Forgiveness – 70×7

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him as many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” – Mt. 18:21-22 (RSV)

We’ve got two things going on in this brief passage that I want to look at.

First of all there is the idea of our brother continually sinning against us. There are grave sins – like physical violence, theft, marital infidelity – and I don’t think the Lord is talking about these. I think He’s addressing the ordinary offenses and grievances that people commit against one another, that rub up against one’s ego and pride.

There’s an example – we all have seen this, I expect – of the woman whose husband is sometimes thoughtless or selfish or perhaps a bit coarse or impatient… and she tells all her friends that she just can’t stand any more of it. Sometimes she uses these things as an excuse to run home to Mama.

Somewhere this woman has been told – erroneously – that she has these “rights” not to have her feelings hurt, to have all her needs met by one person.

She needs to learn to forgive these disappointments no matter how often they come. Seventy times seven, if need be. Fact is, we don’t have any inalienable rights to have our precious feelings protected from all hurts – or else we also must face up to the fact that we are prohibited from hurting others’.

On the other hand (and this is the second point) – I don’t think the Lord requires of us that we subject ourselves to dangerous behaviors again and again and again. In the point of history when He was on the earth, women had no choices – but we do. We have a lot of choices. And sometimes for the sake – not only of our own safety but also of our abuser’s immortal soul! – we must put our foot down and say “No more!” – and do whatever is necessary to put an end to the abuse –

whether that abuse is physical abuse, or marital infidelity (which includes the infidelity of pornography), or alcohol or drug addiction that renders the addict wholly irresponsible and hurtful, or any other gravely immoral behavior.

In such cases, a single violation of trust can be so severe that it requires multiple forgiveness – each one as if it were the first – for the whole of one’s life. Seventy times seven for one terrible offense.

We can think we have an issue taken care of – but something will cause it to return to us as fresh and as bitter as if it had just been committed, or discovered. Perhaps a dream, perhaps a comment from someone else – sometimes things just come to our minds when we don’t expect them – a temptation to trip us up from our Enemy?

And this is when we have to dig deep and forgive all over again, sometimes working out our anger and hurt as if it were a brand new violation.

It’s not easy – it sure as heck ain’t pleasant. But it’s necessary. And it’s do-able.


Final word on death: Prayer of the Faithful

I think (hope!) this will be my final observation on the deaths of Nora and Uncle Theo, but it is a story I think others would profit from reading.

I mentioned in my reflection on Nora’s death how people were changed by the caring for her. I am seeing in Uncle Theo a similar change – and from people who never heard of him until last week, and who never laid eyes on him in this world.

News of Uncle Theo’s situation spread through the internet rapidly. Several bloggers picked up the cry, and I myself shared the need for prayer with the 150 or so people on my email prayer group, some of whom also posted on their blogs, on Facebook, on other venues. The outpouring of prayer was immense.

Several of us have found renewed vigor in standing firm for the sanctity of human life as consequence of this.

But one of the most beautiful things I found – I’ve got to share this with you.

I’m a member of the Catholic Writers Guild,  This past week was our very exciting Writers Conference Online – begun each morning at 8:30, half an hour before the first chat conference, with Morning Prayer, led by… yours truly.

I mentioned the need for Uncle Theo on the very first morning after I found out his plight. It is the only time during the conference I initiated any mention of him – because thereafter, conference participants were intitiating the queries – “What’s the word from Uncle Theo?” – “Have you heard anything?” –

Chats were interrupted when I would sign in late – “Laura, have you heard anything?” followed by an explanation to the Presenter and those participants who had missed prior word. Others initiated prayer for Uncle Theo before I could have time to mention him, myself.

Even after his death, Friday, by legal euthanasia (he was in Holland, remember), the Guild members continued to hold his soul – and the souls of family and the medical personnel responsible for promoting this heinous act – in prayer.

We ended the conference last night with a “party,” of sorts – an open chat room. And one of our leaders said, “We need to take a moment to pray…” and it began with prayer for Uncle Theo.

The Communion of Saints – and saints-in-the-making – is a mighty powerful force.

In life we are in death… and in our unity of prayer, then we are very strong.


In life we are in death…

So reads the a line from the old Requiem Mass. It certainly has been a vivid reality during the month of March, when several of my friends lost close loved ones and my own life was touched by the deaths of my dear friend Nora, and my friend’s Uncle Theo (written about, below).

I think about the nature of death – I’m not so much afraid of death as I am of dying (how it could happen, that is). My maternal grandmother had a deep dread of becoming incapacitated and winding up in a nursing home, where she had seen so many family members wind up – “I just hope it’s quick,” she said. And when the time came, it was. She sent my grandfather out to the garden to get an eggplant for lunch, and while he was out there she suffered a massive event of some description; she died moments after Papa found her lying on the hallway floor.

The fact is, we take what we’re given. God hasn’t spoiled us yet by sending us emails and polls asking us how we prefer to go – He determines the time and the method, and that is it.

