May 7, 2010

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do’

David SilerOn Good Friday, I spent some time meditating on the Gospel of St. Luke’s Passion of Jesus Christ.

My heart was drawn to those words that Jesus uttered after being brutalized in the most heinous manner, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

In this most dejected and vulnerable state, feeling a physical and emotional pain far beyond imagining, our Savior was able to see far past the evil actions performed by the Roman soldiers at the order of Pontius Pilate to the heart of their humanity—the true core of how God created them to be. Jesus was able to see them with eyes of love and compassion. He saw past their ignorance and pleaded with God to show them mercy.

A feeling of tremendous humility washed over me as I thought about the times that, even under much less harsh conditions, I have not invoked God’s mercy for even those that I care about deeply. I began to come to the realization that this was yet one more example from Jesus of the mercy and compassion that we are each called to share with one another.

None of us will ever have to endure the brutal punishment and rejection experienced by our Lord, but nearly a day will pass when we don’t have the opportunity to look past a person’s actions or words to their true, created goodness—the place where God lives no matter the outside shell.

Consider just a petty example of a fellow driver accidentally—or even intentionally, for that matter—cutting us off in traffic. How quick we are to go to anger and judge the other as a “jerk” or, at the very least, inconsiderate.

How often does a family member, friend or co-worker—out of jealousy, anger, hurt, ignorance or any other reason—project onto us words or actions that cause us to take offense. What if we simply stopped taking offense, and instead reacted with love and compassion? What might change?

What if we began to train ourselves for the kind of mercy that Jesus was able to show by taking these small opportunities to return angry or inconsiderate words or hurtful or inconsiderate actions with a blessing or even that same profound prayer offered by Jesus, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). I don’t mean that we just fake the words or feelings, but that we actually don’t react with a shred of negativity.

My own experiment of taking this approach with those around me since Good Friday has proven that what changes is my heart—and more often than not what changes as well is the person in front of me.

They soften and take down their guard, and feel the compassion that I am offering. I can’t say for sure what happens to the inconsiderate drivers, but I suspect that they too soften and become more considerate. I suspect that our angry shouts at other drivers have never caused better driving.

If we begin in small ways to return negative thoughts and actions with words and thoughts of love, compassion and blessing, we will also develop this habit when the really tough situations confront us in daily life.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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