(The Franciscan Alumni Association shared this piece and the accompanying poem; both were gifts to them from Murray.)
Fred Rogers, “Mister Rogers” to those of us who loved the television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, once said, “One of my wise teachers told me that there is only one thing evil cannot stand, and that is forgiveness.” I would rephrase that to read, “There is only one place evil cannot enter, and that place is forgiveness.” And the place of forgiveness is the deeper place of prayer. It is to that place that the desire to know and love God leads, the very center of the deeper place of prayer. Without forgiveness we cannot even complete the “Our Father.” We balk and stop at “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This truth came to me again and again as I have prayed and meditated in a hermitage during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whenever I check into the news of the day, I see the United States of America disunited and returning to a pre-Civil War country where American citizens are being pitted against one another, where ideology is triumphing over the Two Commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, and where hate and violence are replacing forgiveness and the works of love and care which unite us. Division, it seems, rules. And as a result, there is a lack of trust and the desire for vengeance, a desire far removed from the desire to know and love God.
The mystical body of Christ is being blown apart by the shrapnel of anger and violence. At first, like many others, I was enraged. And the more angry and judgmental I became, the further I saw the deeper place of prayer sinking beyond my ability to prevent its descent beyond my reach. I came to a turning point. I either had to join the battle as one more person taking sides, or I had to stop and grow quiet and slowly find my way back to the deeper place of prayer where God dwells within me.
I knew from past experience that I had to make a decision, and I knew also that I could not become a peacemaker without becoming myself a peaceful person. And the school of that kind of peacemaking is the deeper place of prayer whose name is forgiveness. It is not a place of arrival, but a place of ongoing becoming. Like prayer itself, the deeper place of prayer is a daily practice, not a once-in-a-lifetime state of being that one possesses.
In other words, just opting for a deeper place of prayer doesn’t do it. Even after deciding I have needed to stop ranting and return to prayer, I find myself still on the way with a feeling of how shallow my place of prayer still is.
So why do I keep trying? Apart from realizing what a mess I would be if I stopped trying to pray, there is the totally unacceptable scenario of losing or forfeiting the desire to know and love God. I know where God lives, and I know the way there, and still desire to know and love the One for whom my heart longs. His name is Jesus, and He is the way, the truth, and the life. (Jn 14:6). And though I don’t see Him, I know Jesus is there whenever I enter the deeper place of prayer. And if for some reason I can’t forgive, I call to mind the words of St. Francis in his Paraphrase of the Our Father: “And if we do not forgive perfectly, Lord, make us forgive perfectly, so that we may really love our enemies for love of you, and pray fervently to you for them, returning no one evil for evil, anxious only to serve everybody in you.”
Forgiveness is a hard place to go to, but it is the only place that will bring peace of heart and peace among peoples. Each one of us can become a person of peace; each one of us can make the prayerful journey to the place of forgiveness.
God in the time of Coronavirus
There is the way we were before
The Plague; there is after the Plague
There is where we are now somewhere
In between before and after
A Purgatory of pain and fear
And the uncertainty of life
Questioning as we have known
Our lives our world our universe
Wondering will God still be there
Where we believed God was although
We never saw God but only
Believed those who told us they had
Wondering how God is here now
That all God’s houses are closed up
All ceremony suspended
With only our hope, faith and others’
Love to sustain and protect us
We see God as we always did
In love, the face of who God is
and the sense from time to time of
A face closer than those we see
– Murray Bodo, OFM