Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Forgiveness First

If this is an example of the kind of theological reflection we are to expect from Joxe Arregi now that he has left the Franciscan order -- though with his Franciscan spirituality intact as these words show -- I say the change was good for him, and for us!

by Joxe Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
October 21, 2010

A few days ago, a Madrid journalist asked a bishop from these parts: "Is it possible to forgive?" The bishop -- I don't know if he was thinking about and weighing the question or without thinking, as if nothing had happened -- replied: "Forgiveness first involves a dynamic that those who have inflicted the damage, repent. That they be aware of the harm they caused, that they have the ability to ask for forgiveness. But it must be a sincere desire to make reparations. Only then will those who have suffered be able to show the greatness of spirit to grant forgiveness."

These words shook me. I felt as if suddenly the gospel had gone blank, as if the world was adrift, without forgiveness, without revelation, without God. My God! A world without forgiveness, a merciless world, a world out of kilter! And I ran to the Holy Book to see if the most sacred words had disappeared, if the gospel was no more than a sad memory. But no, there were the stories and words that had turned the world upside down and, in turn, fill it with consolation. There were the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: "You have heard it said, 'An eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' But I tell you when someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well." There was the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6: "As we forgive those who trespass against us." There was the Master's answer in Matthew 18: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times do I have to forgive my brother when he offends me? Seven times?' Jesus replied: 'I say unto you not seven times, but seventy times seven.'" There was the unusual command of Jesus in Luke 6, without any concession or loophole, "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Treat others as you would have them treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them." And there was Jesus, at the end, asphyxiating on the Cross between two crucified men and saying: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." In those words, the world is reborn, it sustains itself through them, through them the darkness of the cross and chaos becomes light again. Let there be light! And there was light. And despite all the evils, all was good. I kissed the Book.

The bishop also tenderly and ceremoniously kisses the Gospel before explaining it to the faithful from his chair. But a few days ago -- it was the eve of his installation -- the bishop spoke to a reporter and a reporter asks insidious questions -- it's his job -- and the question about forgiveness was probably insidious, and perhaps seeking to delve into the wounds of the Basque people with their painful history, their critical present. I understand that the bishop has to calculate his response and, occasionally, talk more for parties than for people, and look to the political left and right before speaking. That's how it must be, but it's a shame, and I still do not understand the words he said, if that's how he said it.

Is it possible to forgive? Jesus did. He could, but is it only possible for us to forgive a posteriori and conditionally? Well, I don't know, but Jesus thought otherwise. And if there is forgiveness in the world like that of Jesus, it would have to be free and unconditional, as unlikely as that may seem to us. The conditions can facilitate forgiveness, and hopefully they will always occur! But would we leave this world adrift when the desirable conditions aren't there? Jesus didn't. Jesus created the conditions by forgiving first, and He calls us to do likewise. If Jesus, before granting forgiveness, had demanded that the soldiers and the chief priests and Pontius Pilate repent and be aware of the harm they had caused and be able to apologize and have a sincere desire to make reparations, if Jesus had set all these conditions before forgiving, I tell you: the black night of that Friday would have lasted until now, that Friday would not have been "Good" and we'd still be waiting for Easter -- the gospel rather than the tomb would had remained empty. But Jesus forgave first. "Forgive them for they know not what they do." He forgave, that is, He was able to look kindly upon his wrongdoers, i.e. He was able to put Himself in their place, i.e. He excused them, i.e. He rehabilitated them, i.e. He healed them, i.e. He humanized them. Forgiveness came first. And then all the wounds of Jesus were also healed, and Easter blossomed on the Cross. The man became God.

