“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.” – St. Padre Pio
Before we begin, I have a confession to make: despite the Church’s division on the spiritual precariousness of the book series, I have read Harry Potter. In the third installment of the series, the students at Hogwarts learned about the three “unforgivable curses.” The first curse forces the victim to do the will of whoever cast the curse. The second tortures the victim. The third kills him or her. Most in our society would agree that any of these actions are unforgivable.
When we hear of someone manipulating others, abusing them, or killing them, we are justifiably outraged. Of course, we should be outraged when anyone is mistreated—especially when the victim is too weak or vulnerable to defend him or herself. Our hearts are anguished as we cry out for justice, especially when we witness the raw grief of mothers and fathers whose children are victimized. After the initial grief subsides, we are often quick to wish the abuser every ill, death, and even the fires of hell.
A term I recently learned in school is known as “abjection.” It is when people project their negative feelings about themselves onto someone else. I believe that this is what our society does to those who commit “unforgivable” crimes. It makes us all feel a little better to separate ourselves from those “others” who commit unspeakable injustices—after all, we’re nothing like them, are we? It seems as though we are afraid to see the selfishness, perversion and apathy in our own hearts. We would rather imagine that the people who commit crimes aren’t people at all. In our arrogance we believe that our goodness is our own, not a gift from the Holy Spirit. We seem to assume that we would never intentionally hurt or manipulate others, because we’re good people. However, merely gazing at the Crucifix will test this assumption.
By our sins, we are all murderers. We have murdered our Creator, our King, our Father: the very Son of God. Not only was He innocent of all sin and crime, He is peace and justice and love incarnate. And not only did we kill Him, but we drew out His death to lingering sufferance as He endured scourges, spitting, beatings, and humiliation. When we choose to disobey God, we are no better than the Roman Soldiers who spat in the precious face of God. This reflection is not meant to make light of crimes against humanity, nor is it to burden others with “Catholic guilt.” It is intended to humanize the sinner, so that instead of wishing them hell, we may wish them conversion and repentance. We are forgiven, each one of us. Christ forgave us long ago. However, in order to truly appreciate and accept Christ’s miracle of mercy, we must understand the gravity of our own sins
It isn’t so much about what Jesus can forgive, but who He can forgive– which is everyone. This is evidenced in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He claimed to come to the sinner as a doctor comes for the sick person. This is also evidenced in His last sermon on the Cross as He cried “Father, forgive them!” It is evidenced in the way He spoke to known criminals, those with seedy pasts and those possessed by demons. Jesus is harsh with sin because He is just. However, He is always gentle and merciful toward the repentant sinner, and He is waiting to heap the balm of His forgiveness on even the most hardened sinner. How willing are we to do the same?
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