This story is taken from Fr. Ken Barker’s book, ‘His Name is Mercy’. A true story of a man haunted by the past, whose life had been totally miserable due to the harrowing burden of guilt. A priest in California was preparing to go to bed on a Sunday night after a busy day when the phone rang. It was a nurse at the hospital which was a couple of hours drive away. A man was dying. He was a Catholic and would “Father” come. The priest was reluctant because there was a storm raging outside. But he decided to go. Upon arrival he entered the room of the dying man. He introduced himself and was gruffly told to “go to hell.” The conditions of the storm had worsened, so the priest decided he would hang around for a while. An hour later he approached the man again. “I am a Catholic priest. You are dying. Are you sure I can’t help you in any way?” Again the man rebuked him, demanding that he be left alone. For some reason the priest decided he would try once more. He waited another hour. Then he entered the room for the last time. To his surprise the man responded, “Well, I may as well tell you.” Then he began to relate the story of his life. Forty years previously he worked on a railway signals box. Everything was done manually in those days. It was Christmas time, and he had been drinking. When the train was approaching he pulled the wrong lever. The train went down the wrong track and collided into a car as it was crossing the lines. A woman and her two children were killed instantly. He told the priest that from that day onwards he had lived with the guilt of that accident. He kept to himself, never married, and gave up on life. He lived in quiet despair.
The priest, who had been listening very intently, asked him a few more questions about the date and time of the accident. Then he said to the dying man, “I want you to listen closely to me. You did not know this. But there was another little boy in that car. He lived. And when he grew up he became a priest. And he is speaking with you right now! And I want you to know, I forgive you.”
That man, who had spent his whole life in such an awful prison of self-hate, guilt and self-recrimination, was able to hear from the priest the words of forgiveness that set him free. He was finally able to forgive himself as he heard the words of absolution from the priest, but also the words of forgiveness from the little boy who had lost his mother and siblings in an accident 40 years previously. He died in peace…
There are several themes in today’s liturgy, but the one that predominates is God’s forgiveness. King David was a great king and loved God, but he was not perfect. Today’s first reading occurs shortly after he sinned seriously with Bethsheba and then arranged for her husband Uriah, to be killed in battle. Through the prophet Nathan God made David to realize his sins. When David repented, the prophet Nathan comforted his saying, “The Lord, for his part, forgives your sins; you are not to die.”
When Jesus was in Simon’s house, a woman known as a sinner, perhaps a prostitute, repented before Jesus by her act of homage. The host believed that Jesus became unclean by allowing a sinner to touch him. But Jesus reminded him that such uncleanness is not important in God’s eyes, when a sinner seeks forgiveness. So he said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven”. Pope Francis said in 2013, ““Don’t forget this, the Lord never gets tired of forgiving, it is we that get tired of asking forgiveness.” Often we measure God’s corn by our own bushel. Where we would take our brother by the throat, God would forgive him seventy times seven. All God requires from the sinner is faith and repentance. All of us are in need of God’s forgiveness. We need only to believe and repent in order to be forgiven. How often do you forgive and forget?
Gary Leon Ridgway is better known as the infamous Green River Killer. In 2003, he confessed to the murders of 48 women. At Ridgway’s 2003 sentencing, the families of the victims had the opportunity to speak out and address Ridgway directly. Understandably, many were angry and lashed out at Ridgway for the unimaginable grief he had put them through. As Ridgway stonily listened to the family members express their grief and anger, one person came up and said something unexpected. When the time came for Robert Rule, the father of teenage victim Linda Jane Rule, to speak, Ridgway finally showed a glimpse of remorse. Rule’s words to Ridgway were: “Mr. Ridgway, there are people here that hate you. I’m not one of them. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is what God says to do, and that’s to forgive. You are forgiven, sir.” These words brought Ridgway to tears.
Dear friends! During this Year of Mercy, let us not only seek God’s forgiveness and mercy but let us also learn to forgive. Although it is not easy, we must learn to forgive those who hurt us if we want to be able to receive the daily forgiveness we need from a merciful God. We start forgiving when we try our best to patch up quarrels, misunderstandings and disagreements and pray for the well-being of our offenders.