On Pardon - Vocationist Fathers and Brothers

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       Lent 2003

To the Vocationist Fathers and Brothers
At their religious residences


Object: Circular Letter on pardon
My Dear Confrere,
  May God the Holy Spirit unite us ever more with the Son to the Father!

Introduction

Here it is another Lent, another strong invitation to conversion and to holiness! Another invitation to lose something of our life and of our world in order to earn true life and the kingdom of God!

Through the Word of God, the life of the saints, my experience and my knowledge of the reality of our religious family I feel the inspiration, the impulse to invite myself and you during this Lent to meditate, to live, to accept and to give  pardon

The incarnation, the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ would not have meaning and value if they were deprived of their principal motive: pardon.

In one meditation of his to our students Fr. Pelella explained etymologically the word "pardon" as "twice gift." I believe that pardon is always a gift given by one who loves. As a gift forgiveness is something  given freely; the receiver can never pretend it as a right. Pardon  is a gift both for the person who  receives it,  and for the one who offers it. The more a person loves, the easier it is to forgive!

Practical observations

In general in the clergy and in particular way amongst us it is very difficult to forgive. I know some confreres that don't succeed in forgiving real or presumed offences dating back fifty, forty or thirty years. It seem that once we tackle a negative label on a person, this has to remain for ever!

Fr. Justin teaches us to never despair of the possible conversion of  anyone, not even of the most hardened sinners. He teaches us to never admit incorrigibility. (Cfr Ascension, art. 148 - 549). How is it possible that a priest may be so blind  as not to  see every day the miracles of conversion


that happen under our eyes? Why should it be different for a religious person? Or maybe we ourselves  have not experimented pardon?

In other occasion I told you of a bishop, elevated recently to that dignity, a bishop coming from a region in which the Vocationists have never worked; when I suggested to appoint one of our confreres as a pastor in one of our parishes, he told me: "How can you propose such an immoral priest as pastor?" Don't you know what  this confrere of yours did thirty years ago?" Humiliated I simply answered: "Bishop, I don't know and I am not interested to know what this confrere did thirty years ago; but I know what he is and what he does now."  He who doesn't love lives miserably in the past, always having in front of him the past sin  of the brother!

In a proposal of transfer,  a confrere told me: "How can you expect that I live with that brother, don't you know what I had some difficulties with this same brother twenty-five years ago?" Our murmuring (and there is so much of it!)  is evident sign of our incapability to forgive.

Let us extend to forgiveness the evangelical invitation that is solemnly repeated to us on Ash Wednesday: "Convert and believe in the Gospel" (Mc 1, 15).

Necessary condition to be able to forgive

To be able to forgive one must necessarily feel the need to be forgiven. Often the Lord allows us to experience some dangerous tumbles to make us more humble, more conscious of our weakness. The bible tells us that "the just one sins seven times a day." Our Lord tells us: "Who is without sin, let him cast the first stone"(Jn 8, 7). I cannot believe  that only the Vocationists can throw the first, the second and the nth stone!

How can we honestly say: "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us"(Mt 6, 12) when we remain obstinate not to forgive our own brother? Don't we realise  that praying in this way,  we attract upon us the divine punishments and the rigors of the divine justice? Jesus himself adds at the end of Our Father: "If you in fact do not forgive to  men their faults, your heavenly Father will not forgive  you yours"(Mt 6, 14-15).

We learn from  king David as in truth he says  "my sin (but not that of my brother) is always before me"(Sal 50, 5). We learn from our Venerable Father to make sure that our brother's fault "is buried in us, and this idea dies for us, immersed in a sea of compassion and sweetness"(Ascension, art.545).

My debt, my faults are much more serious than those of my brother. For the faults of my brother there can always be, and undoubtedly there are so many excuses, while my sin is fully conscious without any attenuating factors. How many times do I behave myself as the iniquitous servant of the Gospel to which his master had forgiven  ten thousand talents and he was not able to forgive to his fellow-servant one hundred denarii? ( Cfr. Mt 18, 23-35)

The golden rule of the Gospel: " the measure you measure with will be  measured back to you"(Mt 7, 2); "Everything  you want done to you,  do  onto others" (Mt 7, 12), it is also applied to the practice of forgiveness.

