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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sunday, November 28, 2004


Yesterday, the relics of two of the Eastern Church's most beloved saints were returned to Constantinople.

Pope Returns Relics To Orthodox Leader (

Of course, whenever Rome meets Constantinople, the question of union is raised. When this question is raised, issues of memory and forgiveness inevitably follow. Does Rome truly understand the gravity of the destruction wrought in its name against the Eastern Church in 1204? Can the East ever put the events of the past in the past?

The beginning of Advent seems to me a good time to reflect upon the idea of forgiveness. I know that I am unable to atone for my sins both because of their gravity as well as because of the tendency I have to repeat them. Being unable to deserve forgiveness for my own sins, if you were to place upon me a responsibility to atone for the sins of all of my fellow Catholics, I would certainly be lost.

Only one person has ever been able to take upon himself the burden of atoning for the sins of another, for atoning for my sins. All praise to His glorious Name!

I wonder if it is not more difficult to forgive the sins committed against those we love than it is to forgive the sins committed against us? No amount of returned relics, begging, grovelling, or fasting can ever do justice for those Orthodox murdered at the hands of Catholics. How can we place a price upon a life? Forgiveness seems to be the only response but is it possible to forgive in such a way that we do not deny the gravity of what has happened, that we do not cheapen the memory of the victims? How can we have forgiveness and justice? It seems to me, that is where the real difficulty lies.

In twenty seven days, the Catholic Church will be celebrating the incarnation of our Savior, the one who came to bring peace and reconcilliation. A few days later we will remember the deaths of those children killed in Herod's attempt to silence this message. Times do not appear to have changed much. But if these children are now in the presence of God's glory, it seems to me that attaining historical justice is no longer one of their concerns.

"The saving mercy of God planned to heal this sinful world in these later days and foreordained the salvation of humanity through the Person of Christ; so that, since all nations had long turned away from the worship of their true God by sin and even the chosen people of Israel had fallen away from the fulfillment of the Law all had sunk into error, He might show mercy upon us all. For justice appeared to be failing everywhere and the whole world seemed to have given in to pride and wickedness, indeed if the Divine Judge had not delayed His sentence all of humanity would have been condemned. Yet, wrath became forgiveness so that the greatness of God’s mercy might be seen even more wondrously, especially as it pleased God to offer the mystery of His forgiveness precisely when no one could boast of their own merits." – Leo the Great [Thirty-Third Homily – On the Feast of the Epiphany, I]

Is justice and mercy possible? Not in any human act, but only in the one who is the fullness of justice and the fullness of mercy. The world is still full of pride and wickedness, yet in this Advent season we remember that God continues to be pleased to offer His forgiveness precisely at this time when no one can boast of their merits. How will we respond to this offer and can we accept it for ourselves while denying it to others?


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