Throughout my life, there have been a number of inspirational examples of forgiveness that stand out for me.
Next, was the example that Pope John Paul II showed when he visited his attempted assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca, and forgave him.
Third, was the occasion of meeting the mother of a Polish priest, Blessed Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. He was brutally murdered by three members of the Polish secret police for his activities with the Polish Solidarity movement. When asked about forgiving her son’s murderers she said the following in my presence: “How could I not forgive when Jesus forgave the thief on the cross?”
Finally, there is the example of Vicki Schieber, the mother of Shannon Schieber who was who was brutally raped and murdered in 1998 while she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mrs. Schieber visited Sacred Heart High School in Vineland while I was principal there. Rather than demand the death penalty for the person who raped and killed her daughter, Mrs. Schieber (and her husband) said there was no way they could demand the taking of another life. “The death penalty wasn’t going to honor Shannon’s life and it wasn’t going to bring her back . . . I thought about everything we ever taught Shannon to believe—to turn the other cheek, to show compassion and to be forgiving,” Mrs. Schieber said. “If you have a set of principles and then don’t live by them when you are tested, were they ever your principles to begin with?”
Christianity is about love, forgiveness and mercy—not hatred and anger. Whenever people foster attacks and retaliation—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth mentality—no genuine, lasting good will usually come from the situation. Forgiveness, on the other hand, shows love accompanied by the supernatural gift of God’s grace.
I again reflect on the words of my patron saint, St. Maximilian Kolbe: “Only love is creative.”
When we or those we love are hurt, it may seem difficult or impossible to forgive. It is at times like these that we must pray for the grace of God knowing that all things are possible for God—and for us—when aided by His supernatural grace.
Fr. Ed Namiotka