Throughout the Lenten season, we will post reflections for holy days and Sundays from both this year’s Lenten reflection booklet, Witnesses on the way, which includes all-new reflections written by National Council Chair Charlene Howard and her husband Michael Howard (and daily reflections from newly-named Ambassadors of Peace) and from previously published Lenten booklets; the reflection below was written by Jim Forest for the 1990 booklet. Click here to see all reflections as they are posted as well as links to other Lenten resources on our Lent 2023 webpage.
REFLECTION FOR Sunday, March 5, 2023
by Jim Forest, originally published in “Passage to Love: Lent 1990”
His face became as dazzling as the sun …
Saints are indicated in religious art by the halos painted around their heads. This isn’t just a useful means of pointing out the holy people but a means of suggesting the radiance which emanates from people living lives of love and forgiveness.
There is something transfiguring about forgiveness. By pulling the plug on the well of hatred and revenge in ourselves, whether it be toward people close to us or some distant enemy or a general category of people we find distasteful, we allow our lives to become vessels of the love that God is pouring out for everyone. And that shows. In the subdued light of the Lenten city, forgiveness brightens our path.
Forgiveness can be a terrible, difficult choice to make. And yet it happens, sometimes even on a big scale. In 1944 the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko went with his mother to watch a procession of 20,000 German prisoners of war:
“The pavements swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police. The crowd was mostly women – Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick, and with thin hunched shoulders which had borne half of the burden of the war. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans. They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the column was to appear.
“At last we saw it. The generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over their plebian victors. ‘They smell of perfume, the bastards,’ someone in the crowd said with hatred. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back.
“All at once something happened to them. They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty, blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became dead silent – the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches.
“Then I saw an elderly woman in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying, ‘Let me through.’ There must have been something about her that made him step aside. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a colored handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And now from every side women were running toward the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had period the soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.” (Yevgeny Yevtushenko, A precious autobiography, London: Collins, 1963)
- The disciples were transfigured by the transfiguration of Jesus; the column of defeated soldiers was transformed into human beings by acts of forgiveness and kindness. Recall a time when the witness of another’s generosity, forgiveness, and love transfigured your life, changed your view of the world. What difference did it make in your actions?
- Name a time when it was very difficult for your to forgive a person or group. Think of a situation where it was much easier to forgive. What made the difference?
>> Join the Pax Christi USA community on Monday, March 6, for the second of our weekly series of Lenten prayer services over Zoom. Click here for more information and to register.
Jim Forest, who died in January 2022, was the International Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and a good friend to Pax Christi; he wrote the reflection above for the 1990 Lenten booklet, “Passage to Love.” The author of numerous books and essays, for more than 50 years he worked alongside of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hahn, Daniel Berrigan, and others to resist violence, war, and nuclear proliferation.