What we have to do between now and then is to prepare. And one of the ways we prepare is by visiting the sick and dying, which is a Work of Mercy. It’s an obscenity that any of our family members should approach death alone, untended and unsupported by our love.

“I want to remember Granny as she was,” is just a flimsy cover for abject selfishness. We owe our parents, our siblings, our extended families and our friends – even strangers, if we happen to have them placed in our paths – with the very tenderness and compassion that we, ourselves, would have extended to us as we approach the hour of meeting God face to face.

Death is a part of life – it’s the end of the finite and the beginning of Eternity. We experienced its parallel in being born – dying the security and familiarity of the womb to be born into our life as independent creatures. This is only the prep school for Eternity, after all.

No need to be squeamish. No need to recoil. Comfort the afflicted – visit the sick and dying.

Writing update

So. An editor friend of mine (from a technical journal, so don’t get excited, here) took a look at my very drafty ms (manuscript, for the uninitiated) of Pray, Study, Work last week, and she had a few things to say about my efforts so far.

I haven’t worked on it in a while. I’d reached a point where I was not only at a brick wall, I was paralyzed with fear from the impact with that brick wall. It didn’t help – in fact, it may have reached a critical point – when the university professor I wrote to for research recommendations wrote back: you’ve got a corner on the market.

This is not a responsibility I want to own. I don’t care of Dr. M. did call it “a quandry to be grateful for.” What if I’m wrong? What if I misunderstand? What if I misrepresent…????? and so on, and on, and on…

But it helps that my editor friend writes back and says, “I want to see more! Finish this!”

So – back to work on my book.

A contrast of two deaths

He’s not my uncle, he’s the uncle of my dearly loved friend, Angela. He lived in Holland, and was elderly and ill, and on Friday, March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation – Feast of the Incarnation) “Uncle Theo” was propelled unnaturally into Eternity. Put to sleep like a dog or a cat.

Euthanasia sounds like such a compassionate act – take the elderly, the infirm, the incapacitated, the suffering, and just go ahead and ease them out of their misery.  “I don’t want to suffer like so-and-so,” someone will say. “I’d like to just be put out of my misery.” But we don’t really expect to be taken literally, do we?

After all, our hours and our minutes belong to the Author of Life, to God Himself, not to us. We didn’t ask to be born, and we don’t get to determine when or how we die. It’s His call.

We don’t always get to see the point. There lay my dear friend Nora, incoherent so far as we could tell, unable to eat for months because of the cancer that had ravaged her body for the past four years. But her vital signs remained strong, and when her husband tried to help her take her meds, or to perform some other service for her, she fought back.

Pain was compounded by fear.  Severe depression, depression that had required electroshock therapy more than once, had left her bereft of hope. “I’m scared,” she grabbed my arm on one of my visits. “I’m so scared.”

Father had pointed to a statue of an angel and told her to remember her Guardian Angel. “You are not alone,” he promised her. “God loves you.” But she had become unable to hold on to that hope for more than the time it took to sing the refrain of “Be Not Afraid.”

“There’s no point to this!” her husband protested during one of my visits. The lingering, with the impossibility of providing true comfort, or to see how long the ordeal would last, took a toll on everyone. It always does.

But there is a point. And I saw it in the family – in Nora’s husband as he persisted in getting pain meds down her throat for as long a time as she could swallow, in her children as they came and kept vigil with their mother. Love was perfecting them – they might not see it right away; it might take years before they can point to this time in their lives and say, as I now can after my mother’s horrific death from lung cancer, twenty years ago: “We were all made better people because of this.”

Nora died a week ago – at home in her own bed, quietly, gently, naturally. Yes, she was momentarily alone as her husband had to leave the room briefly. But she was not really alone, because her family had waited for God’s hand, for His time, to choose the moment of Homegoing.

That last afternoon, I went to visit. We didn’t know it was the last afternoon, of course. I just went, because it was a day when I could. And after I’d been there a few minutes, another of her friends arrived, and a few minutes after that, still another – and each time a new friend walked in the room, Nora’s breathing quickened and deepened: she was aware that we were there.

Sally and I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet, sitting by the bed, and Nora became still and quiet, her breathing regular and steady. When Carole came back in, and the conversation shifted to mundane things, her breathing altered with the flow of the conversation.

Nora – who could not actively communicate, was still in our conversation. I’m chuckling to recall how a couple of times she seemed to interject her own responses into my mind. She had a low opinion of one of the people being spoken of, and I could hear her calling him by a not-very-nice word.

But we had to go home, not knowing that it was the last visit, expecting to return the next day – and that evening, while herchildren were en route from their own families and jobs, and while her husband stepped out of the room ever so briefly, she died.

Nora’s death was a victory of human spirit and the Love of God over suffering – seemingly pointless suffering that had the point of perfecting Nora and refining the hearts and characters of those of us who loved her.

What beauty of redemption was circumvented because some Dutch doctors were too impatient to let death come in God’s time? Two doctors told Theo’s daughter that euthanasia was “the only option left.” What obscenity!

And what a stark contrast between these two deaths.