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In today’s Gospel (Matt: 18-35) when Jesus is asked about how many times we are to forgive someone, he says: “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” To most of us this seems impossible to do, but to the Amish community, it is the only thing to do.

On October 2, 2006 a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A 32-year old gunman, Charles Roberts, took hostages and shot 8 young girls, killing 5 of them before committing suicide. 

He was a milk tanker driver who served several Amish farms in the area. He had 3 children and a wife. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow and parents. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms for as long as an hour, to comfort him. 

The killer’s widow, Marie Roberts, wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace and mercy. She wrote, “Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” 

Could any of us or our own faith community have done what the Amish community did? It is not possible without the outpouring and overflow of God’s grace in our hearts. It was possible for individuals and for the whole Amish community to do so. We need to dwell upon and pray to try and learn why it seems impossible for us to do so. 

There is another question a lot closer to our own homes: “What about the people that we have hurt?” What about the parent who was an alcoholic for years? They were so abusive to their children while drinking, shaming them, poisoning their minds, breaking their hearts and leaving them with many scars.

The parent then goes into AA and recovers. But the children are now grown. They are disgusted from years of abuse and want nothing to do with the parent. Yet, before he dies, the parent is desperate for forgiveness. The children are unwilling or unable to forgive. What is the parent or the recovered alcoholic to do? 

What about the people we’ve hurt? The people we’ve wounded who won’t forgive us? Or maybe they’re dead already? What can we do when we are in such a position ourselves? 

I believe there are two choices – we can turn upon ourselves, overburdened with guilt and destroy ourselves with one addiction after another. 

Or we can turn to Jesus when we have to face the person or the children who will not or cannot forgive us. What Jesus does is to take on the identity of the person or the child who has been hurt so badly. He steps into their shoes. Jesus comes over to our tear-filled eyes and our broken hearts. Jesus hugs us and kisses us and says, “ALL IS FORGIVEN.” 

WHEN PEOPLE WON’T FORGIVE US – JESUS WILL!!

How do I know this? I’ve read the Gospels many times, the same Good News Gospel that you have read. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one sheep. When he finds the one lost sheep, he caresses it and carries it on his shoulders. 

Jesus is like the Father who goes out on the road every day to finally greet the Prodigal Son and shower him with hugs and kisses. 

Jesus is the true, eternal friend and Savior, who cries out from his own cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful place for all of us – priest and people, priest himself as penitent – to encounter Jesus. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful place where Jesus comes to us and says, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven! On behalf of your father, your mother, your brothers, your sisters, your children and all those people who will not forgive you –  I FORGIVE YOU!” 

How have YOU handled forgiveness in your own life? 

As I was about to publish my new novel, THE GATHERING, I was told that Amazon Books required that I have a title for all of my 30 chapters. So in the final hours I had to scramble and come up with titles for each chapter. I wound up using “The Innocent One” in the title for 8 of the chapters, referring to Jesus, played by Manuel in the book. In Chapter 28 Manuel (Jesus), The Innocent One, forgives the Chief of Police, the District Attorney, and the Warden in moving ways for the great harm they have caused him. Please check it out and ENJOY!!

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