‘Father, Forgive Them …’ – Lk 23:34
We all need healing — most of all from the Lord God who made us to love and to be loved for all eternity.
On Jan. 27, I made a trip to a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, the site of the recent horrific mass shooting, to pray with the families and friends of the victims. It turned out, for me, to be an extraordianry journey.
Our Archdiocesan Restorative Justice ministry, led by Julio Escobar, organizes small prayer services at the site of every homicide, and he invited me to lead this one. “We come together this day to reclaim this space of death as a place of life, this place where violence occurred, we are reclaiming as a place of peace,” I said, speaking the words of the standard prayer service we use and blessing the grounds with holy water.
The deep faith of the families in the midst of such horror shone like a beacon of light in the darkest of nights. As I reflect on that day during this season of Easter, I am reminded of the words of our Lord on the cross as He was dying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34)
I am humbled even now by the strength of a faith that reflected our Savior’s example in that moment when family members extended forgiveness to the perpetrator of this heinous crime who took their loved ones away from them. The cousin of one of the victims told an NBC reporter, “Forgiveness is necessary so the killer can heal from his sins.” One does not need a high level of education to acquire wisdom and holiness; indeed, it can be an obstacle if such education is not accompanied by virtue.
We live in a world that is broken. So many of our institutions that have always been the bulwark of good order in society now seem mired in controversy, conflict and decline, from politics to public schools to the police, not to mention religious communities. Crime and disorder proliferate. Marriages break down or fail to form. The next generation fears having the children they want, if they want them at all.
The world has always been a mixture of strife, illness, want and suffering, along with love, care and creativity. That the world is full of both is not new. What is new is that the traditional sources of identity and stability in a fallen world are all actively undermined by our culture: faith, family, community, the nation; even the body itself is being stripped of its inherent meaning. We are not made to make up our own identities out of whole cloth. We are made for communion. We are made for the love of God, for that is what makes communion with Him, and one another, possible, and that is the ultimate end of human existence.
Catholics have recognized for centuries that the sacred beauty which reveals the reality of God is not a luxury item but a spiritual necessity, even – indeed especially – in times of trouble.
We all need healing. We all suffer. We all sin. We all need forgiveness. A Eucharistic revival and a renaissance of faith cannot stem from changing this or that uncomfortable teaching of Jesus Christ. No, not the ones that ask us to sublimate our sexual desires to His will. Nor the even more difficult teaching that we must do good to those who do us wrong, to forgive as we hope for forgiveness, just as our Lord taught us to pray.
Eucharistic revival means a conversion of heart to conform our will to the will of God. God made us for communion, to love and to be loved for all eternity. It would be incoherent to turn our backs on His call to communion as He has mapped it out for us in our very nature while at the same time partake of the sacrament of that communion.
God knows this is hard. After all, He made us! So that is why He gives us the means, through the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, to live our faith coherently, that is, to obtain the grace of purification through outward and visible signs and unite ourselves with Him in the communion of his body and blood.
The antidote to despair is hope. But hope doesn’t come just by wishing for it. As we look ahead to the month of May, a month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are reminded of the many Marian feast days that give us hope throughout the year (see page 8 article honoring Our Lady). Lourdes, for example, is a living lesson. For it is Lourdes (not Disneyland) that is the happiest place on earth. As anyone who has been there knows, the most common sight in Lourdes is not churches, not water, not rosaries; it is the smile. And that is the mystery. In the midst of so much suffering, everyone in Lourdes is smiling, because it’s a place of love that puts us in touch with reality, the deepest reality: God is here, and He loves us.
This article by Archbishop Cordileone originally ran in the April 2023 edition of Catholic San Francisco magazine.