1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
February 14th marked the one-year anniversary of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen children and teachers were killed that day. Students who survived the shooting started the March for Our Lives movement in hopes that no other school would have to suffer such a tragedy again. Sadly, there has been no end in sight to the specter of mass shootings in our country since. It seems that just about every week we hear of another person who has chosen to act on his anger and grief by killing others.
As the father of a high school sophomore, I’m reminded of the dangers we all face every time I drop her off at school and have to be buzzed in by the secretary after she’s gotten a look at my face on the security camera. I’m reminded of it when the administration sends us emails about the latest steps they have taken to make sure the school is protected from a would-be shooter. Along with math, science and English, schools now have to teach students how to survive shootings.
It is easy to lose hope in the face of societal violence, which seems to only be getting worse.
Against this backdrop of fear and despair comes Jesus’ words in this Sunday’s readings. Followers of Jesus do not confront evil with more evil. Rather, we offer love for hate, forgiveness for offenses, and blessings for insults. We seek to understand rather than to judge. We work for reconciliation rather than scapegoating. We find solutions by uniting people rather than by dividing them. We desire justice rather than retribution.
How do we apply Jesus’ challenging words to a society that is too afraid of violence to let its guard down? By telling the stories of women and men who chose forgiveness over revenge and found peace and healing as a result.
Such a man was Fr. Pino Puglisi. For years, he preached against the violence of the Mafia. Eventually, they succeeded at gunning him down, but not without him assuring his assassin that he forgave him. That gesture of forgiveness won the conversion of the gunman and also mobilized Sicilians to greatly reduce the power of the Mafia.
In 1994, the African country of Rwanda was torn by ethnic violence that resulted in the death of over one million people. In her book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” Immaculee Ilibagiza told the story of how, through prayer, she was able to forgive those who slaughtered her entire family. Her courage inspired other Rwandans to choose forgiveness over vengeance, which has helped the country heal from this unspeakable atrocity.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, three teenagers shot Suliman Abdul-Mutakallim on his way home and left him on the sidewalk to die. At the sentencing of two of the killers, the victim’s mother, Rukiye, asked if she could hug them. She promised to visit them in prison. She was able to look past their terrible crime and see them as young men who needed love and tenderness. If she can forgive the men who killed her son, what is our excuse for not forgiving those who offend us?
There are people all around us who are frightened and hurting. Perhaps if we were quicker to show them mercy and understanding, they would be less likely to lash out. Who knows how many atrocities have been averted simply by someone taking the time to listen to a neighbor? Who knows how many crimes were not committed just because someone said a kind word to a troubled teenager? These are all small steps, but they are a start. And they can inspire others to do the same.
Besides, at this point, what do we have to lose?
Douglas Sousa, S.T.L.
We see violence and despair all around us.
We want to help but don’t know where to start.
Help us to take the words of your Son to heart.
Strengthen us to offer blessings when we are cursed.
Give us the humility to not strike back when we are wronged.
Remind us not to judge but to understand.
You have shown us such great mercy, Lord.
May we also show it to others,
and may our small acts of love
make a difference in this calloused world,
just as the sacrifice of your Son
brought us healing and peace.