9-11 Reflection

Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

This was the beginning of today’s Gospel – the parable of the unforgiving servant – for liturgical Cycle A of the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Poignant in light of what we remember today.  This is a hard teaching.  Several weeks ago an acquaintance of my son Chris – they used to play competitive Frisbee on the same team at West Point – was killed by an IED in Afghanistan.  At age 25 he died leaving a young daughter poignantly named Liberty behind.  How do we forgive, especially when the pain and sadness of men and women taken before their time touches us personally?

If we boomers ask our parents “Do you remember where you were on December 7th, 1941?” most of that generation can wax eloquent.  I remember vividly on the morning of September 11, 2001 one of my colleagues appeared white-faced in my cubicle and said “Something’s happening.  They’ve got a TV at the other end of the office.”  Being 6’4” helped me gather some information from the news as I looked over the crowd hunkered around the breaking news cast.  I saw the smoking first tower, and had gathered a plane had crashed into it.  My thoughts that perhaps this was a tragic accident were dispelled in moments as I witnessed live the jet liner crashing into the second tower and exploding. Shock, awe, fear, and confusion.   We had someone in the office whose uncle worked at the Pentagon, and I remember her anxiety and ultimate relief three days later when she was finally able to get the news he was okay.  The story of the courage of the passengers on Flight 93 came out, and the feelings of confusion and sadness were replaced by pride and anger.  I put a political cartoon up outside my cubicle of the American Eagle, sitting on a stool grimly and determinedly sharpening his talons with a file.  In the ensuing weeks I was glued to “The O’Reilly Factor” every night, relishing the pieces on bunker busters and incendiary weapons that sucked all the oxygen out of caves.  I wanted every one of the towel-headed bastards to die, and preferably with the maximum amount of suffering.

The struggle of Good vs. Evil in “The Lord of the Rings” is a helpful paradigm.  The forces of Good are grim and resolute in their resistance to Evil, but they don’t rejoice in the destruction of lives of the bad guys.  Jesus says “I must be raised up, to draw all men to myself.”  He doesn’t qualify “all men” – even the murderous towel-headed bastards he wants to draw to himself, if they will come.

How to respond to this call in practical terms?  I can only suggest the following.  I was one angry puppy after losing my job in 2008.  I was in denial about being angry, but some caring fellow compatriots in job search led me to the truth.  It took a couple of years into my faith journey to add the persons I was angry at to my morning prayers, specifically a Marian prayer of intercession and protection.  It’s helped me.  My anger wasn’t hurting them, but it was hurting me.  And I’m actually doing something positive in regards to “forgive thine enemies” – not that in the great cosmic scheme of things those persons are enemies.  The real enemies are the principalities and powers St. Paul talks about.  And as for the towel-headed bastards, I haven’t started praying for them yet, but I’m getting closer to it.  Baby steps, baby steps…

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