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March 13, 2005

To Forgive As We Are Forgiven

by Thomas A. Droleskey


Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me: quia tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea. Emitte lucem tuam, et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduexerunt, et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for Thou art my God and my strength. O send out Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, even unto Thy tabernacles. (Psalm 42:1-2)

Passiontide has begun. Today is Passion Sunday, which is commemorated as its own liturgical feast in the calendar of Tradition. We are to intensify our meditation upon the events leading up to Our Lord's Passion and Death, calling to mind how our own sins caused the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man to suffer unspeakable horrors in His Sacred Humanity.

The Introit for Passion Sunday is Psalm 42, which is prayed by a priest at the foot of the steps of the altar at every Traditional Latin Mass except for Masses for the dead and the Masses offered during Passiontide. We want our cause to be distinguished from those who are unjust and deceitful. We want to rely upon the strength and the light given us by Our Lord to be led up the holy hill of Calvary on a daily basis so that we might more worthily Him in Holy Communion and bear more willingly the crosses we are asked to bear without complaint, indeed bearing them in imitation of Him and of His Most Blessed Mother, who suffered in total communion with Him during His Passion and Death. Just as Seputagesima Sunday ushered in a period of preparation for the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, so is it the case that Passion Sunday ushers in a final week of preparation for Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday. We should be earnest about intensifying our Lenten practices, especially by seeking out the Mercy of the Divine Redeemer in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance.

Although Mel Gibson's masterfully inspired The Passion of the Christ will be re-released on the Feast of the Seven Dolors of Our Lady this Friday, March 18, 2005 (the date upon which Terri Schindler-Schiavo's death sentence is scheduled, barring the miracle many millions of people around the world are praying for, to be carried out under the terms of an unjust and immoral law on the statute books in the State of Florida), we have to remember that no cinematic production can capture the full extent of the spiritual agony Our Lord experienced during His Passion and Death. He, the one mediator between His Co-Eternal Father and man, had to pay back in His Sacred Humanity the blood debt of our own sins to Himself in His Sacred Divinity as God. Our Lady, the Co-Redemptrix and the Mediatrix of all graces, suffered completely with the Word Who was made Flesh in her virginal and immaculate womb, having as a result of her Immaculate Conception a perfection communion of her Immaculate Heart with her Divine Son's Sacred Heart. Only a handful of genuine, certified mystics have been permitted by Our Lord and His Blessed Mother to even begin to penetrate the depth of this suffering. The rest of us have to pray to grasp at least some of the horrors of this suffering by using our puny, finite minds and by spending time before the Blessed Sacrament in fervent prayer and reading solid books that give us some small clues as to what our sins caused the Divine Redeemer and His Most Blessed Mother to suffer in our behalves.

Our Lord fulfilled the Father's will in order to save us from the guilt of our own sins and to make it possible for us to be the beneficiaries of the fruits of His Redemptive Act, administered to us by the working of the Holy Ghost in the sacraments and by means of actual grace. Although He suffered unjustly by repaying a debt that was not His own, He extended mercy to His executioners, namely, each one of us, as He hung on the gibbet known as the Holy Cross. It is this unmerited mercy that we hope and pray will be extended to us if we, having cooperated with the graces He won for us on Calvary, persevere until our dying breaths in states of sanctifying grace. We do not merit Heaven. We do not merit God's mercy and forgiveness, which are freely bestowed upon us in this life if we seek them out with a sincere and contrite heart in the hospital of Divine Mercy that is the confessional.

Forgiveness was one of the hallmarks of Our Lord's Public Ministry. The Pater Noster, which includes seven specific petitions, teaches us that we must forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven by the Divine Redeemer. Et dimmite nobis debitra nostra, sicut et nos dimmitimus debitoribus nostris. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Those words are exact and precise. We must forgive others with the same degree of depth and spontaneity that Our Lord forgives us when we make a good, humble and contrite confession of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance. There is nothing that anyone can do to us or say about us that is in the slightest bit the equal of what one of our least venial sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death. If He forgives us, who merit only condemnation and death because of our sins, so freely as the fruits of His Redemptive Act are applied to us who seek them out, then who are we to withhold, even for one moment, complete and total forgiveness to those who transgress against us?

We must forgive our family members when they misunderstand us. We must forgive complete strangers who assign to us the basest of motives when they write or speak about us or our work, understanding there is much merit to be earned if we patiently endure calumny and detraction in order to await the manifestation of the intentions of all hearts at the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead on the Last Day. So what if either a relative or a stranger attacks us unjustly and misunderstands us or our work? So what? Our focus at all times must be so entirely supernatural that we have the same spirit of ready forgiveness and an earnest recourse to fervent prayer whenever we have been done an injustice, content indeed to wait until the Last Day for the intentions of all hearts to be laid bare.

