These past two days I’ve received a number of emails to the same general effect: “Why all the silliness and inanity, Fran?” Rather than answer them individually, I’ve decided to post on the subject here.
It strikes me as a fit subject for Walpurgisnacht.
A saying many Catholics will immediately recognize runs thus: “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.” It’s a byword of sorts among both clerics and lay communicants. We’re all flawed, all fallible, all susceptible to temptation. Most of us fall short of our ethical commitments at some point. It’s whether we recognize and recover from our missteps that matters most.
Some don’t. Some reject any standard that would circumscribe their self-indulgences. Some willfully refuse to evaluate their own conduct. Some of those, having been shown the error of their ways by others, refuse to repent and reform. Instead, they “double down.”
At some point, “doubling down” transforms what might otherwise have been a venial matter into a mortal one: one that imperils others quite as much as oneself.
What sort of future does such a person face? Is it likely to be one of tranquility and satisfaction with his lot? What sort of persons would willingly gather around him? Would those who gather at his grave – if any – be likely to deem his life “a life well lived?”
Don’t all answer at once, now.
When Jesus said:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. [Matthew 7:1-5]
...He was referring to the judgment of others as persons. Deeds may be judged; indeed, we could hardly function, individually or socially, were we unwilling to do so. But judgements of others as persons are not ours to make. They’re reserved to Him.
The implications of that stricture are far-reaching. They who offend us remain capable of repentance and reform, which is why those they’ve offended are expected to forgive them. Penalties there may be, but unending condemnation – theological condemnation – is forbidden to us. It’s the culmination of the sin of hatred, a capital sin about which we’ve been warned throughout the ages.
Hatred converts most readily to violence.
If you haven’t seen Viggo Mortensen’s marvelous star vehicle A History Of Violence, I urge you most imperatively to do so. Along with its immense cinematic impact, it provides two illustrations of the importance of forgiveness: one positive, one negative.
The negative one arises in the climactic scene. Eddie Cusack, a highly-placed Philadelphia gangster played by the great William Hurt, is unwilling to forgive his younger brother Joey, played by Mortensen, for a deed that impeded Eddie’s rise through the ranks of organized crime. He’s willing to kill Joey for having obstructed his path, though events develop contrarily.
The positive one is displayed in the final scene, when Joey’s wife, played by Maria Bello, regards him over their dinner table. He’s been good to her their whole lives together; early in the movie she calls him “the best man I’ve ever known,” and means it sincerely. Nor is her evaluation unique; everyone who knows him only as “Tom Stall” would concur. Whether she actually forgives him for the deception the events of the movie have revealed to their family is left unresolved...but this viewer, at least, got the sense that she would find a way to do so, as difficult as it might be.
Forgiveness and hatred are supremely powerful choices. What follows from them can mend or shatter: individuals, families, and nations. We don’t always make the right choice between them.
The United States of America in this year of Our Lord 2017 is seething with hatred. That hatred has already animated violence. More, it’s elicited a reciprocal hatred – and a reciprocal violence. If I haven’t conveyed to you, Gentle Reader, a sense for where those influences will lead us,. I’ve failed at my principal life mission and should probably renounce it forever.
Jesus forgave the men who crucified Him:
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. [Luke 23:33-34]
If He could forgive His own torturers and executioners, how much more imperative is it that we resolve to forgive those who have offended us?
I’m not suggesting that anyone should refrain from defending himself, his loved ones, or his rights. I’m not suggesting that anyone should reply meekly to a blow from another. Turning the other cheek is for times of general civility, when such an event arises from misunderstanding that temporarily eclipses the otherwise predominant spirit of good will among men. Perhaps the thing about Jesus’s preachments that most astounded the Jews of Judea was His refusal to lead them in rebellion against the Roman occupiers. Yet those who bothered to ponder the matter learned a great lesson: that the maintenance of a general peace is more important than the identity of whoever currently maintains it.
We Americans, who have known unbroken domestic peace since 1865, face a future of violence – a future in which all political questions are ultimately decided by the mailed fist – unless we can learn that lesson promptly and wholeheartedly.
May God bless and keep you all.