"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Today, the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, and tomorrow, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows are special as we prepare for the new millennium and the Jubilee 2000 celebrations. Just as we must cleanse ourselves to receive Our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Holy Father has asked all Catholics, and non-Catholics as well, to make an examination of conscience and seek to forgive all those who have trespassed against us and ask forgiveness of those who we have trespassed against. It is most fitting that the past two Sundays the Liturgy of the Word centered around this very theme. The powerful words of Jesus in Matthew 18: 17-18 ring home once again reminding all those who would argue incessantly with the Church that the Magisterium has the final word, not the laity. Are you listening, Call To Action and We Are Church? "And if he refuse to hear them, appeal to the Church, but if he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican. Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in Heaven." Rather than being in schism and at odds with Rome, wouldn't it be wonderful if these dissidents took the Gospel to heart and realized what Christ commanded, that He gave charge to His Bishops who, as we saw yesterday in APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH, are the successors of the Apostles. Ergo, whatever they bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven and whatever they allow on earth shall be accepted in Heaven. This doesn't mean "anything goes" or "cafeteria Catholicism" but rather the decrees the Bishops make as a collective body with Rome's approval, inspired by the main author - the Holy Spirit. The abuses of many in interpreting what the Second Vatican Council determined is a good example of this. The problems, as we have documented many times in the DAILY CATHOLIC arise not from Vatican II itself, which was good and of God, but in the "spirit of Vatican II" in which those, not satisfied with the final results, decided to take it upon themselves to implement norms not in accordance with the Council Fathers. That is where the problems have surfaced over the past thirty some years. Now it's time to admit the mistakes, ask forgiveness of God and the Church; for the Merciful Savior and Rome are more than willing to forgive and forget.
But we can't forget the Apostle Saint Paul's charge to the Romans, "For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself; for if we live, we live to the Lord, or if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living" (Romans 14: 7-9). The previous Sunday Paul details what we must do to live and die in the Lord, bringing this into vivid focus in Romans 14: 8-10 which is echoed nearly two millenniums later by Pope John Paul II, the 264th successor of Paul's comrade in spiritual arms Saint Peter. "Owe no man anything except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law." This seems easy enough, but when one considers what is happening in the world today, it's not easy; in fact extremely difficult...unless you are divorced from humanity. This has been the case recently in the Sudan and East Timor. The world has seemingly turned its head from the atrocities going on, deciding to "sleep on it and we'll get back to you." Meanwhile tens of thousands are being slaughtered each day. The normal reaction from anyone is righteous indignation. Another normal reaction is revenge. Get those Muslims in Africa and Indonesia. Shoot 'em all down. But that's the human, gut response. That is not Christ's response, not the Christian response. Therefore, it cannot be ours. Yes, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, the spiritual leader of East Timor, and the Holy Father have condemned the violence and pleaded for self-defense, but that is not revenge, rather survival. Neither advocates violence, but rather peacekeepers to end the nightmare. The fact the UN and the United States have finally awakened to their responsibilities is an answer to our prayers, but the longer they have hesitated and the longer they deploy troops to prevent further bloodshed, the more blood will flow in the streets of Dili, Baucau and other places in both East and West Timor where many refugees have been taken to die in the same fashion as another horrendous terminal - Auschwitz.
The passage from Ezechiel the previous Sunday reminds us we cannot sit still and let someone else "do the dirty work" or "take the ball and run with it." We've got to get involved. Everyone of us. "But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself" (Ezechiel 33: 9). All Our Lord asks is that we do our best. Give it the ol' college try. Our duty here at the DAILY CATHOLIC is to do just that, tweak the consciences of those who have not followed Christ's mandates. If they heed Christ's words, all is forgiven. If not, they'll have hell to pay!
The reading from this past Sunday in Sirach 28: 1-3, reminds us that everything evens out in the end, "The vengeful will suffer the Lord's vengeance, for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven." A good example of this is expressed by Father Svetozar Kraljivec, OFM, the humble Bosnian priest from Medjugorje who experienced the horrors of war and sacrificed everything to be with the people - as so many Franciscans in that region have done over the past several centuries (which is at the core of the fued between the Diocesan bishops and the Order and the people's undying loyalty to the Friars). Fr. Svet condemned the acts as barbaric, but he wouldn't condemn the people - the Muslims, the Serbs. "They are God's children as well. In these times, it is probably the most difficult thing to do, but that's what Christ expects. To love our enemies. To retaliate with love confounds them and our only weapon must be prayer. The Rosary is so powerful. Prayer will be our ultimate victory. That is why the Gospa constantly reminds all to 'Pray! Pray! Pray!' There is a reason why so many have suffered martyrdom for Our Lord over 1900 years. The fields of blood have been and will be transformed into a field of flowers, bouquets to Heaven that have and will blossom into conversions the world over because of their ultimate sacrifice and our daily sacrifices. We can never forget those who died and why they died."
Jesus' words in this past Sunday's Gospel in Matthew 18: 21, when asked how many times we should forgive brings home the point that our forgiveness must be boundless and, if we don't forgive, there are dire consequences as Our Lord indicates in Matthew 18: 35, "So also My Heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not each forgive your brothers from your hearts.". No, it's not easy, but if we are truly members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church we have only one course to follow - forgiveness. All those who truly live and die with forgiveness in their hearts will reap the rewards of everlasting life. This is what has spurred millions of martyrs over the life of the Church. The historian Tertullian stated, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity," and this has been proven throughout the history of Holy Mother Church.
Just as countless Catholics were killed in Croatia and Bosnia in the early and mid nineties, so also today the countless Catholics in the Sudan and East Timor are our most recent martyrs and we must treat them the same way and remember the accounts of the early Christians who also gave their lives for Christ in the Collisseum and other blood fields of Rome, to the Crusaders who sacrificed themselves against the Saracens in the name of Jesus, to the martyrs of the Reformation such as Saint Thomas More and many others, to the martyrs of this century and the horrors of World War II like Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Edith Stein to name a few. Everyone of them asked forgiveness and, more importantly, forgave those who persecuted them and executed them, following the example of their Master Who, while dying on the sterile wooden cross on Calvary, put to shame by the Jews and the Romans who mocked Him, mustered within Himself the courage to pronounce from His heart what we must also echo, believe and practice from the heart what is documented in Luke 23: 34, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."