Sunday, Feb. 19
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
Marie had to tell her three children what had happened that morning. In her book, One Light Still Shines, she relates how she sat down on the sofa with Abigail, age 7, Bryce, age 5, and Carson, 18 months. “I have something very sad to tell you.” She cleared her throat and swallowed. “Today Daddy made some very bad choices, some people got hurt, some people died, and he died too.”
Earlier that morning of Oct. 2, 2006, Charlie Roberts, the husband of Marie and father of their three children, went into an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Charlie took hostage 10 Amish girls between the ages of 7 and 12 years old. He sent home the boys, the schoolteacher, and her pregnant sister. Lining up the girls and binding their feet, he shot them one by one. Then he turned the gun on himself. Five of the Amish girls survived, and five died.
While her three small children could not begin to understand what had happened, Marie huddled with her children on the sofa and cried inside. “God, you have to fix this!”
Marie looked up through the open window. The sun shone warmly and a cool breeze blew. She felt these words whispered in her soul. “I am not going to fix it. I am going to redeem it.”
Those words melted the tension in her shoulders. She relaxed and began to breathe. With each breath, she felt the heaviness lessen. In its place, hope took hold of her heart. The Lord had promised to redeem the horror.
That afternoon while sitting at her kitchen table, Marie saw five or six Amish men walking down the street. Black hats, black pants with suspenders strapped over their solid-color shirts, blue, gray, and green. Her stomach lurching, she thought she was going to be sick. She stood and stepped toward the window, half-hiding behind the curtain. She panicked. They were coming to her house!
Running from the kitchen, she found her father in the backyard with her children. “Dad, a group of Amish men are coming down the street. What should we do?”
“It’s okay, Marie,” dad said. “I’ll go out and talk to them. You stay inside.”
As Marie hid herself behind the kitchen window curtain, she watched the Amish men walk up the driveway. Her dad came forward and met these long-time neighbors. One Amish man with a long gray beard opened his arms wide. Her father, shoulders heaving, fell into the comforting arms of his friend. The others offered embraces. Heads nodding, they spoke and listened before departing with handshakes and farewells.
Inside the house, her father told Marie and her waiting family, “They came out of concern for you, for the children, for all of us. They asked if you were okay, if the children were safe. They wanted to know what they could do for you. They asked how they could help…. Every one of those men had a family member in the schoolhouse this morning. Can you believe they came to express concern for us? They wanted us all to know that they have forgiven Charlie and that forgiveness embraces us all. They spoke no words of anger, not the slightest hint of resentment, only assurance, concern, and comfort.”
Later in the week, a representative of a local bank brought her children stuffed animal toys and cards from bank staff and customers. For Marie, she brought news that the bank had set up a trust fund for her children. Funded by donations, the trust fund took away the fear for the children’s financial future.
The Amish did what Jesus had commanded. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). Their actions gave life to Marie and her family. They took up the cross and broke the cycle of violence. The Lord did not fix it. Making good on his promise to Marie, he redeemed it.
Who do you want to retaliate against? Who do you wish was wiped off the face of the earth? How can you love them instead? How can you be a light for them? Ask the Lord. He will show you how. After all, that’s what he did for us on the cross. The Lord is kind and merciful (Ps 103). He does not repay our sins with punishment.
An eye for an eye makes both blind. For our world blinded by retaliation and dwelling in darkness, we are the light of the world.
To take to prayer: Who do you want to retaliate against?
Father David Scotchie is a priest of the Diocese of Orlando. He is the pastor of Nativity Parish in Longwood.
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