The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle



The Purest Kind of Forgiveness

Written By Phyllis Tickle

The following reflection first appeared in June 2009 as part of First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010.

In June … on the 29th of each June, in fact … the Church calls to mind and honors the central role in Christian history of Sts. Peter and Paul, our first pastor and our first theologian respectively. By observing that day, we Christians remind ourselves of many things, of course, but none of them is more important than is the two saints’ relationship to the Christian doctrine of forgiveness. Although it was Paul who wrote most often about forgiveness as a part of Christian practice, it was Peter, the rock upon whom the Church was founded, to whom Jesus spoke directly, graphically, and frequently about the necessary function of forgiveness. Over and over again, He laid it all out before Peter: You must forgive seventy times seven. …If you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses. …Just so will your Father deliver you to the torment if you from your hearts do not forgive every one his brother their trespasses. … etc., etc.

That’s strong stuff—so strong in fact that almost all of us these days tend to suppress it just out of sheer anxiety about what really believing it would do to us … what the actual cost to us would be—not to mention the apparent impossibility of it all !—were we to embrace those words as ultimate truth. So, over the centuries, it has become an easier and easier sell for most of our kind just to relegate Peter and Paul and their fixation on forgiveness to one feast day in one month of each passing twelve.

What is not so easy to relegate, for me anyway, is a story that will not let me go. I am so caught and bound by this story, in fact, that I carry in my pocket at all times, typed on a piece of folded index card, the closing words of it. And because, even after all these years of my living with them, the words of the story will not let me go, I become at times like the Ancient Mariner and am compelled to share them. Especially is this true in June when we draw so close to, and yet so fearfully far away from, Sts. Peter and Paul.

In the closing days of WWII, when it was obvious that Germany was going to fall within a matter of just a few days, the Germans moved quickly to empty the concentration camps. Some prisoners they attempted to move to other locations, but most they simply slaughtered on the spot. One of the camps in which the last, remaining prisoners were gassed in order to prevent their testimony later was Ravensbruck, a camp of especial horror where primarily Jewish women had been incarcerated over the years of war and put to slave labor.

Some few days after the last firing of Ravensbruck’s ovens, the allied forces did indeed enter the camp to free what was by then beyond the reach of human freedom. In the course of occupying the camp, the soldiers had to inspect the long huts where the last of the women had been kept. And in one of those prison dormitories, written on a scrap of old wrapping paper and tucked for safekeeping into a crack in the wall, was the last message from the women of Ravensbruck:

Lord, remember not only the men of good will, but also those of ill will. 
But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us.  
Remember rather the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering:
Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity,
 the greatness of heart that has grown out of this.
 And when they come to judgment,
let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.

This First Sunday of June, I pray God that we who claim the cross may come to such grace as this in our time.               

Copyright © 2009 Phyllis Tickle