If ever there was a day that challenges our willingness to forgive, it is today. Probably every one of us can remember what we were doing when we heard the news or watched on the TV and saw the Twin Towers disintegrate and thousands of lives snuffed out by this well planned act of terror. We remember as well those who died at the Pentagon and in that farmer’s field in Pennsylvania.
It’s hard to imagine what the fathers and mothers, the husbands and wives, the children of all those who died that day endured then and even now. The fabric of their family lives was torn apart that day by that act of violence. No doubt they wanted revenge, they wanted to hurt those who hurt them. They wanted swift justice and had little room in their hearts for mercy or forgiveness.
Today’s gospel must be hard for these good people to swallow. “‘How often should I forgive, seven times?’‘Not seven times but seventy times seven.’” God’s forgiveness toward us is limitless and ours towards others should be the same. We can forgive those who apologize for the wrong they’ve done us and are willing to say they are sorry. How can we forgive those who gloat over their evil acts and have no intention of saying they are sorry?
But our first reading from the Sirach has sound advice for any person who just can’t let go of the hurt they’ve suffered and can’t forgive nor forget. We have to remember that forgiving does not mean forgetting. We can’t forget, we can’t act as if we were not wronged, we were not hurt. But as Sirach teaches,’ anger and wrath are abominations; they are a sickness of the soul and can sap the life out of a person. As someone observed,”The weight of unforgiven hurt bends and burdens us. We carry grudges like clinkers, burnt up and cold, we let past hurts and wrongs to fester and they sour our lives.
The great tragedy is that if we wish to exempt ourselves from the law of Jesus, the law of love and forgiveness; if we establish for ourselves a new reality; if vengeance and retribution are what we embrace as most true and reliable, then that is what we are left with. On this day of sad and painful memories we pray for all those who lost loved ones. May they come to know healing and peace and find it in their hearts to forgive, but may they never forget.