Undoubtedly the denial of pardon fragments, divides, isolates and it renders the individual unproductive thus, mortifying  not only the individual but also the society. Two, three or four religious priests or brothers that together could produce so much for the society, separated among them on account of resentments, grudges or hate, they destroy instead of building, they deform instead of forming. Victim of unforgiveness are therefore those  who don't forgive and those that are not forgiven. Secondary victims of unforgiveness are also the society, the Church and the Congregation for the deprivation they suffer.

First beneficiary of forgiveness is he who forgives

"I, I cancel your misdeeds, for respect to myself I don't remember your sins anymore" (Is 43, 25)  says the Lord. What does he want to say, when he says "for respect toward myself" if not for the respect, for the love that I have toward myself? By not forgiving another person, I commit an offence against myself.

For the one who is the personification of love to forgive is not an option, it is a real necessity. Love is a link of union; it cannot cohabit with unforgiveness, that is division and rejection of the other. If God didn't forgive he would not be God anymore. That's why God respecting his divinity always takes the initiative in  granting pardon. He forgives without being asked. He is happier to forgive than the sinner is in being forgiven. The Lord is happy to be able to say: "your sins are forgiven you" (Lc 7, 69). "Father forgive them because they don't know what they do" (Lc 23, 34); "There is more rejoicing  in heaven over a repented sinner that for ninety-nine just ones that don't need repentance!" (Lc 15, 7).

In the parable of the prodigal son (Lc. 15, 11)  the Father that forgives his child is much happier than the son who is forgiven. When Jesus invites us to be "perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect, that makes the rain come down upon the good ones and  the bad ones" (Mt 5, 48)  he teaches us to forgive those that are aware of having offended  us and  ask our pardon, as well as those that are not aware of it and consequently cannot ask to be forgiven!

I as a man, would be less than a man if I were not  able to forgive. What happens in me, when,  hurt by a real or presumed offence, I am not able to forgive? I lose the calm, the peace and the ability to concentrate; I lose the willingness and joy of working with others and therefore I limit my activities and my productivity. Anger, rage, resentment corrode me inside and I cannot sleep peacefully anymore.  I don't digest well and face the risk of a total or partial nervous breakdown. The smile disappears from my face, a dark pessimism takes possession of me, and I am no longer what I  used to be.

The irony of the situation is that often while I am spiritually,  psychologically and socially destroyed little by little,  my real or presumed offender continues to live serenely  and calmly, totally untouched by my feelings.

I myself am the first victim of my denial of pardon. I myself am the first beneficiary of the pardon I grant to another person. If God says: "For the respect I have toward myself" I cancel, I don't remember anymore, I forgive your misdeeds, with  more reason I should say: "For the respect I have toward myself, for love of myself, for my own dignity,  I pardon every offence and every offender."

Beneficiary of our forgiveness is our offender

When our denial of pardon manifests itself through explosions of anger, grudge, threats, the determination not to talk to our offender or to isolate him, these things end up conditioning the dispositions of our offender. Thus unknowingly the offended party transmits to the offender his own ill feelings, restlessness, fear, slanders and other negative reactions. Thus it is caused an escalation of evil. The presumed offender becomes the offended one and the chain of negative feelings and actions keeps going on and on. This chain of negative feelings, words and actions becomes more  painful and intense when the presumed offender is not or does not want to be aware of the offence he committed or might have committed.

As the offender feels threatened, accused or discredited, he employs all of his energies to counterattack  the accusations or threats and slowly loses his ability of concentration and productivity, and, consciously or unconsciously he gives way to an avalanche of accusations, insults and exaggerations etc...

