Fr. James (Jim) Najmowski, who was on mission in Korea, reflects on the call to forgive even one's enemies.
Today’s Gospel message is a continuous challenge to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Luke 6:27, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
In April of 2003, I had an opportunity to be at Lourdes, France to see the place where Our Blessed Lady appeared asking prayers and penance for the conversion of ‘poor sinners’.
While I was there, the annual military pilgrimage took place. There were military personnel from many European countries, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Russia and other countries gathered together to pray and to get acquainted with one another. I discovered that the first military pilgrimage was officially begun in 1958 after several years of spontaneous military gatherings at Lourdes.
It started with the concrete desire to bring two enemies together after World War II -- France and Germany. Both of these countries had experienced the scars of hatred and destruction during the war. The need to heal, to forgive, and to be reconciled was openly expressed in a powerful way. So, these small concrete expressions of mutual forgiveness grew and developed, with other warring nations’ military personnel coming together at Lourdes over the years. They sought to forgive and to be forgiven. As the Gospel today reminds us, “Love your enemies and do good to them.”
On May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Saint Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded by an assassin named Mehmet Ali Agca. The Pope was struck four times, and he had a severe loss of blood. However, following the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked the people "to pray for my brother, Agca, whom I have sincerely forgiven.” Then, in 1983, the Pope personally visited his would-be-assassin in prison and offered Agca his personal forgiveness. Over the years, the Pope kept in touch with Agca’s family and even met his mother. The Pope concretely expressed the Mercy of God in his ongoing acts of forgiveness. The Pope also asked that Agca would not be sentenced to death, but only be given a life sentence according to Italian law. Later, in the Jubilee Year of 2000, the Pope asked the Italian president to pardon Agca.
The year before the attempted assassination, the Pope had written an encyclical on The Mercy of God. The Pope wrote that forgiveness does not do away with justice. Nowhere in the Gospel does mercy mean indulgence toward evil, toward scandal, toward injury or insult. Reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are the conditions for forgiveness.
However, echoing the words of today’s Gospel, he wrote, “Jesus challenged the distortion of justice in his time expressed in the words: ‘An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Mt. 5:38). Today’s forms of justice continue to be modeled on it. Our experience shows that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to destruction of self, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life.”
Yes, mercy and forgiveness begin with concrete, individual acts which reshape our society. Today we remember that we are called to seek mercy even for our enemies or adversaries.
Photo of Fr. Jim Najmowski in Korea, courtesy of Maryknoll Mission Archives.