Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
History is often written from the carnage caused by vengeance. The tit-for-tat, back and forth violence of revenge erupts from its poisoned cell in the human heart and does its dirty work with the grim self-satisfaction of an executioner. Justified by nothing more than self-righteous anger and a deeply felt wound to our pride, the dark spirit of revenge assures us that the violence we do is not only a good thing but a needful thing. And even the best among us will listen to this reassurance, if only to have our outrage quieted for a time. Our Lord understands the tumults of the human heart, most especially its need for justice. But he urges us to exercise mercy instead. If his admonition to be merciful as the Father is merciful proves inadequate to the task of quelling a need for revenge, then perhaps a more pragmatic promise will do the job: “Forgive and you will be forgiven. . .the measure with which you measure [your forgiveness] will in return be measured out to you.” If for no other reason than spiritual self-preservation: measure your forgiveness in five-gallon buckets.
Unless you are a living saint, you will likely smile at the sentiments of the 19th century German poet, Heinrich Heine, “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.” (Confession: I smiled.) Heine's point seems to be that justice should precede mercy, mercy being a grace best bestowed upon the dead. A faithful follower of Christ will respond to Heine, “When you plan vengeance, start by digging two graves.” Even if you survive a violent outburst of revenge, your soul will be mortally wounded. And its death is now only a matter of neglect. Of course, most of us will never act violently on a need for revenge. Being somewhat cowardly, our preferred modes of vengeance are slander, gossip, detraction, calumny, and petty acts of passive-aggressive mischief. Over time these accumulate like a slow poison, and we commit spiritual suicide. All the virtues we enjoy as followers of Christ are killed off one by one: joy, gratitude, peace, and finally, love. Calling us to the perfection that only he can provide, Christ shows us the way to bandage our hurts and find healing: “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you.” The greatest grace we can receive is the mercy we give to those who wound us.______________
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