Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 16, 2006
Amish find God's peace admidst tragedy
It was a truly astounding scene. Members of the Pennsylvania Amish community attending the funeral of Charles Roberts to mourn the passing of the man who had shot 10 young Amish girls, killing five. It was a scene of forgiveness in action, a forgiveness greater than anything most people will be called upon to give, yet a forgiveness the Amish seemed to give with ease.
Such forgiveness, of course, can never be easy. When one's innocent children have been brutally murdered one immediately wants justice, which translates into punishment. Indeed, forgiveness in such a situation is more than a human person can offer. It is only by relying totally on God that one might be given the grace to be forgiving.
CanWest News Services interviewed the Rev. Dale Lang, the Taber minister who found himself in a similar situation when his son Jason was gunned down seven years ago at the Taber high school. Lang publicly forgave the 14-year-old who killed his son and now says, "If I was still angry at the boy who killed my son, he'd still be controlling my life."
Failure to forgive, then, is to imprison oneself in a world of bitterness and anger. To forgive is to set oneself free from that world. To live a good life after having been subjected to such agony requires that one forgive.
The topic came up again Oct. 9 when Pope Benedict spoke to the Western Canadian bishops (see Page 1). The pope said that reconciliation is preceded by an awareness of one's own sinfulness. It is so much harder to cast judgment on others when one is aware of the wrong that I have done myself. If you cannot see your own need for forgiveness, how can you forgive others?
The pope noted that when people distance themselves from the Church, they are unable to see beyond natural justice. If God is not first in one's life, how can one see that God's mercy trumps all justice in the natural realm?
When great tragedy strikes in one's life, faith is put to the test. If there is no faith to test then anger and hatred take over. "Unable to think beyond the limits of natural justice, (the person who feels violated) remains trapped within envy and pride, detached from God, isolated from others and ill at ease with himself," the pope said.
Seeing the Amish at Roberts' funeral, one wants to have what they have. The truth is that we do have it. We have it in the sacrament of Reconciliation where we admit our sins and seek forgiveness for them. In seeking reconciliation, we make it possible to offer forgiveness to others. We come in the sacrament to the God of Mercy. If God is merciful to me, he will be merciful to others. And if God has offered me his forgiveness so should I offer forgiveness to others.
In a society that is not God-centred, forgiveness becomes impossible. So we call in the lawyers to get justice. We write charters of rights to ensure everyone gets their due. Such initiatives are not without value.
But they cannot offer peace. The courts may punish the guilty and sometimes provide financial recompense to the victims. But peace is what we most need when crime or injustice has devastated our lives. It was not for nothing that the sacrament of Reconciliation is also known as the sacrament of peace. It offers peace to the heart troubled by its own sins. It also enables that soul to find peace by forgiving others.
It is a sign of our times that the sacrament of Reconciliation is so little used. We are too proud, too dependent on our own efforts, sometimes even too unable to see our own wrongdoings to acknowledge that we need Jesus and his sacrament of peace.
Here the Amish put us to shame. They do not have the grace of that sacrament. But they are vitally aware of their own need for God's mercy and of their own need to be merciful to others. When an enormous tragedy strikes their community, they are able to find peace.
- Glen Argan
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