The offender turned the offended one, makes his all the hard feelings, anger, illness and traumas of the first offended one! If one of the two  doesn't have the ability or the internal nobility to forgive, this chain of negativity will extend itself endlessly.

When an offender hears addressed to himself the words: "I forgive you"  he feels like an arid, parched land at the coming of a refreshing rain: it reopens itself to life and productivity; his imprisoned spirit obtains again  his liberty, reinvigorates itself and becomes productive!

Society is the third beneficiary of forgiveness

Humanly every offended person feels the need to be understood and in order to obtain understanding he has to ventilate with others his feelings and the causes of his feelings. Often the offended one doesn't limit himself  to ventilate his feelings, he goes on to retaliate against the offence he suffered, he expects the sympathy and support of his interlocutor. If the interlocutor doesn't condemn offence and offender he risks to lose his trust and his friendship.


As a stain of oil, a flood of ill feelings and uneasiness spreads among the friends of the offended one and of the offender. As it spreads it becomes more and more tragic, because the history grows and becomes more and more complicated  and twisted whenever it is  repeated from one sympathizer or friend to another. The two original victims (the offended one and the offender) become two monsters, two impossible persons. Every relationship becomes irreconcilable until the other does not retract or amends for his misdeeds, that have been so inflated that cannot be identified neither by the offender, nor by the offended one!

Relationships of friendship and of cooperation are destroyed. Respect and the trust disappear among individuals and groups. Soon start to appear - or to be interpreted as such - signs of retaliation. Peace disappears and malcontent enters. A small or great war is in action… and everything uselessly! Everything because an individual that felt offended has not been able to forgive! The example of St. John Gualberto and of saint  Rita from Cascia can be of great help.

Forgiveness is an act and a process

For those people who find difficult to forgive; for those that say I would like to forgive but I don't succeed, I would like to say:

Pardon is an act of the intellect. When the intellect perceives the need to grant pardon, the will compels him to grant it. The intellect, therefore, pushed by the will grants forgiveness; as an act of the intellect, pardon has been granted. The individual has done his duty to forgive and he has already received the reward for such a good deed. His forgiveness is an accomplished fact. The offender has been forgiven and God that compensates our pardon with his pardon, has also forgiven us.

Our emotions and our heart are much slower than our the intellect. Often it happens that while the intellect has already forgiven, our wounded emotions need time to heal their wound, to re-establish broken relationships and to feel again as if nothing had ever happened. In this case one  doesn't need to lose heart. The forgiveness granted by the intellect, on the emotional level is still in progress. To renew often the determination, the act of the will to forgive shortens the process of the pardon still going on, on the emotional level. With good will and with the grace of God he will also succeed in re-establishing or even in increasing  the level of the previous  friendship.

Conclusion

Father Justin says that our offenders in a certain sense are our benefactors. In fact, he does say, how can we be forgiven if we don't have anybody to whom we can forgive? The pardon we give to others, this pardon that can never be deserved  or due, but that is given only and always  as free gift, is always a guarantee of the pardon of God toward us.

In the logic of the cross we have to transform every negative thing in positive, every failure into a  success, every sin in a  source of grace. Pardon is the key that gives us free access to this logic and this reality of the cross. Let's commit ourselves to make ours this logic first during this Lent and then every day of our life.

Dear brother, we have impoverished ourselves, the congregation and others with our incapability or unwillingness to forgive. Let us open our mind and heart to the hard reality of our wants, and let's assure to ourselves the divine pardon by forgiving to our brother. If you don't have what it takes to expressly say to your brother "Forgive me" or " I forgive you," don’t worry, you can say it simply with a smile, a greeting, an act of kindness, an expression of trust, or by offering to render a service, or also by asking for a service from your offender. Say it or express it as it is  easier for you, but forgive from the heart to your brother and you will find again the peace that will allow you to resume your walk on the road of the resurrection and of holiness. In granting forgiveness, as in so many other things, actions speak louder than words; what one does counts more than what one says.

