Forgive Offenses Willingly

I hope I’m not alone when I say that I really hate it when I have to put my faith into action in a way that is both difficult and is at the same time totally necessary. Throughout the summer we have been going through the Spiritual Works of Mercy and this week’s focus is on the need to Forgive Offenses Willingly. My plan was to look at just how hard it is to live out this particular call by our Lord, and also how this is what – according to Jesus – separates us from the rest of the world.

Well, yesterday I received notifications from my bank that both my email address and phone number had been changed. More important than those notifications is the fact that I changed neither of them. Our bank account was hacked. Fortunately, things were taken care of by an amazingly helpful banker at our local branch who stayed an hour after closing time to make sure that all was taken care of properly. She was the calming presence that I needed in a time when all I could think of was the many ways that the hackers could be destroying our financial lives.

Maybe it is not a coincidence that on Sunday evening my wife Ann and I participated in Labre 762. For those unfamiliar with Labre, it is the homeless ministry at Saint Ignatius that was begun almost 15 years ago by Jim Skerl ’74 as a way of helping our students to live out several of the Corporal Works of Mercy, most specifically the call to Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the Thirsty. Every Sunday evening, for the past 762 Sundays, vans laden with students, teachers, alumni, friends of the school, and a whole lot of food and drink travel the streets of Cleveland in search of those in need.

But more important than the food and drink are the friendships that are fostered, the conversations with those we serve and the service that they give to us by teaching us that material possessions are not nearly as important as we make them out to be. From being greeted by the overwhelming smile and heart-felt prayers of Ms. Love at our first stop to singing advertising jingles with Edward at his camp in the woods behind a cemetery (“Hot dogs, Armour hot dogs, what kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?”) to the community who lives under one of the West Side bridges who made sure that we packed bags of food and drink for the five people who didn’t come out to be with us, we met those for whom people mattered much more than things.

So when I received those notices from the bank and I sprang into action to make sure that our assets were secure, my heart was filled with both anger and a sense of violation; but it didn’t take long for me to stand back and think of our friends from Labre who have no bank accounts and credit cards and investments to worry about. And I thought of Peter, who lives alone except for his cats and who was totally beside himself when we arrived because someone had stolen his new kitten. My accounts are merely money, sterile and able to neither give nor receive love. Peter’s kitten was able to do both, and she was gone. Tears welled in Peter’s eyes and he wanted to harm the person who took his beloved feline friend. In that moment and later that night I prayed that Peter would come to be able to forgive the person who so cruelly violated his home and his life.

And now I have the opportunity to do myself what I prayed for Peter to do – forgive those who, without a care for my family, tried to take from me what was not theirs. It is not easy to Forgive Offenses Willingly, but ‘willingly’ is the only way that Jesus will accept from us. It is, maybe more than anything else, that which enables us to call ourselves followers of the Logos, the Incarnate Son of God.

So tonight I will pray not only for Peter, that he will be able to come to forgive the person who did him so much harm by stealing his kitten, but I will pray for those who tried to steal from me and my family. Whether they want to be or not, they are willingly forgiven, and I pray that I meet them as brothers in the Kingdom of Heaven, where money will have no meaning and – God willing – Peter will be reunited with his kitten.