It was pretty early in the morning that September Tuesday. I was a brand-new principal; you all were about eight or nine years old, just about the age when long-term memories begin to stick in your head. I walked out into my assistant’s office; she was turning on the television to see what was happening in New York City, where an airplane had apparently accidentally struck one of the Twin Towers. We silently prayed and wondered what had caused such a disaster when a second plane struck the other tower. It was instantly clear that terrorists had murdered hundreds, even thousands of persons. I got on the public address and we prayed together as a school for the victims and even the terrorists.
The events of September 11, 2001 show what happens when an understanding of brotherhood totally breaks down. A handful of extremists whose reading of Muhammed led them to believe that those who would not embrace Islam deserve death had murdered over three thousand human beings from dozens of countries, including fellow Muslims, and they expected to go to heaven as martyrs for committing this inhuman act. They thought they possessed special knowledge, special divine revelation, but instead of loving and giving place to their fellow humans, they annihilated them.
Now let’s meditate with St. Paul on the real way to build up a brotherhood, and contrast it with the opposite. Some of you are well prepared for high school; others are less prepared. The way to tear down your brotherhood is to mock less prepared students, or imply that they are less intelligent than you. By mocking them, you just show that you are less mature than the average Centralite. The way to build up the brotherhood is to watch for ways to encourage them when they succeed, or to help them when they have trouble. You don’t have to be a Sodalist or NHS member to help your brother do a problem you are proficient in. I don’t say do it for him; just show him how you thought through it. By your knowledge the weaker brothers should be built up, not destroyed. Learn from St. Paul in the year of St. Paul.
Now let’s turn to Luke, who was St. Paul’s Gospel writer. And let’s try to figure out what to do when somebody else acts like a jerk, rather than a brother. I met with all of you, one-on-one, last year. I also had the privilege to talk to you in class last spring. We talked together about not acting like a jerk, not acting like a bully. A couple of the members of your class left our school because they felt picked on. We talked about stopping the harassment, and you said you would stop it.
But let’s say somebody in your class or another class comes to school, or a dance, or a party, in a foul mood. Maybe he got into a fight with his dad, or woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or looked in NetClassroom and saw he’s failing four classes. Instead of doing his homework, he is coming toward you looking for somebody to push around. He acts like a jerk. What do you do?
Well, if you see it happen, you know it’s wrong. You quietly report it to an administrator. We’ve got to do something about it. And we will. We’ll either get the jerk-bully to change his attitude or behavior or we’ll find out what school he’d rather attend. We’ll even pray with him and encourage him to find a priest so he can be reconciled with God. And we’ll make him apologize.
But what if you are the one being hassled? What about you fellows who have been hassled in the past? Jesus tells us what to do: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you.” And, in another place, he tells us to forgive those who hurt us so that the Father can forgive us.
There’s great power in our hands. It’s the power to forgive a jerk-bully, a jerk-cheater, a jerk-thief. It’s powerful because it’s unexpected. Jerks expect us to cry, run, or take revenge. The last thing they expect is forgiveness. That’s why it’s so disarming. Forgive them and tell them you forgive them. It could change their lives. It’s worked for me in both directions. To forgive an enemy frees my heart from resentment. To be forgiven by someone I have hurt frees my heart from guilt, and makes it easier to right the wrong.
Jesus gave, and forgave, up until the moment of his death. As brothers, we would do well to imitate his giving, and his forgiving.