All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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Learning to Really Forgive
 
By Father William H. Shannon

“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14).

Every day I say a prayer at least seven times which, if I truly thought about its full meaning, would scare me half to death. I say the Lord’s Prayer, in which I ask God to treat me the way I treat others. I suspect—though I don’t like to admit it—that I secretly hope that God will treat me much better than I treat others.

It’s not that I’m a nasty person; at least I don’t think I am. But there are times when I treat others rather shabbily, times when I find it hard to forgive. Oh, I can go through the external motions of being gingerly polite, but rancor may still be there in my heart. So let’s admit it: It takes courage to say the Lord’s Prayer.

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In this text from Matthew that we are reflecting on and praying about, Jesus is blunt: If you forgive, God will forgive you. If you don’t forgive, God won’t forgive you. That’s it. Forgive, or else.

What does Jesus mean by such strong, demanding words? First, let’s be clear about what he does not mean. He does not mean that our God is a God of retaliation, a God who tells us, “I’ll show you. If you don’t forgive I will get even with you. I won’t forgive you either.” The God Jesus reveals loves us and continues to love us, no matter what we do.

The point Jesus is making is much more subtle. He is telling us that God, much as God might want to do so, cannot forgive us if we do not forgive our sisters and brothers. He is telling us that forgiveness cannot be received by an unforgiving heart.

Receptive hearts

As I write this, I look out the window of my office where I see a cement sidewalk. I think to myself: How nice it would be if I could look out and, instead of seeing slabs of concrete, encounter a colorful group of lovely flowers growing in the middle of that space. I might even ask a friend who has a green thumb to plant such flowers there for me. But, alas, much as he might want to please me, it is impossible for my friend to do so. The concrete is too hard a material to receive the roots of the flowers.

Likewise, a hardened heart can be no more open to forgiveness than concrete is to flower seeds. We need to have our hardened hearts softened and opened by God’s grace so that God’s loving forgiveness can flow into us and through us to others.

Gift of Tears

Do you remember the story of the Israelites in the desert protesting to Moses that they have no water to drink? God ordered Moses to strike a huge rock with his staff and, behold, water gushed forth in abundance. Early Church writers often prayed for the gift of tears that would open their hearts and enable them to receive God’s loving forgiveness. Indeed, in an older Latin Missal there was a Mass for the gift of tears. (This Mass has been revived in the New Missal and is to be released soon.)

Though the new Missal is not yet approved for general use in the Church, it was available to the U.S. bishops when they met in June 2002 to discuss the clergy abuse crisis. Before the meeting ended they celebrated the Mass for the gift of tears. The opening prayer is strikingly beautiful and pertinent to the focus of their meeting:

Almighty and most gentle God,
who from a rock made flow
a fountain of living water
for your thirsting people,
draw now from the hardness
of our hearts
tears of sorrow
that we may weep
for our sins and,
by your continued mercy, brbe ready to accept their pardon…

The situation may well arise when this lovely prayer will prove to be helpful for any of us.

William H. Shannon is a priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York. He is professor emeritus in the religious studies department at Nazareth College and the founding president of the International Thomas Merton Society. His newest book is Here on the Way to There: A Catholic Perspective on Dying and What Follows (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: The First Will Be Last, the Last First

Questions for Reflection:

• What does it mean to have a heart that is hardened? What are the repercussions?

• Think of someone you have had a difficult time forgiving. What steps can you take to let go of your grievance?

FAMILY CORNER
Learning to Forgive
By Judith Dunlap

Teaching children to say the words “I forgive you” won’t change the way they feel about someone who has hurt them. Helping them deal with those feelings is an important step in the complicated process of learning to forgive. We can teach them this life lesson in sit-down, eye-to-eye conversations. But the way they will really learn the process is by watching our everyday actions.

I was reminded of this simple truth when I was driving my four-year-old granddaughter home a few weeks ago. When I asked Dana how things were going at preschool she told me how angry she was at her friend, Maggie, for some “mean thing” she had done to her. I told her I was surprised, because I knew that Maggie was her best friend. “She still is,” Dana explained. “Just because you’re mad at somebody doesn’t mean you don’t still love them. Sometimes,” she went on, “it just means you’re frustrated.”

I was amused by Dana’s precocious response, but proud of her too. My granddaughter was beginning the process of forgiving her friend by looking at her own reaction and feelings. I was even more proud of her parents whose words she was surely echoing. She may have been simply repeating what mom and dad told her when they heard about her preschool experience, but I am also certain she was using the words she heard when her parents had reached their own frustration level.

Parents are wise to use every teachable moment to verbalize a message, but the spoken lesson is lost if mom or dad isn’t willing to model it. Dana will likely continue to parrot her parents’ words for some time, but if she continues to receive their loving support and witness their fine example I have no doubt she will grow up to have a forgiving heart all on her own.

 

For Family Response:

After family members have a chance to think about a time they were forgiven, ask them to talk about the incident and how they felt.

