Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Raymond Reddington and Me

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past couple of years. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

Two years ago I put in my papers for voluntary retirement from the Navy. The previous 28 months in my old billet as the Command Chaplain at Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek – Fort Story had convinced me that the pain of trying to care for and fight for unappreciative people, including people who tried to destroy my life and career was not worth the fight. But just days after I put it in and the retirement request was approved I suffered a fall down my stairs while dealing with bilateral knee, ankle, and right hip injuries while making home repairs. My request was to retire on 1 September 2019, but by April 2019 with failed surgeries, injection treatments, and physical therapy, I realized that more needed to be done and requested that my retirement date be shifted to my statutory retirement date of 1 April 2020. However, when I called the retirement branch at Naval Personnel Command, I was told that there had been a mistake and that my actual statuary date was 1 August 2020.

Since everyone was planning on my September retirement, and my relief was already in place, the new situation was unbearable to the command, and something had to be done. So they transferred me to an unoccupied billet in which they could hide me while sending me on temporary duty orders to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which turned out to be my earthly salvation. When the Coronavirus 19 pandemic hit, the Navy asked a few officers in certain specialties to volunteer to remain on service past their retirement date, until December 31st 2002. I had come to love the people I served and had my faith and call as a Priest renewed.There was no pressure, all I had to do was make myself known, get out among our people and be transparent, caring for and respecting everyone, not just Christians. In the past couple of years I’ve experienced and learned more about forgiveness and forgiving wrongs committed against me, and recognizing actions committed by me that hurt others.

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices committed against others, especially those done by powerful people who use their position to deliberately cause harm or death to people. This you will see a steady stream of articles addressing things like slavery, racism, the Holocaust, unjust wars, government actions that do deliberately harm to the most vulnerable members of society.

While do really love the concept of forgiveness, as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive, even to the point of sacrificing his life to forgive the sins of the world.  Nor do I really understand how the great saints of every faith managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA,  that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may remember them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. As Reddington said to Donald Ressler:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of sins is so important to me and so difficult. It certainly wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for today. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under anti-semitism, christian life, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, faith, holocaust, mental health, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, racism, Religion, remembering friends

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