Open your mind and your heart to your brother, give him a helping hand, work with him and for him and together you will build instead of destroying, you will create the kingdom of God and you will destroy the kingdom of evil.

I conclude asking your forgiveness for any offence I have committed - knowingly or unknowingly – against you. Unfortunately for me, I don't have anything to forgive you; for you I have only feelings of affection, respect and gratitude.

Pray for me, as I pray for you, and let's help each other in becoming saints.
In the merciful love of God Trinity, with brotherly love I embrace and bless you.
In J.M.J.
Father Louis M. Caputo, S.D.V.
Rome, February 24th 2003
P.S.

On Thursday, February 20th 2003  archbishop. Gerardo Pierro of Salerno has entrusted to our Congregation the pastoral care of the parish  of St. Mary of Peace, in the cathedral church of Campagna. Fr. Bernardino Terlizzi, S.D.V. has been named Administrator of the Cathedral and Rector of the Shrine "Madonna of Avigliano." It was a great joy for me to learn from Mons. Gibboni that Fr. Justin had preached two courses of spiritual exercises to the clergy of the then diocese of Campagna. Deacon D. Flavian Osuagwu, is for now the only collaborator. Within the month of June another brother priest will join this new community as pastor of the parish of St Antonino. The archbishop prefers that the whole city of Campagna be entrusted to the Vocationists, in order to carry on an unified Vocationist pastoral ministry. I wish Fr. Bernardino, who is also Superior of the new community great success in this new field of apostolate. We hope, in a future not too remote, to restore the facilities of the shrine and to establish there a small house of spiritual exercises and a center for vocational discernment.

On the same date, on February 20 it was also canonically erected the religious community of Foligno. Fr. Henry Monfregola in addition to being pastor is also the superior of this community; Congratulations to him and to Fr Domenico Renzullo, Fr. Cornelius Ibeh and Rev. Paul Greco (from next July) members of this community.

From January 23 to February 15, 2003 I have visited our province of Brazil; besides  sharing with the confreres their annual meeting, I have made the canonical visit together with Fr. Ademir, to all of our communities. I have had the pleasure to receive the perpetual vows of Rogerio August Santos and the first vows of George Carneiro da Silva. Likewise I was happy to admit to the novitiate: Eder Giovanni Bispo Ferreira and Alexander Mendonca Nonato. In Brazil there 4 professed brothers, 2 novices, 4 postulants and 8 aspirants. It is beautiful and encouraging to see our confreres working as teams and the vocational zeal that animates our brothers in Brazil.

From April 5 to April 15, 2003 I will visit Colombia with Fr. Nicola Carandente to study together the possibility of opening a new mission in that nation. This new mission, that is hoped to open within 2004, will be taken care of from our province of Brazil, naturally with all of our support and our blessings.

I am also pleased to inform you that the construction of the first phase of Fr. Justin Vocationary in Ibadan has started. For the construction of this first phase that consists of a dormitory, the church, the refectory, the community halls, the kitchen, the road,
the preparation of the ground, the walling of the ground, the wells for the water, black wells, electricity and telephone line, US$1.000.000,00 are needed. I Ask that you too may be a channel of the divine Providence for the realization of this project.

Currently in Congregation we have 4 deacons, 14 students, perpetually professed brothers, 70 temporary professed brothers, 34 novices, 47 postulants, 12 disciples and 59 aspirants. The Lord is blessing us with this abundance of vocations. What are you doing to sustain these vocations? Send your contribution to the General Treasure; find us some generous benefactors, take new initiatives to raise some funds for vocations, encourage scholarships and adoptions for our students. After the direct work for the animation and the vocational formation, the financial contribution is the most tangible sign of your attachment to our charisma. What to think, that to say, that to do with those confreres that for years persist in not sending their financial reports and their contribution to the Congregation?

We have started the canonical visit in Italy. I have completed the visit of our three communities in Rome. The effectiveness of the visit depends on the preparation of the single communities and from the disposition of the single confreres. Up to this moment, I find it a positive experience.  


 
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