by Father Mark Goldasich
Now that spring is officially here — at least according to the calendar — my thoughts turn to warmer weather . . . and this little story:
A boy at summer camp received a large package of cookies in the mail from his mother. He ate a few, then placed the remainder under his bed. The next day after lunch, he went to his cabin to get a cookie, but the box was gone.
That afternoon, a counselor who had been told of the theft, saw another boy sitting behind a tree gobbling up the stolen cookies. “That kid,” he thought, “must be taught not to steal.”
The counselor found the boy whose cookies had been stolen. “Billy,” he said, “I know who stole your cookies. Will you help me teach him a lesson?”
“Yes! I hope you’re going to punish him!” said Billy.
“No,” replied the counselor, “that would only make him resent and hate you. Instead, I want you to call your mother and ask her for another box of cookies.”
A few days later, that box of cookies arrived in the mail.
“The boy who stole your cookies is down by the lake,” said the counselor. “Go down there and share your cookies with him.”
“But he’s the thief!” said Billy.
“I know,” he said, “but try doing what I asked and see what happens.”
About 30 minutes later, the counselor saw the two boys come up the hill, arms around each other’s shoulders. The “thief” was insisting that Billy accept his jackknife in payment for the stolen cookies. Billy was just as insistently refusing the gift from his new friend, saying that a few old cookies weren’t that important anyhow.
All the counselor could do was smile. (Story found on the Web, attributed to no author.)
That counselor is one smart cookie, who understands that mercy is usually much more powerful and effective than punishment. Mercy can bring people together, while punishment is isolating.
It’s a lesson I need to take to heart. I’m one of those people who enjoy watching detective series and action movies. Normally, the “bad guys” are portrayed with few, if any, redeeming qualities. That makes it easy to not only root against them, but to gloat when, in the end, they “get what’s coming to them,” especially if that involves some of the same pain they inflicted on others.
Sadly, it’s so easy to take this “eye for an eye” attitude from fiction to reality.
On Palm Sunday, we heard of Jesus healing the severed ear of the high priest’s servant — a “bad guy” who came to arrest him. We saw Jesus forgive the “evil ones” who were crucifying him, saying, “They know not what they do.” These actions are a far cry from a vindictive mindset. They call us to a new way of looking at things.
The season of Easter invites us to begin anew, to imitate the fresh life that we see springing up around us. One way to do that is to say Pope Francis’ prayer for this Year of Mercy, asking for a renewed heart and mind:
“Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees the Father. Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal; and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy; let the church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: Let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen!”