We must even forgive those in public life who are sworn enemies of the true Church, outside of which there is no salvation. We must forgive the enemies of Christ who are within His Mystical Body in the Church Militant on earth, including bad popes and bishops, especially men who like Saint Petersburg, Florida, Bishop Robert N. Lynch who distort and misrepresent Catholic moral teaching and who make war upon the Traditional Latin Mass, and priests and teachers and consecrated religious. We must not only forgive these people who we may never meet personally but we must pray for them. Fervently. Ceaselessly.

The practice of saying three Ave Marias each morning upon arising and each night upon retiring (adding "O Blessed Mother, help us to be like thee") is certainly one that we should rekindle as a means of making reparation for the harm to souls done by those in public life and in the Church who are promoting things contrary to the Deposit of Faith and to the patrimony of her authentic Tradition, to say nothing of a means to convert these people. Those of us who are totally consecrated to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart know that she will use the fruit of our prayers and merits as she sees fit for ourselves and those we pray for. As her consecrated slaves, we give her everything to be disposed of as she sees fit for the honor and glory of the Blessed Trinity and for the sanctification and salvation of human souls.

"You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathens do this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt. 5:43-48)

Our love for others must be an imitation of God's love for us, which is not a mere expression of sentimentality. God's love for us is an act of His Divine Will. God wills our good, the ultimate expression of which is the salvation of our immortal souls. We love no one authentically if we do or say anything, by omission or commission, which in anyway interferes with the salvation of his immortal soul. We must will, therefore, this good for all men and women in the world. We must pray for the conversion of everyone on this planet who is alive at present to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, doing so regardless of the degree of hostility they might have for us and/or for the Church at the moment we offer our prayers for them. We are in need of constant conversion. We are in need of prayers from others. We are in need of making reparation for our own many sins. We are in need of seeking forgiveness both from God in the Sacrament of Penance and from others. What a salutary thing it is, therefore, for us to put aside grudges and resentments and to offer forgiveness right readily, to quote Saint Thomas More, and to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that all people will come to be totally consecrated to her so that they will know the Divine Mercy that flows from her Son's Sacred Heart.

It may be necessary for us to remonstrate with others because of something they have said or done. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to admonish the sinner. When such a situation presents itself, we must offer a word of correction without the slightest trace of righteousness. However, we must understand that there is the possibility that our obligation to comply with the injunction to admonish a sinner carries with it the possibility that we will be misunderstood and/or rejected, resented and reviled. If such an admonishment goes badly, then all we can do is to pray, hoping that the one who has been admonished will respond to the promptings of grace to have a change of heart. We must be careful never to condemn a person as we condemn the sinful things a person does. Our Lord taught this when He forgave the woman caught in adultery:

"Then Jesus lifting up Himself, said to her: 'Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?' Who said: 'No man, Lord.' And Jesus said: 'Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.'" (Jn. 10-11)

Our Lord forgave the woman, understanding the weakness of fallen human nature. However, he did not reaffirm her in her sins. It is no act of "compassion" or "tolerance" to reaffirm someone in a life of unrepentant mortal sins. We cannot be a disciple of Our Lord and be indifferent to the effects of sin on the souls of ourselves or those who God's Providence places in our lives. It is a fundamental act of both charity and justice to lead such souls into the Church if they are outside of her sheepfold and to lead those who have strayed back into the confessional. If we understand our own need for mercy and forgiveness, then we will be better able to help others who do not at first glance recognize their own need for same to became mendicants in the Sacrament of Penance and to make a firm purpose of amendment to reform their lives.

Most of the disputes we encounter in life that result in the holding of grudges and the nurturing of resentments are pretty petty. Even if they are more significant and more frequent than we think beyond our capacity to forgive, we must remember the exchange between Saint Peter and Our Lord:

"Then Peter came unto Him and said: 'Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times.'

"Jesus saith to him: 'I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.'

" 'Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents. And as he had not wherewithal to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children all that he had, and payment to be made.

" 'But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt.

" 'But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: "Pay what thou owest." And his fellow servant falling down, besought him, saying: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt.

" 'Now his fellow servants seeing what was done were very much grieved, and they came and told their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him; and said to him: "Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Shouldst not thou then have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?" And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.

" 'So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.'" (Lk. 18:21-35)

These words are pretty plain. We must forgive everyone. We must seek forgiveness from those to whom we have done injustices. This does not mean that we have restore someone who has hurt us to an intimate friendship or that we cannot seek justice without malice or recrimination when a situation demands (such as those involving the restoration of right order in the Church by our holding ecclesiastical officials to account for their words and deeds that are contrary to the Deposit of Faith and to the good of souls). It does mean, however, that we must have hearts that are so closely bound to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus that we never surrender to the temptation to think that we are so important or that some hurt is so significant that we have license therefore to be exempt from the parable of Our Lord that Saint Luke recorded in his Gospel. And we must be ready to forgive others with the generosity of the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is not an option in the interior life of a Catholic. It is nothing other than a Divine command for us to obey lest we not be forgiven our own sins by God.

