Can We Forgive Bin Laden? – Update

On September 11th, I had the day off. Ordinarily, I would have been in the city, but a doctor’s appointment kept me in Queens.

As the day wound on, I grew angry. I began to try to hunt down friends who I knew worked downtown. Noelle…check. Tina…check. Mike…check. Patrick….OK.

Then the first phone call arrived. “Mike, it’s Brett (my then priest-boss). We’re not sure but we think that Debbie Welsh was on one of those United flights that crashed.” Debbie was a parishioner who sang in our choir and had just conducted an evening for our young adult group on marriage with her husband, Patrick. They were wonderful and in love with each other after years of marriage. She had beaten skin cancer and had been a flight attendant for years, often bringing home extra airplane meals for the homeless in her Manhattan neighborhood. In short, Debbie was a great gal. Her smile beamed each week in the choir and her tall frame stood out and always made me smile right back at her.

But my smile turned to sadness that day. I hugged my then, fiancee when I saw her after school ended. Her classroom that overlooked downtown Manhattan from the edge of Queens had drawn their shades to block the fall of the towers from the eyes of little children.

We were all afraid and angry.

We went to support Patrick, Debbie’s husband, sometime in the next evening. It was hard to watch him mourn his young wife. They were a great couple and I enjoyed their company. They were hysterically funny and complimented each other well.

Then I got more news. My wife’s cousin Jeannine, a distant cousin, but nonetheless hers, was confirmed as one of those who died in the towers. Even later, I’d find that my Fordham classmate, a firefighter, Tom Cullen would meet the same fate, heroically dying while trying to save others. He always wanted to be a fireman. It was all I really knew about him, other than I thought he was a nice guy and had married my other classmate, Sue.

Three lives…now gone. Senseless. The wrath of a madman, or madmen, or an evil culture. Who knew just who they were?

The face of that madness, Osama bin Laden, went on the lam. And yesterday that ended. It ended in another senseless death, a death that did not have to happen. A death that results from the hatred that terrorists always breed. A death that was brought on by the nightmare of violence.

“Good riddance,” I thought at first. My second thought was an impression that President Obama had just captured not only America’s most hated enemy, but also re-election. I wondered how he was able to do this and was impressed that he was able to do this in his first administration when our last President could not accomplish this in his 8 years.

Being a pro-lifer, I’m ashamed to say that I was nearly, but not exactly, joyful at the sound of Bin Laden’s death. I looked to my wife and said, “I know it’s not right to celebrate this, to take pleasure in vengeance, but I have to say that I’m not going to lose too much sleep about this death tonight.” Perhaps it is the cost of war, innocents die and many others lose their innocence.

I guess I’m not exactly able to offer the forgiveness that I know God offers Bin Laden without reservation today, the same forgiveness that is offered to each one of us for our sins. I wonder if Bin Laden accepted that forgiveness? Part of me hopes that he once again, rejected God’s offer of peaceful reconciliation. Truly hell would gain a most welcome guest, a prince of darkness to rival the personification of evil itself.

For Millennials, September 11th was a seminal moment. Coupled with the madness of Columbine, the world suddenly became a very precarious place. Last night, many young people filled the streets and while all seems right with the world right now, we all fail to see that things are not any different. War still rages on many fronts and terrorists still plan attempts to bomb subways and buildings and not merely disturb our peace, but eradicate it.

This does not look one bit like the peaceful kingdom of God.

Americans, in general, like retribution. They often favor capital punishment and continue to welcome it in the joyful streets of our country this day.

But why would we not welcome peace and forgiveness? Wouldn’t that be a larger dagger thrust into the madness of terrorism? Ending the hate of sinful men can only begin when we kill hatred ourselves and not when hatred stops another human heartbeat, even in the name of justice.

Has terrorism won a further victory with our sure-to-be fleeting joy?

