Some time ago, a priest friend of mine in Pakistan told me how, one day while on his way home, his motorbike got a puncture. However, he was not far from a village, so he pushed the bike into the village and found a motorbike mechanic who could fix it. As the man mended the puncture, they chatted and the man, a Muslim, asked my friend who he was and what he was doing in Pakistan. My friend told him that he was a Christian priest and on hearing that, the mechanic called to his two teenage sons and when they arrived he pointed to the priest and to them, “You see this man here, he is a Christian and Christians believe that they must forgive their enemies”.
My friend told that story to show the kindness of some Muslims, for when the bike was mended, the mechanic told him there was no charge. However, what struck me when I heard the story was that the Muslim man pointed to “the forgiving of enemies” as the defining characteristic of Christianity. Had I been asked what made Christianity distinct, I would probably have said that we believe that God has become man in Jesus Christ – or maybe point to the Great Commandment – but I would not, I think, have said “We Christians must forgive our enemies”. Yet, on reflection, that Muslim mechanic was right. It is precisely the forgiveness of our enemies that stands at the heart of being a Christian.
When we profess that “Christ died to redeem us” we are referring to an actual process of reconciliation, which began as the Lord hung on the cross and, with almost his last breath, prayed for those who were killing him – “Father, forgive them….!” He refused to allow hatred and resentment to divide him from his killers – those he came to redeem – and so he began that movement of reconciliation of all mankind, of which we are now a part. Christ is gathering us into one people, one Church, one family “healed of all divisions” as the Eucharistic prayer for Reconciliations says. We see this teaching in the “Our Father” – “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. We cannot be one with Christ, while being content to be divided from others against whom we hold a grudge. It just doesn’t work. Without being part of that movement of reconciliation we cannot be Christians.
Fortunately, this work of reconciliation is not something that we are expected to do – we are not capable of forgiving, for we do not have that love in our hearts. This is the work of the Spirit, who moves our hearts and brings us to cross barriers, to make friends again, to forgive – and also to accept being forgiven. However, I do have a part to play in this. I have to open myself to this work of the Spirit and I do this by blessing those who curse me – as Christ tells us we must (Lk 6:28). However, at first, all that is required is that I say the words, “Lord, bless him and make him happy” – or a similar prayer – I do not have to mean those words. The Holy Spirit will use those words, however, and the act of faith that prompts them, to move me, to soften and mould my heart so that I slowly come to see that person with the eyes of God. I will then begin to see that they are more than what they have done and in this vision find the grace to forgive.
This does not happen quickly, it is not magic, it is akin to the way we learn to love anyone; we say and do things over and over again – words and actions, which let love grow. This is why we are called to come to Mass, week after week; we need to put ourselves on the altar, in the bread and wine and so give ourselves to God as we are – with all our grudges, resentments and inability to forgive – and slowly he changes us. We become one with the sacrifice of reconciliation which is Christ’s offering at Mass, we become one with the Reconciler.
St Paul teaches, we have been reconciled by God in Christ – now we must live out that reconciliation. We do this by letting Christ pray through us: “Father forgive them” – a prayer made in hope that one day we will truly mean it; a prayer that makes us one with the Lord; a prayer which makes us part of the movement of reconciliation begun by Christ on the cross. This is not an optional extra for us Christians, as the Lord’s Prayer makes clear. It lies at the heart of being a Christian. How very strange that the Muslim mechanic saw that quite clearly, but we Christians so often miss it!
Someone sent me a text message a few days ago asking me to join him for a meal. I texted him back saying, “I can’t, I’m afraid”. To which he replied, “Why are you afraid?”
I hope to go to India in May, for the wedding of one of the boys in the hostel for street kids, where I used to work. This means I need a visa for India, but unlike many countries in this region, there is no visa on arrival. Visas are issued in Kuala Lumpur, which is an hour and three quarters plane journey from Kuching and, if you have a foreign passport as I have, it takes five working days to process. So, I will have to use a courier service and when I add up all the extras, I realise that the cost of the visa will not me much less than the air fare to India!
Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, I get cramp. This is not often, but I am curious as to what causes it. I thought it might be when I have sweated a lot and so am lacking salts. However, I have also had cramp when I have not done any hard physical work that caused loss of salts. A week or so ago, I heard a theory from one of our older priests that bananas can cause cramp and since then I have noticed that when I have taken a banana, which I do not often do, this has been followed by cramp the following night. I need to test this a bit more, but the cramp is so unpleasant that I am tempted to test it by not eating bananas, rather than by eating them and seeing the result.