By Father William H. Shannon
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father
will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive
your transgressions (Matthew 6:14).
Every day I say a prayer at least seven times which, if I truly thought
about its full meaning, would scare me half to death. I say the Lords Prayer,
in which I ask God to treat me the way I treat others. I suspectthough I dont
like to admit itthat I secretly hope that God will treat me much better than
I treat others.
Its not that Im a nasty person; at least I dont think
I am. But there are times when I treat others rather shabbily, times when I find it
hard to forgive. Oh, I can go through the external motions of being gingerly polite,
but rancor may still be there in my heart. So lets admit it: It takes courage
to say the Lords Prayer.
In this text from Matthew that we are reflecting on and praying about,
Jesus is blunt: If you forgive, God will forgive you. If you dont forgive, God
wont forgive you. Thats it. Forgive, or else.
What does Jesus mean by such strong, demanding words? First, lets
be clear about what he does not mean. He does not mean that our God is a God of retaliation,
a God who tells us, Ill show you. If you dont forgive I will get
even with you. I wont forgive you either. The God Jesus reveals loves us
and continues to love us, no matter what we do.
The point Jesus is making is much more subtle. He is telling us that
God, much as God might want to do so, cannot forgive us if we do not forgive our sisters
and brothers. He is telling us that forgiveness cannot be received by an unforgiving
As I write this, I look out the window of my office where I see a cement
sidewalk. I think to myself: How nice it would be if I could look out and, instead
of seeing slabs of concrete, encounter a colorful group of lovely flowers growing in
the middle of that space. I might even ask a friend who has a green thumb to plant
such flowers there for me. But, alas, much as he might want to please me, it is impossible
for my friend to do so. The concrete is too hard a material to receive the roots of
Likewise, a hardened heart can be no more open to forgiveness than concrete
is to flower seeds. We need to have our hardened hearts softened and opened by Gods
grace so that Gods loving forgiveness can flow into us and through us to others.
Gift of Tears
Do you remember the story of the Israelites in the desert protesting
to Moses that they have no water to drink? God ordered Moses to strike a huge rock
with his staff and, behold, water gushed forth in abundance. Early Church writers often
prayed for the gift of tears that would open their hearts and enable them to receive
Gods loving forgiveness. Indeed, in an older Latin Missal there was a Mass for
the gift of tears. (This Mass has been revived in the New Missal and is to be released
Though the new Missal is not yet approved for general use in the Church,
it was available to the U.S. bishops when they met in June 2002 to discuss the clergy
abuse crisis. Before the meeting ended they celebrated the Mass for the gift of tears.
The opening prayer is strikingly beautiful and pertinent to the focus of their meeting:
Almighty and most gentle God,
who from a rock made flow
a fountain of living water
for your thirsting people,
draw now from the hardness
of our hearts
tears of sorrow
that we may weep
for our sins and,
by your continued mercy, brbe ready to accept their pardon
The situation may well arise when this lovely prayer will prove to be
helpful for any of us.
Next: The First Will Be Last, the Last First
What does it mean to have a heart that is hardened? What
are the repercussions?
Think of someone you have had a difficult time forgiving.
What steps can you take to let go of your grievance?
Learning to Forgive
By Judith Dunlap
Teaching children to say the words I forgive you wont
change the way they feel about someone who has hurt them. Helping them deal with those
feelings is an important step in the complicated process of learning to forgive. We
can teach them this life lesson in sit-down, eye-to-eye conversations. But the way
they will really learn the process is by watching our everyday actions.
I was reminded of this simple truth when I was driving my four-year-old
granddaughter home a few weeks ago. When I asked Dana how things were going at preschool
she told me how angry she was at her friend, Maggie, for some mean thing she
had done to her. I told her I was surprised, because I knew that Maggie was her best
friend. She still is, Dana explained. Just because youre mad
at somebody doesnt mean you dont still love them. Sometimes, she
went on, it just means youre frustrated.
I was amused by Danas precocious response, but proud of her too.
My granddaughter was beginning the process of forgiving her friend by looking at her
own reaction and feelings. I was even more proud of her parents whose words she was
surely echoing. She may have been simply repeating what mom and dad told her when they
heard about her preschool experience, but I am also certain she was using the words
she heard when her parents had reached their own frustration level.
Parents are wise to use every teachable moment to verbalize a message,
but the spoken lesson is lost if mom or dad isnt willing to model it. Dana will
likely continue to parrot her parents words for some time, but if she continues
to receive their loving support and witness their fine example I have no doubt she
will grow up to have a forgiving heart all on her own.
After family members have a chance to think about a time they were
forgiven, ask them to talk about the incident and how they felt.
By Frank Frost
Its a pleasant surprise that a movie with the moral impact of Hotel Rwanda has
achieved such critical acclaim.
For several months in 1994, the ruling Hutus of Rwanda went on an organized rampage,
slaughtering some 800,000 men, women and children of the minority Tutsi tribe.
