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Is there a "right time" to forgive someone? Well, there is no time like the present. Forgiveness is always in season. But right now, with Christmas just around the corner, righting old wrongs seems to be especially appropriate. Jesus came to us with a message, and at its heart was a simple instruction: forgive those who trespass against us.
Of course, it is easier said than done. And, the difficulty seems to climb with the severity of the original offense. Still, the Lord made no exceptions. A trespasser is a trespasser, no matter the crime, and under all circumstances He calls for forgiveness.
That concept was among the topics addressed at a recent southern California conference on the criminal justice system, a major subtext of which involved the forgiveness of offenders. Doris Benavides of The Tidings, the Los Angeles archdiocesan newspaper, effectively captured its mood in her report on the proceedings, which featured interviews with parents of three murdered sons.
Luz Ruiz of the San Gabriel Valley lost her 23-year-old son, Roberto, to a killer, and freely admits she has difficulty in finding words of pardon. Forgiveness, she says, is "God's business, not mine." "I just wanted to forget about everything," she said of the days and weeks after the murder. "The pain was so strong, unbearable."
Still, she found hope and encouragement in a Valley organization called Parents of Murdered Children, which urges its members to move on—at their own pace. Although Luz Ruiz is trying hard, forgiveness still proves difficult at times.
Some parents have managed to turn the other cheek, but doing so can be a slow and painful process. As Benavides writes: "Helene Davis has forgiven her son Darrell Davis's murderer, but still chokes up when describing how he was killed following a verbal confrontation with the offender. Dick Harris has also forgiven the gang members who killed his son Bryan and his girlfriend back in 1985, but becomes tearful when talking about it."
All shared their stories at the conference, which was titled "Healing Wounded Hearts: Our Responsibility to Victims and Survivors of Crime."
And, all can benefit from the story of Maria Boffa of New York, whose experience was chronicled earlier this year in the Daily News. Reporter Oren Yaniv told of the "heart-stirring moment of mercy" in a Brooklyn courtroom when the 78-year-old woman told her son's sobbing killer, "I forgive you." Months earlier Luis Guamal, driving after drinking, had fatally struck Boffa's son Joseph, 44, as he crossed a Brooklyn street.
"It just came out of me," Boffa said of her remarkable act. "I did it for my son's sake." Joseph, she added, always helped others without passing judgment. "That's what he would have wanted me to do."
Some people can never forgive. Some are working at it. And some—like Maria Boffa—find that the words "just come out." That's clearly an ideal to strive for. The offense can be far less serious, of course, than the loss of life: an argument, an angry word, a slight. All call for forgiveness and moving on. Any time, remember, can be the right time. But just about now seems perfect.