One person who lost their father in the 9-11 disaster summed it up pretty well. “It’s hard for me to rejoice when a human being is dead, I know it’s wrong to be excited and happy. But that’s how I feel.”

Indeed and who would blame him? Nobody will judge anyone for rejoicing over the next few days, but perhaps it’s time to judge ourselves?

Can we forgive Bin Laden? Can we pray for God to have mercy on his soul? Can we weep for the senseless death we find in any war? Include his name in the prayer of the faithful?

Answering no, only means that the enemy continues to win–even when it feels right to celebrate.

Perhaps God can forgive Bin Laden and in God’s perfect reconciliation we find our human imperfection reaching its limits? After all, we are not Jesus, who called from his cross for mercy, not for himself, but for those who nailed him to the wood.

But that merciful call goes out to us as well. It haunts us to pray for peace and not pain, reconciliation, but not revenge.

Can we forgive Osama Bin Laden?

I hope one day I can. And because I believe that Debbie, Tom and Jeannine are firmly united with God in eternal salvation, it helps me to also believe that their sainthood already gives them the perfection to do what I and probably many others find so difficult, nay, even repulsive or impossible.

Our resolve in defeating the enemy needs to grow much deeper and grow roots beyond retribution. Our final victory lies when the hatred of terrorism leads beyond the self-congratulations of patriotism. We will have defeated the spirit of terrorism when we begin to stop hating these enemies, even under the disguise of cheap justice.

We can rejoice only when peace reigns instead of vengeance.

So today let us pray for that peace. That God can turn the hearts of those who undoubtedly will seek retribution on the United States of America and their allies. Let us pray for non violent solutions to differences, to avoid war at all costs.

And may we forgive those who trespass against us, so that we may not be led into the temptation to celebrate vengeance.

And instead be delivered from all that is evil. Amen.

For more on the Catholic response to today’s news check out these links:

Deacon Greg has a great reflection on the troubling cheering in the streets.

But is the taking of another human life, no matter how despicable that life was, something to rejoice over? The vanquishing of Bin Laden calls for a more sober response. A quiet, grateful exhale, and two simple words: “Mission accomplished.” Then, shake the dust from our boots, and move on. The story isn’t over. There is still more work to do.

The reality remains that the death of Osama Bin Laden doesn’t end what he began. And displays like the one above only serve to make us seem as vengeful as the Afghans who giddily danced in the streets after the Twin Towers collapsed.

We’re better than that.

Br Dan Horan has much in the way of great material today:

A biblical view on Bin Laden’s death

And a reflection on celebrating over Bin Laden’s death.

A good money quote here:

“As a follower of Jesus Christ, I do not celebrate any human being’s violent death. My prayers go out to the entire world tonight. May the fear that has shaped our world in the last decade cease and may peace prevail. No more war. No more violence,” my Facebook status reads tonight.

And of course the Vatican has made a statement as well:

Osama Bin Laden – as everyone knows – has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose.

Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

What Ties You Down To Your Mat?

Reflection during the reconciliation service for the UB Charis Retreat this weekend:

Sometimes our friends think more of us than we think of ourselves.

Don’t they?

Take the friends of the paralyzed man. By being friends with someone who couldn’t walk, they are actually making a huge theological statement.

For you see, at the time of Jesus, people who were paralyzed were thought to be sinners. And their disfunction was God’s response to their sin. God’s punishment for being an evil person.

We still think like this sometimes today, don’t we?

Take my friends John and Kelly. For 8 months Kelly carried their first child in her womb only for her heart to stop beating just a few weeks before her due date. She delivered a dead baby. The pain of childbirth followed by the pain of mourning. John came to me afterwards and said: “I only have one question for God. What did I ever do to anyone to deserve going through this kind of pain?”

God’s gonna get you. Don’t we all say that sometimes?

