Reflection for Good Friday 2016
March 25, 2016
By Sister Anne Shepard, OSB
We glory in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Glory in the cross.
Glory in suffering.
How can that be?
In October of 1972, Sue Dorrel was a student at Northwest Missouri State University when she received a call that a young man, Benedict Kemper, entered her home and murdered her parents, Marion and Kathleen; her brother, William; and sister, Helen Ann. She was the sole survivor of her nuclear family. I first learned about this event in 1994 when I was Superintendent of Schools and assisting with catechetical training of the school personnel. One day when I showed up midday for the training, Sue was furious. I asked what happened. She had a hard time relating to the request by one of the presenters to learn multiple forms of prayer in crisis. Since the rosary had gotten her through the tragedy, she didn’t need any more prayer forms. I drove the next week to St. Gregory School in Maryville, Mo and listened more to her story. I did not try to convince her to learn anything. It was I who did the learning. That same year, after she heard a talk by widely read author of Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen Prejean, Sue traveled to the prison and met face to face with the man who shot her family. She told me she was glad she did, but she could not forgive him. Just to meet him was heroic, I thought. But in 2002, she said to a newspaper reporter “It’s time to move on. It’s time to let go. It’s time to heal, and it’s time to forgive.” That willingness to forgive is finding glory in the cross.
In that same area of Missouri in June 2002, a gunman, Lloyd Jeffress, went on a shooting rampage at Conception Abbey killing two Benedictine monks, Father Philip and Brother Damian, and injuring Fathers Kenneth and Norbert. Speaking about this event publicly for the first time last month at the Conference of Prioresses, Abbot Gregory Polan told us the whole story. He relayed what happened that day and in the days and weeks to follow. He spoke about the corporate and individual grieving. He spoke about how the community decided to forgive the man who shot their brothers. They cried together and had meaningful conversations about forgiveness and their need to not take each other for granted. In his homily the day of the funeral of the monks, Gregory said:
In a moment of tragedy such as we have experienced, people of faith ask themselves, "How does God speak to us in this event? Why does God speak to us in a manner such as this?" To be sure, there are no easy answers. Yet it is our faith that allows us to even ask these questions, and it is the word of God that we have heard (this morning) that enables us to open the door to probing this mystery, to seeing light in this very dark moment. It is the word of Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper in his darkest hour that sheds the brightest light for us to ponder. He says, "I wish that where I am they also may be with me [...] that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them" (Jn 17:24, 26). Likewise, St. Paul says, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us" (Rom 8:18). These words of the New Testament tell of the victory of Jesus Christ. He who endured hatred, misunderstanding, betrayal, bloodshed, and death was raised up by the God whom he called "Abba," Father. He was victorious in his suffering, and so was glorified. And those are the words of St. Paul to us: "we are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Rom 8:17).
Abbot Gregory told a story of two monks who despised each other for years. They wanted nothing to do with the other. Gregory spoke to both of them about the witness of their behavior to the community as well as to the two men. Unexpectedly one day, one of the two had the grace to ask the other for forgiveness. With that the other did the same. There was glory in that reconciliation, glory experienced by the two men and the entire community. When family members, when community members choose not to forgive because of misunderstanding, lack of trust, past hurt, pride, hatred or alienation for whatever reason, the individual, familial, communal hearts are damaged. When the words of forgiveness are spoken in earnest, God is glorified in the action.
Pilate condemned Jesus to death, so did Benedict Kemper and Lloyd Jeffress. Survivors of these three events dealt with the suffering by choosing to forgive. In our own familial and communal lives, in the lives of those in our country during this election year, in world events, where are we with forgiveness? The outcome of the pain and suffering, the exercise of radical merciful forgiveness in the midst of suffering, hurt and misunderstanding leads to glory in Christ. Jesus suffered, forgave and then was glorified. Perhaps this is one reason this Friday is called Good.