Based on a true story, the tragedy unfolds through the experience of Paul Rusesabagina
(Don Cheadle). Manager of the capital Kigalis best hotel, frequented by powerful
locals and foreigners, he has become a master of wine, cigars and style, as
he says. He has learned to offer the right gift to the right man in trade for favors.
As the conflict unfolds, he does not want to be a hero. He only wants to protect his
wife, who is Tutsi. When next-door neighbors are murdered, he tells his wife it is
not his responsibility. His family is everything to him.
Gradually and reluctantly, Rusesabaginas definition of family broadens, beginning
when the Red Cross brings a busload of orphans to his hotel for shelter. He cannot
turn them away and cannot later turn away others under siege. At first he expects this
crisis to last for only a few days, finding it inconceivable that the UN will not intervene
in the genocide. A hardened journalist, however, predicts that when he files his story,
readers in the First World will say, My God, how terrible, and then go
on eating their dinners.
The journalist is right. As Rwanda descends further into hell, Rusesabagina becomes
the defender and advocate for the Tutsis who seek sanctuary in his hotel, numbering
1,200 by the end. The well-meaning commander of the UN peacekeeping force (Nick Nolte)
is ordered not to intervene. We are peacekeepers, not peacemakers, he tells
He finally realizes they cannot look to outside authority for help. Negotiating feverishly
for the lives of his refugees and ultimately for his own life, he uses every contact
and favor he has built up as manager of the hotel. Ultimately he is forced to make
choices about who will be among the limited number that UN peacekeepers can evacuate,
and whether he will be one of them.
Hotel Rwanda is a gripping thriller. It captures both the horror of the widespread
carnage and the overpowering fear of the individuals the audience comes to know and
care about. Parents need to make note of the fact that the film is very graphic. But
certainly it can be a powerful learning experience for teenagers because of its implicit
One of those messages is the way significant moral decisions come in
small choices. I am my brothers keeper is another. This biblical
mandate comes through both in a negative sense, through the calculated indifference
of the outside world, and positively through the unlikely heroism of a hotel manager
who only wanted to be good at his job.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Zita (c. 1218-1278)
If its true that good things come in small packages, then maybe
unassuming, even obscure, souls can become great saintslike Zita of Lucca.
Born into a poor Italian family, Zita may well have had bold dreams and
great expectations as she contemplated her future. But when she was 12, a simple path
was decided for her: She was sent to work as a servant in the household of Pagano de
Fatinelli, a wealthy textile manufacturer. Her responsibilities included tending to
daily household duties and caring for her employers children. She believed that a
servant is not good if she is not industrious.
But being a servant girl wasnt enough for one with
such a heart. Zita often arose in the middle of the night to pray and could be found
at Mass each dawn before the start of her workday. She found ways to share her food
with the poor and visit the sick and imprisoned. She became a familiar and beloved
figure throughout the town.
Within the household, however, she was resented by her co-workers and
dismissed as aloof and snobbish. But Zita won them over in time. They came to appreciate
her holiness, her unpretentious ways and her generous spirit.
Throughout her 48 years of service, Zita saw each ordinary day as a blessing
and found God in the most mundane moments and tedious tasks. When she died at age 60,
the Fatinelli family and its servantsthe entire citymourned the loss of
their trusted friend and adviser.
Zita became a beloved and popular saint in medieval Europe, one whose
life spoke to working people in a personal way. Special devotion to her arose in England.
In 1935 Pope Pius XI named her patron of domestic workers. Her feast day is April 27.
Youve reached the First Step Cleaning Company and the residence
of Sisters Sandy and Lucia. Please leave a message
Susan Lucas was sure she had reached a wrong number when she dialed it
five years ago. She was responding to an ad shed seen in her community newspaper.
But the ad only spoke of the need for part-time cleaners. What could that have to do
with Catholic sisters? Quite a lot.
Several years before, Sisters Sandy Bates and Lucia Castellini, Ursulines
of Brown County in southwest Ohio, created First Step Cleaning Company out of their
home in nearby Milford. Their mission was to help low-income women become self-sufficient
by training them in housecleaning skills and then finding customers who needed those
What they were offering was just what I wanted at that time, Susan
told Every Day Catholic. Already experienced from housekeeping jobs at a hotel
and a hospital, she was doing some part-time cleaning on her own. First Step offered
the right amount of additional hours she was seeking. Sisters Sandy and Lucia
were willing to work with me. They understood I already had some customers of my own.
Today Susan is First Steps longest-term employee. She is also responsible
for training other employees seeking job skills and personal security. I have
high expectations as a supervisor, said Susan, but thats only because she
wants the women under her supervision to have a sense of success.
I would recommend First Step to anybody, she said. Sisters
Sandy and Lucia are more than just your boss. They try to be your friends and support.
They know most of us are struggling. Were a family.