So when the friends of the paralyzed man bring him to Jesus the mere fact that they are friends with him says that they don’t look on him the same way that others do. He’s not some dastardly sinner that we should just leave to die because God is punishing him. No. This is our friend. We know he has some redeeming values. They believe in him so much that they hoist him up to the roof and punch a hole into it and lower him down to Jesus. Imagine what an effort that must have been to do. Certainly they wouldn’t just do that for anybody.

When Jesus sees their faith, he understands what they are trying to say. “Hey Jesus, surely, this man isn’t a victim of some kind of God-induced karma. He may be paralyzed, but God didn’t do that, right?

The first thing that Jesus does in fact is her tenderly tells him “Child, your sins are forgiven.” And THAT sets the scribes off!

“Who is this that he forgives sins? And of someone who is obviously a HUGE sinner.”

So imagine the shock when Jesus says to them in essence, “Not only has God already forgiven this man. He didn’t give him this paralysis either. Just watch. Rise, pick up your mat and go home.”

Sometimes aren’t we paralyzed by our own sins? Don’t we have things that tie us down to our mats? Don’t we think that God couldn’t possibly forgive us for all the things that we do that are sinful?

I know I sometimes really get down on myself sometimes. And that’s why we have the sacrament of reconciliation. We come before God as sinful and instead of smiting us, God tenderly says “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Confession celebrates God’s mercy. We need our Catholic community to remind us that God is just like the friends of the paralyzed man. God thinks more of us, than we do of ourselves. There is always room for our redemption.

And more importantly, God doesn’t hold grudges. God completely forgives us our sins and there is no trace of our sins. God lets go of all that keeps us mired in guilt and yet we sometimes hold onto that, don’t we? Sin continues to paralyze our thinking into believing that we aren’t altogether healed by God’s mercy.

Do you want to really understand how God forgives us? Well you all were given a piece of paper tonight. I’ve already written my own sins down on this paper–notice I used both sides. And when I touch this piece of paper to our Candle’s flame–the light that represents Christ’s presence to us.

That’s how God forgives us. There is nothing left of our sin. Believe it. You are completely forgiven. Let us celebrate God’s mercy tonight. Rise, pick up your mat and dance for joy.

What Do We Do When We Sin?

The movie Get Low with Robert Duvall, one of my favorites, tells the story of Felix Bush, the town recluse. Felix’s sin, long in the past, caused a great deal of harm and instead of explaining and asking for forgiveness, he imposed a 40 year self-exile on himself. Now he’s looking to come clean and explain. Here’s a clip with thanks to my new favorite site Wingclips:

How about all of us? What do we do when we sin? Do we place ourselves in self exile, thinking that all we have done is unforgivable? I suppose it’s easy to say that we should seek forgiveness from others, but fear, often our greatest detractor from action, leads us to inertia. What will happen when we seek forgiveness from someone that we’ve wronged? What happens when others are angry at us for something horrible? What happens when we’re found out–that we have done something horrible, irreparable?

That’s where God comes in.

God is always there for us to let us know that we indeed can be redeemed, despite our sin, our evil behaviors. Think of some of your own dark tendencies, the failings that you might have hidden away. I often say that there are dark parts of my soul that I hope nobody ever finds out about, that I have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror–never mind someone else seeing me in that light.

But God already knows those parts of ourselves–and God knows the things that will trip us up, over and over throughout our lives.

And yet….

God loves us anyway. God choses love freely and without reservation and calls us to do the same to those that have wronged us.

Who is your Felix Bush? Who is a person in your life that you find it difficult to forgive? Who can you not see yourself forgiving?

Can you look at that person with God’s kind of love today—even if for just a minute and let go of resentment and division and open your heart to the possibility that God can forgive that person, even if right now, you cannot? Doing so may just allow God to touch your heart just a bit more, to take one more step in the path of healing and one more step away from withholding reconciliation.