One of the concrete things we can do this Passiontide, therefore, is to offer a word or two of forgiveness to someone who has hurt us--and to seek such forgiveness out from others we may have hurt. A person who we offer forgiveness to might reject our offer and remain steadfast in a spirit of self-righteous resentment; a person from whom we seek forgiveness may refuse to give it to us. Nevertheless, we must make the effort, understanding once again that nothing is ever wasted with God. No prayer is ever wasted. No effort to offer forgiveness or to seek it is ever made in vain. For even if nothing is seen to result in human terms, we must, as noted above, trust that Our Lady will use what we give her in ways that might be made manifest to us only in eternity.

The Gospel for today's Mass reminds us that Our Lord proclaimed Himself in no uncertain terms to be God. "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I AM." The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb to redeem us on the wood of the Cross by paying back in His Sacred Humanity the blood debt of sin that we owed to Him in His Infinity as God. We owe it Him, therefore, to seek out His mercy with humility and to be administers of it to others without reservation and without counting the cost. If God in the Flesh could forgive His very executioners, who were the human instruments at one point in time by which all human sins took their toll upon His Body, then we can and must forgive all others.

May Our Lady, the Queen of Mercy, help us to have a blessed Passiontide so that we might be ready to enter into the Easter Triduum in a spirit of solemn remembrance of the events of her Divine Son's Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which are made present in an unbloody matter on altars of Sacrifice on every day but Good Friday.

An Afterword

The rally in support of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo was held in Pinellas Park, Florida, on Saturday, March 12, 2005. Numerous speakers, including this writer, spoke to a crowd of around 300 people. Some told of their personal contact with Mrs. Schiavo. Mr. Robert Schindler, Terri's father, read a statement of support from Mel Gibson.

One, Mrs. Mary Ann Kreitzer, the President of the Catholic Media Association, had personal experience in the case of Hugh Finn, the brain-damaged man who was starved and dehydrated to death in 1998 by his wife under the terms of an immoral law on the statute books in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Another speaker, Kim Adamson, who had been unable to speak following a serious stroke, spoke movingly about how she had heard the machinations that were being plotted against her in the immediate aftermath of her stroke.

Two diocesan priests, Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski and Father Raymond Vega, breaking ranks with Bishop Lynch's silence, spoke out as they have throughout the course of the needless battle to save Terri Schindler-Schiavo's life. The head of Human Life International, Father Thomas Eutenauer, and the director of national Stop Planned Parenthood (an affiliate of the American Life League), Jim Sedlak, addressed the crowd. Christopher Ferrara, however, summed up the whole matter at the beginning: Terri Schindler-Schiavo's life is in jeopardy precisely because of the false foundations of this nation. We are only witnessing the the logical degeneration of a world where the true Faith does not inform our popular culture and our laws. Several attorneys also addressed the crowd.

My own remarks centered on the reality of redemptive suffering and that Bishop Robert Lynch would be complicit in Terri's execution if, God forbid, her death sentence is carried out this week, reminding the crowd that no one in the Diocese of Saint Petersburg would know anything about Renato Cardinal Martino's intervention in Terri's behalf if they relied upon Bishop Lynch as their sole source of Catholic moral teaching.

Mrs. Eleanor Drechsel and Mrs. Jana Carpenter, whose husband, Dr. Jay Carpenter, a medical doctor, was also a speaker, spearheaded the rally and took turns introducing the speakers and offering a few remarks. A Pilgrim Statute of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to rally. Fathers Eutenauer and Vega took turns leading Our Lady's Most Holy Rosary before the speakers' program. People came to support Mrs. Schiavo from throughout the country and Canada.

Let us remember, therefore, to pray for the miracle that will be needed to save the life of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo this Passion Week. Although she has been betrayed by her husband, dealt a death sentence by a judge who is the personification of what happens when a country does not recognize the Social Reign of Christ the King and Mary our Queen, and treated with diffidence by a bishop who stubbornly refuses to admit his many errors, we know that Terri Schindler-Schiavo and those who are trying to save her life, staring with her parents and siblings, are helping Our Lord redeem the world by carrying their own crosses with love and by offering all to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They are bearing their own passion this week with dignity and grace, just as Our Lady did as she stood so valiantly by the foot of her Divine Son's Holy Cross. Let us continue to beseech Our Lady for the conversion of those trying to kill Terri Schindler-Schiavo under the terms of an unjust and immoral law on the statute books in the State of Florida.

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