Media Watch
Hotel Rwanda
By Frank Frost

It’s a pleasant surprise that a movie with the moral impact of Hotel Rwanda has achieved such critical acclaim.

For several months in 1994, the ruling Hutus of Rwanda went on an organized rampage, slaughtering some 800,000 men, women and children of the minority Tutsi tribe.

Based on a true story, the tragedy unfolds through the experience of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle). Manager of the capital Kigali’s best hotel, frequented by powerful locals and foreigners, he has become a master of “wine, cigars and style,” as he says. He has learned to offer the right gift to the right man in trade for favors. As the conflict unfolds, he does not want to be a hero. He only wants to protect his wife, who is Tutsi. When next-door neighbors are murdered, he tells his wife it is not his responsibility. His family is everything to him.

Gradually and reluctantly, Rusesabagina’s definition of family broadens, beginning when the Red Cross brings a busload of orphans to his hotel for shelter. He cannot turn them away and cannot later turn away others under siege. At first he expects this crisis to last for only a few days, finding it inconceivable that the UN will not intervene in the genocide. A hardened journalist, however, predicts that when he files his story, readers in the First World will say, “My God, how terrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.

The journalist is right. As Rwanda descends further into hell, Rusesabagina becomes the defender and advocate for the Tutsis who seek sanctuary in his hotel, numbering 1,200 by the end. The well-meaning commander of the UN peacekeeping force (Nick Nolte) is ordered not to intervene. “We are peacekeepers, not peacemakers,” he tells Rusesabagina.

He finally realizes they cannot look to outside authority for help. Negotiating feverishly for the lives of his refugees and ultimately for his own life, he uses every contact and favor he has built up as manager of the hotel. Ultimately he is forced to make choices about who will be among the limited number that UN peacekeepers can evacuate, and whether he will be one of them.

Hotel Rwanda is a gripping thriller. It captures both the horror of the widespread carnage and the overpowering fear of the individuals the audience comes to know and care about. Parents need to make note of the fact that the film is very graphic. But certainly it can be a powerful learning experience for teenagers because of its implicit moral messages.

One of those messages is the way significant moral decisions come in small choices. “I am my brother’s keeper” is another. This biblical mandate comes through both in a negative sense, through the calculated indifference of the outside world, and positively through the unlikely heroism of a hotel manager who only wanted to be good at his job.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Zita (c. 1218-1278)

If it’s true that good things come in small packages, then maybe unassuming, even obscure, souls can become great saints—like Zita of Lucca.

Born into a poor Italian family, Zita may well have had bold dreams and great expectations as she contemplated her future. But when she was 12, a simple path was decided for her: She was sent to work as a servant in the household of Pagano de Fatinelli, a wealthy textile manufacturer. Her responsibilities included tending to daily household duties and caring for her employer’s children. She believed that “a servant is not good if she is not industrious.”

But being a “servant girl” wasn’t enough for one with such a heart. Zita often arose in the middle of the night to pray and could be found at Mass each dawn before the start of her workday. She found ways to share her food with the poor and visit the sick and imprisoned. She became a familiar and beloved figure throughout the town.

Within the household, however, she was resented by her co-workers and dismissed as aloof and snobbish. But Zita won them over in time. They came to appreciate her holiness, her unpretentious ways and her generous spirit.

Throughout her 48 years of service, Zita saw each ordinary day as a blessing and found God in the most mundane moments and tedious tasks. When she died at age 60, the Fatinelli family and its servants—the entire city—mourned the loss of their trusted friend and adviser.

Zita became a beloved and popular saint in medieval Europe, one whose life spoke to working people in a personal way. Special devotion to her arose in England. In 1935 Pope Pius XI named her patron of domestic workers. Her feast day is April 27.

Susan Lucas

“You’ve reached the First Step Cleaning Company and the residence of Sisters Sandy and Lucia. Please leave a message…”

Susan Lucas was sure she had reached a wrong number when she dialed it five years ago. She was responding to an ad she’d seen in her community newspaper. But the ad only spoke of the need for part-time cleaners. What could that have to do with Catholic sisters? Quite a lot.

Several years before, Sisters Sandy Bates and Lucia Castellini, Ursulines of Brown County in southwest Ohio, created First Step Cleaning Company out of their home in nearby Milford. Their mission was to help low-income women become self-sufficient by training them in housecleaning skills and then finding customers who needed those skills.

“What they were offering was just what I wanted at that time,” Susan told Every Day Catholic. Already experienced from housekeeping jobs at a hotel and a hospital, she was doing some part-time cleaning on her own. First Step offered the right amount of additional hours she was seeking. “Sisters Sandy and Lucia were willing to work with me. They understood I already had some customers of my own.”

Today Susan is First Step’s longest-term employee. She is also responsible for training other employees seeking job skills and personal security. “I have high expectations as a supervisor,” said Susan, but that’s only because she wants the women under her supervision “to have a sense of success.”

“I would recommend First Step to anybody,” she said. “Sisters Sandy and Lucia are more than just your boss. They try to be your friends and support. They know most of us are struggling. We’re a family.”

 

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