My guess is that whoever did us the most harm is someone who is not a random stranger in most cases, but someone who violated our trust. Trusting again, is indeed difficult and not something that we give away without thought to our own self-protection (in many ways). Perhaps trusting in God’s redemption, not merely for those who have offended us, not merely for ourselves when we wrong someone else, but trusting that God’s redemption heals everything. Redemption makes all things new. Redemption makes our anger melt away and gives us freedom. No longer do our resentments make us slaves to fear, but God makes a new way, out of no way–somehow and someday.

Our prayer today is that we can see that somehow and someday before our somedays are over and that we can offer forgiveness in freedom to another and receive the same from those who we have wronged.

Forgiveness for Father

A hanky wave (as opposed to a hat tip) to Deacon Greg for posting this today. Get one yourself and then read this amazing story of reconciliation

We need an ambulance, Rob says into his cell phone.
One needs life support now.
Jared is still inside, slumped over the back of the driver’s seat. Rob reaches out to him and finds a pulse. He’s breathing, alive.
He kneels beside Matty and begins CPR.
Minutes earlier, Rob had been driving his friends around the lake, windows down, enjoying the midnight air. They had been promising young men, studying to become priests, passionate about their faith and the people they felt called to serve.
One reckless mistake destroyed nearly all of it.
But those of faith know that out of unthinkable sorrow, unimaginable love can grow.

Read the whole story from the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune

Mind you, while we see in Rob a priest who was offered forgiveness for a seriously stupid mistake what about all those priests who molested innocent children. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a single one offered forgiveness, and I know I’m not exactly ready for that.

God continues to knock on the doors of all of our hearts, doesn’t He?

Can God Forgive Us?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for forgiveness, not because I’m particularly troubled by my own failure at reconciliation (I am. But that’s another story.). Rather, I’ve been troubled by a number of students who seem to find forgiveness impossible. Some truly believe that the sins they have committed are unforgiveable. And because of that, they stay away from confession, from mass and even from prayer.

When we can’t even see ourselves as forgiveable, what chance might we have to be able to forgive others? I hasten to say that they answer may be none. We cannot give what we can’t receive, what we don’t have an experience of.

In the great prayer that Jesus taught us, we pray that our sins are erased just as we forgive the sins of others. That only seems fair. After all forgiveness is not cheap or facile.

Desmond Tutu reminds us that “Reconciliation is never easy. In fact, it cost God his only son.”

God so loved us that God couldn’t bear not to reconcile with us. It was there that God gave us the ultimate sign of His love. On the cross, Jesus forgives even those who drive the nails into his flesh. God forgives those who not only don’t accept God’s gift of his very self, but even those who kill Him. How much more can he forgive us?

Mark McGwire’s Penance

While he’s not exactly breaking a story, Mark McGwire, the baseball-bashing slugger who captivated Major League fans and became the first player to eclipse Roger Maris’ single season home run record announced the news that he was a cheater yesterday. I say that intentionally. While playing with the Oakland A’s and St Louis Cardinals, McGwire says that he took performance enhancing drugs. Some will say that baseball had no rules in place with regards to the substances he took at that juncture, but let’s face facts, McGwire got help and that smacks of insincerity at minimum.

A friend from my radio days spoke to me of an interview he once did with McGwire. McGwire had been an oft-plagued injured player at several points in his career with Oakland suffering from heel and foot injuries. In the interview McGwire mentioned (with a surly attitude, I might add) that he thought that he was a victim of heredity. His numbers were down, he said, because he had bad feet and that it took a long time to recover from those injuries. As someone who also has suffered with heel injuries, I can sympathize, but still, that’s not a good excuse for taking roids.

McGwire repeated that song yesterday. He said he felt he owed it to his teammates and to the fans to get back out on the field as fast as he could. He also mentioned that his teams were paying him a lot of money and he felt he owed it to the management to get back on the field. So he took the drugs to try to recover faster. I believe him, to a point but what McGwire doesn’t realize is that besides healing faster, the dog days of August often makes the bat a bit heavier because of the long grind of the season that takes its toll on everyone. With steroids, there are no dog days of summer.

