, too. We are called upon to relive it at every Eucharist celebration, but also at every moment that we pass judgment. Jesus’ merciful judgment must echo in our conscience whenever we face a moment of decision regarding another person’s intentions. Only God is in the know about anyone’s intentions. We can never be certain that our interpretation is accurate (and having tried to pin down our own intentions at times, we can’t even be sure of why we ourselves do certain things). So, we can do nothing more certain than to imitate the actions, not just of God, but of our better self, Jesus Christ. Our faith in him tells us that we are literally one with him through baptism. We have not only the duty to act as he did, but the power to do so. We are Christian; we are Christ. He acts within us and so it is our nature to forgive as generously and freely as Jesus did at that moment on Calvary, and always does with us whenever we sincerely ask.

Forgiveness is the divine prerogative we most hope in for ourselves, so let us practice it toward others with divine abandon.

This week we invite you to reflect on these Scripture passages:

  1. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God forgave you in Christ (Ephesians 4: 32).
  2. Do then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with true compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience; bear with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a grievance against someone else. Just as the Lord forgave you, you too should do the same. But over all these things put on love, which perfects and binds the whole  (Colossians 3:12-14).
  3. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged;
    Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned.
    Forgive, and you will be forgiven,
    Give, and it will be given to you.
    Good measure, pressed down, shaken together,
    Overflowing, they shall give into your bosom,
    For with the measure you measure
    it will be measured out to you in return (Luke 6:37-38).

by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, author of Blessed Are the Stressed

Suggestions for further reflection on forgiveness: For adults: Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach. For children: I Forgive You 

Image: Gerard David (c. 1460 – 13 August 1523)

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Comments

  • Dear Sisters, As Patricia Said Above,Money Could Not Buy The Lift I Get On Seeing Those Beautiful Smiling Faces,They Strengthen My Belief In God ,,So Please Pray That At Least Once In My Life That I Can Experience It Too,Pray For Me Please Sisters,Amen!!!It Can Only Be God Who Fills You All With Such Contentment And Happiness And Peace,Amen!!!
    3/6/2017 1:39:04 PM Reply
  • First, thank you Sister, for posting. I truly look forward to your email Second: I do not wish to cause problems but I often wonder about the role of Judas and the ministry of Jesus. It seems to me that, without Judas, Jesus would have been just an ordinary prophet at that time: Jesus would have lived, and died. Period. I know that many will find my comment disrespectful. That is not my intention. I merely propose a deeper investigation into the relationship of the role Judas had in the fulfillment of Jesus as the new Adam.
    3/5/2017 10:55:38 PM Reply
  • Thank you for reminding me of my (our) purpose in this world as difficult people and situations arise. The Perfect Divine Son of God experienced the ignorance of others, which resulted in their inability to see Him and believe in Him. So many today reject Him and His 'radical' teachings considering them outdated. They apparently think they know better. How little they (or us) really know. And yet He loved (loves) them. How often He loves me in spite of my 'ignorance' and shortcomings. I need to stop judging them as I prefer to have others stop judging me. I need to be willing to die to self (righteousness) and instead choose to love. I need His Love to help me with that.
    3/4/2017 12:21:18 PM Reply
  • Dear Sister, Thank you for this wonderful reflection on the last words of Christ on the Cross. These are very difficult words to grasp as our humanness wants to hate those who hurt and killed our Savior and yet Through scripture we are taught time and time again: To Forgive and To Love one another. I think your words clearly remind us and reiterate that we are really no one to judge and assume anything about anyone or there actions but in humility imitate our Merciful Jesus. Clearly if God can forgive what was done to His Son; Who are we?This is and will be my prayer each day during Lent especially to keep focused on Jesus and these words. Thank you.
    3/4/2017 11:19:56 AM Reply
  • Thank you for the beautiful and thought-provoking reflection, Sr. Lea . This week I will definitely meditate on the recommended Scripture passages. God bless you and all of our dear Daughters of St. Paul.
    3/4/2017 7:01:26 AM Reply
  • Sisters, I love to see your smiling faces in your pictures. It gives me hope in a very troubled world, to know that you are praying for us all as well as sharing your knowledge and understanding with us, your readers. Thank you! In your pictures, I see friends in Christ.
    3/4/2017 12:24:24 AM Reply

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