Much of this previous Sunday’s gospel is familiar and well known to us (Luke 11:1-13). It is Christ’s introduction to us of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer many of us have prayed countless times to the point that the words have just become a rhythm. There is that one tiny, seemingly innocuous line that calls us to “forgive those who trespass against us”.
It is often too uncomfortable to dwell on what that really means in our lives, but I was forced to look straight at what it meant in all its uncomfortable glory when I watched this beautiful testimony of Jennifer Trapuzzano.
As she explains in the video beautifully produced by the Knights of Columbus, Jennifer and Nathan were a young couple one month away from the birth of their first child when Nathan was fatally shot by a sixteen-year-old in an unprovoked attack early one morning. Jennifer, who was left without the love of her life, gave birth three weeks later to their little girl, and was left to bring up her daughter as a single mother.
Despite the enormous, unfathomable pain she was in, Jennifer decided she was going to forgive her husband’s killer. She said she had prayed the words ‘forgive those who trespass against us’ and added that she knew she could not pray them if she did not ‘wholeheartedly act on them.’ She said that she had to ‘trust that I could find it in my heart and soul to give mercy to others as well’.
She prayed and read about mercy and over time, though there was ‘no defining moment, no light that turned on’ she could acknowledge that she had forgiven him. Yet she had the trust that she would be able to. In the Gospels, during the healings that Jesus carries out, He often says, ‘go, your faith has saved you’. Jesus requires a radical faith from us when He comes into a situation with His mercy and healing. It is interesting that Jennifer says she turned to the writings of St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy in order to find forgiveness in her heart for Simeon, because the words at the bottom of the image are those of trust. Jesus, I trust in You.
A radical faith allows the impossible to happen. It allows us to understand that though we are in pain, though we have been wronged, though we feel we are living in a hell of someone else’s making, we trust that there is something better out there for all of us. A radical faith allows for a radical generosity – which is surely what Jennifer needed in order to be able to offer Simeon mercy. This radical generosity rises higher above what would be the very natural reaction of anger and bitterness. It is something that allows us to see that, no matter what has been done to us, the life of those who did it cannot be in a good place. It allows us to extend the generosity of wanting that life to change for the better, for the peace and salvation of that person as well as our own. The truth is that bitterness and resentment benefit no one. Not even in extreme circumstances.
If this story inspired me in any way, it was predominantly an inspiration that challenged me again to forgive and to show mercy to others who have hurt me. Jennifer’s own mercy called to me loud and clear: we are told to show mercy as we have been shown mercy ourselves. It is the Year of Mercy, and hopefully you haven’t got bored of hearing about it yet, because mercy is far from boring. Pope Francis tweeted that “Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy means learning how to not remain prisoners of the past. It means believing things can be different.” With that in mind, I want to extend that inspiration and challenge to you in an invitation for you to forgive. Maybe that isn’t fair of me, because I don’t know what has been done to you or what you might have to forgive. Or maybe you feel bad because what you have to forgive is far less than Jennifer’s, but you still struggle to forgive. That too is the case for me. But what I noticed in Jennifer’s story is that she said that there was no one moment, no light bulb moment when she went from not forgiving to forgiving. It was a gradual process of prayer that meant that bit by bit, she was able to acknowledge that she had forgiven him, and eventually extend that forgiveness to him in public. No matter what we have to forgive, if we start small and make the first step – even if it is just a prayer to want to want to forgive, with radical trust, Christ will pour His mercy into the situation.
Jennifer explained why she wanted to go last in court when sharing her Victim Impact Statement. She said: “I wanted to go last, because I wanted the last thing he heard to be about forgiveness, that I wanted him, for maybe for the first time in his life, to know God loved him, that God will always forgive, and to demonstrate that, I wanted to offer my forgiveness as well.”
“Simeon Adams has been sentenced to 55 years. 55 years will never give Nathan back to us. It will never mend my broken heart. It will never give Cecilia the chance to know her father. However, I come here today not to plead for more time, but to speak of forgiveness. These next few words were spoken by Father Roberts at Nathan’s funeral. But they are words that I full-heartedly stand by and mean when I say: I forgive, because Nathan Trapuzzano was a man who knew from his head to his toes that he was a sinner who was loved and forgiven by God. He wanted everyone he met to know the same love and forgiveness. I believe that he still does. Nathan would have wanted everyone here to know something in our bones. Each one of us here is loved with an infinite, personal and unconditional love by a merciful God. There is nothing that we can do that God will not forgive. We can refuse to accept that mercy, but God will never stop extending it. God loves each one of us more than we can ever know. He wants nothing more than for us to return to Him and let Him fix His merciful eyes on us and say, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well-pleased.” He wants to run out to meet us just as we decide to come back to Him, to embrace us and to shower us with kisses. This is true no matter how grievous our sins are. We cannot be certain exactly what was going through Nathan’s mind in the last moments of his life. But as his wife, his soul mate, his beloved, I believe that he would have desired to do God’s will with all his heart, just as he sought to do throughout the entire time that I knew him. For myself, I have little doubt that as his soul drew near to his particular judgment on Tuesday morning, perhaps even after he had passed out of consciousness, Nathan forgave his murderer. That was the kind of man that I knew him to be. And while 55 years will never give us back Nathan, forgiveness is what I offer Simeon today. ” – Jennifer Trapuzzano
If you would like to read more about Jennifer’s story, you can follow her blog here:
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