I realize that this is too much, for myself first. But what is the gospel without this excess? Why call ourselves Christians if not for that? And where will this world go if there is no forgiveness to heal it? Only the one who forgives can be healed, only the one who forgives can heal. And if you only forgive those who ask for forgiveness and "atone for their sins", what credit is that to you? Forgiving is not ignoring or spoiling, but trusting the other. Forgiving is not absolving the guilty, but seeing in the other the good within the depths of his evil. He who forgives does not humiliate the other, but puts himself in his place instead. As Confucius and Buddha and Mahavira did earlier, and as Rabbi Hillel and the Prophet Muhammad did later, Jesus said: "Treat others as you would want others to treat you if you were to find yourself in the same situation." And that is the magnanimity or greatness of mind: expanding one's own soul to the soul of another.

No doubt the one who has done harm should someday ask forgiveness, and only then will he be able to heal the wound that was inflicted on himself when he injured the other; now, the more easily one comes to apologize, like the centurion at the cross of Jesus, the more unconditionally forgiven one feels, like the centurion at the cross of Jesus. But is there any hope in this world, is there any hope for a different world, as long as the wounded demand repentance, apology and reparations from their respective offenders as a precondition for forgiveness? I'm not saying there should be no Law, and I dare not say that there should be no punishment in this world such as it is. Let it be, if it must be, but how sad I think it is that it has to be this way! The Gospel is not like that. God is not like that, much as we have distorted Him with our old patterns of blame and punishment and penitential rites to gain forgiveness. Jesus was not like that. And I think that the Gospel of forgiveness that restores and heals is the only alternative, and that all of us who are followers of Jesus are called to be sacrament of that gospel.

And I also believe that all things, from their depths, shout out the Gospel of forgiveness first. Even the humble Arroa Behea stream hidden among the bushes and alders that flows under here with barely a murmur. Even the shaggy, good-natured bobtail that comes and goes with a young child, taken in hand by his mother and grandmother. What about the wolf? Yes, even the wolf, like the one of Gubbio. Brother Francis lived for some time in that beautiful medieval town in Umbria, Italy, near Assisi. And the Fioretti say that there, with his gentleness and by calling it "brother", he tamed a hungry and fierce wolf that was wreaking havoc. He tamed it with his meekness, how else? And he made people in the region, also tamed, agree to feed the wolf that, without hunger, was like a peaceful and playful bobtail.

Are these words harsh? Are they an illusion? Maybe. But I think they're only reasonable. There will be no peace in this poor world without forgiveness first.

Arregi closes as usual with a poem for meditation, this one from Dom Pedro Casaldáliga.


Lleva el destino a cuestas, con el saco,
muerto el amor y la tristeza viva.
Le escuece el alma en el mirar opaco.
Es una soledad a la deriva.

Ha cruzado la Isla, el Araguaia,
la sociedad, el tiempo, el mal. Rehúye
la luz del sol y el sueño de la playa.
Huye de todos, de sí mismo huye,

condenado a vivir su vida muerta.
Si ha violado la ley, la paz presunta,
a él le hemos matado la paz cierta.

Quizás sea un Caín, pero es humano,
Y por él Dios, celoso, nos pregunta:
–Abel, Abel, ¿qué has hecho de tu hermano?

He wears fate on his back, like a coat;
love is dead and sadness lives.
His soul stings in the opaque look.
He is solitude adrift.

He has crossed the Island, the Araguaia,
society, time, evil. He shuns
sunlight and the dream of the beach.
He runs away from all, flees himself,

condemned to live his dead life.
If he has broken the law, the presumed peace,
we have killed the true peace within him.

Maybe he is a Cain, but he's human,
And about him, God zealously asks us:
"Abel, Abel, what have you done to your brother?"

1 comment:

  1. True. To forgive (to me) means to pray for the wellbeing, happiness and the ultimate fulfillment of my enemies hearts' desires. If I constantly fill my consciousness with these prayers all of the time, I become closer to the Teacher and to the Father. There is always someone to pray for. Enemies, friends, the earth, the animals, strangers on the street, presidents, paupers, etc. When I die, may my habit of prayer lead me to the light. While I live, may my prayers transform the earth and bring it closer to love and to light.