A Word from Mr. Nunan
Choosing to Forgive
Earlier this year, one of our families gave me the powerful book, Why Forgive? It is a collection of stories of heroic, extraordinary forgiveness written by Johann Cristoph Arnold. It includes an amazing foreword by Officer Steven McDonald of the NYPD, who died this past fall, decades after forgiving the young man who shot him, resulting in Officer McDonald being paralyzed for the rest of his life. I was reminded of this book today.
During Holy Week, we read the gospel accounts of the Passion—of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We hear the haunting, challenging, and unfathomable words of Jesus on the Cross: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)
This morning, as we celebrated the memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Martyr, we heard in the Acts of the Apostles the story of the Church’s first martyr—Stephen. As he was being stoned to death, much like Jesus when he was nailed to the Cross, Stephen proclaims to his torturers: Lord, do not hold this sin against them. (Acts 7:51)
We also mark the day in history (May 2, 1536) when Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, was arrested for treason and adultery. History records for us that Anne and Henry were first happy together, that Anne bore Henry a daughter, and that in striving for the son Henry so desperately coveted, Anne suffered several miscarriages.
I mention this because we have the last letter that Anne wrote to Henry, only days before her death, from prison: Your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant [...] never a Prince had a Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn [...] But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgment-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgment, I doubt not, (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.
We often hear that Scripture is not relevant to us, and even that history is not important to us. We know that this is not the case.
As we listen to Anne’s words of forgiveness (…then I desire of God that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies…), and as we recall with Anne that one day we will all appear, perhaps sooner than we think, before the God who made us (…at his General Judgment-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear…), let us embrace the challenge to forgive. We have witnesses here—Jesus, Stephen, and Anne—who have forgiven the unforgiveable.
As I ponder this invitation, I realize that surely I can forgive the person who cut me off in traffic or who said the unkind word about me at the meeting. Certainly, I can let go of the petty grudges and the little “I-told-you-so’s” and the tiny things I “hold over” people when they do me wrong. Clearly, I can be reconciled with those who have hurt me, intentionally or unintentionally, knowing that I have done far worse. Truly, I can embrace the words of the “Our Father” (…forgive us our trespasses…) because I can be the first one to forgive…and because I know that the only hope I have of God’s forgiveness is extending that forgiveness to others.
As we celebrate the coming of Spring—of new growth and new life—let us leave behind whatever “cold” bitterness we hold in our hearts. Our time on this earth is too short. Let us follow the lead of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who remind us that life is not about resentment, but about relationship and reconciliation. And let us remember that the forgiveness we extend to others is but a fraction of the forgiveness the Lord offers to us.