Many of us remember the atrocities committed in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, in October of 2006, when Charles Roberts, the driver of a milk truck, took out his anger and frustration on defenseless victims. Along with the world, we watched with horror, and then, the most amazing thing happened. The Amish Community decided to forgive the perpetrator, forgoing retribution. They made the communal commitment to forgive, to view Roberts as a fellow human being, to the point of attending his funeral and embracing his mother. How was this possible, we all wondered? What was it about the Amish that they could even think of forgiveness, when their world had been shattered, their community torn asunder by the violence?
Steven Nolt, a professor who interviewed members of the Amish Community, wrote an article the year following the tragedy, in which he emphasized that the process of forgiving had not been arrived at emotionally…how could it have been? Rather, it was a decision, one grounded in the community’s belief that God expected them to forgive. They made the decision to forgive…choosing to live their way out of natural feelings of bitterness and revenge into new feelings of mercy and compassion. All this living into was a communal effort, not one left to the families of the victims alone. Professor Nolt concludes with this sentence: “The Amish remind us that forgiveness is possible, that it is both a short-term act and a long-term process. And that both are more likely in the company of others.”
We all live through the benefit of God’s forgiveness, and if we do not forgive the other, we lose that benefit. Not that God removes it from us, but that we become blind to the reality that ours is the God of seventy-seventh chances, as our Gospel says today. God keeps providing opportunities for us to remember that Jesus wasn’t kidding when he pronounced in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.”
By: Dr. Eleanor Sauers Ph.D.
Parish Life Coordinator, St. Anthony Parish