Unfair advantage: McGwire.

Some will say that admitting his mistake is admirable. He certainly didn’t come completely clean when he testified in congress. Others will say that we all knew he was on the juice back when he was playing and we just didn’t want to know the truth. Others will claim that we just don’t care about drug use and we all just want to see good baseball. And even others will state my earlier claim: baseball had no rules on the juice then, so McGwire didn’t break any rules that were on the books.

And that is a bunch of horsefeathers. And a look to baseball’s past tells us why.

A consequence of any sports’ season is that players get hurt and that many of them play hurt. I once asked Phil Rizzuto, the hall of fame Shortstop and a character in the broadcast booth for years for the Yankees, if he ever played hurt. He said he played hurt almost every year because he was afraid someone else was ready to take his spot. “I threw some dirt on my leg and moved on. We all did that unless we thought we’d hurt the team.”

Rizzuto mentioned a second and more important reason why anybody who played in the non-steroid era should blanch at McGwire’s lame-excuses today. That reason is the following statement: “We wanted to make the post-season every year because we needed the money! None of us wanted to have to work in the offseason.”

And McGwire took drugs to keep a much larger paycheck. If he was hurt and felt that badly about it he could have done the admirable thing and simply gave the money back–or even donated it to charity–a opportunity that he still can do. I haven’t heard one of these roid users even suggest that they might donate or even return all, or even some, of the money they earned during the steroid era because they weren’t honest with the fans and have damaged the integrity of the game. McGwire is just another greedy fatcat, who longed to inflate his numbers to gain fame, prestige and of course money.

Why did McGwire come clean? Very simple, he fears that he has damaged his chances of making baseball’s hall of fame. He’s failed to garner even 25% of the votes of the writers over the last four years. He won’t have too many chances left and he needs to boost that total quickly. It’s the latest ploy, begging forgiveness in an insincere manner. Much like the rich man who didn’t let Lazarus eat scraps from his table, McGwire isn’t asking for forgiveness here. He is asking for pity. It’s all about McGwire and not about integrity.

Mr. McGwire, I loved seeing you play. How about you return some money to the Cardinals and A’s? How about even using your fame to help promote steroid awareness in high schools and colleges because God knows you’ve caused enough damage to younger athletes already? How about you ask Major League baseball to place an asterisk next to all of your records during the years that you took performance enhancers? How about admitting that you were greedy for fame, money and records that you did not rightfully earn?

If you did that, your request for forgiveness might come from a more sincere place. One of the first rules of going to confession is to admit your sins with honesty and humbleness and then to do some kind of penance. Perhaps that’s a lesson that Mr. McGwire needs to recall?

Blinded by a Suicide Bomber, Soldier Forgives

A huge h/t to Tony Rossi of The Christophers for this Veteran’s Day special.

Given short notice that he could go on leave from his tour in Iraq on April 2, 2005, Captain Scott Smiley decided to delay that leave by one month. On April 6, while on patrol with his platoon, a suicide bomber exploded a car bomb that sent shrapnel and debris into Captain Smiley’s eyes and brain permanently destroying his vision.

Captain Smiley was “crushed” by the news he would never see again. Despite coming from a Christian family, he admits, “I definitely questioned God, whether He really existed.” Also, hatred for the bomber led Captain Smiley into months of depression.
He was moved toward forgiveness by contemplating the Biblical mandate to “love your brother as yourself…Until I made that conscious effort to forgive him and realize he may have been lost, he may have been tricked or duped into doing what he did – that’s when I was able to move out of depression and begin to…really start taking a positive step forward.”

Scott Smiley had now climbed Mt. Rainer with the help of other soldiers and lives a full life claiming the scriptural platitude: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” More importantly, Smiley did not let hatred or anger define his future, he moved well beyond those emotions with the help of others in his recovery from depression.

See what happens when soldiers get the help they need?

Hear the entire interview here