Sunday Within The Octave Of Ascension
C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” That was most likely true for Saint Maria Goretti and her mother.
Born in poverty in Corinaldo, Italy, on October 16, 1890, Maria Goretti displayed trust in God from a young age. Though she was unable to go to school, she was blessed with a loving family that raised her in the faith. When her father died of malaria, she bravely held to God’s promise of provision, often telling her mother, “Mother, be brave, God will help us.”
When she was only eleven years old, Maria suffered a brutal assault. After she refused the advances of an older farmhand named Alessandro Serenelli, he stabbed her multiple times. She was taken to the hospital, but her wounds were too severe, ultimately taking her life.
In the last hours of her life, Maria forgave her attacker, expressing her wish that he would repent and turn to Christ.
Alessandro received a sentence of thirty years. While in prison, he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him, offering him lilies that burst into flames. As a result of the dream and the encouragement of a priest, he turned to God. When he was released, he went to Maria’s mother, Assunta, and begged her for forgiveness. The death of a child of any age is devastating. The pain and anguish can be compounded when the death comes at the hands of another human being. And yet Assunta was given the grace to forgive Alessandro, and they attended Mass, receiving Communion together. He went on to become a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and was present at Maria’s canonization ceremony in 1950, sitting side by side with Assunta.
Assunta's forgiveness toward Alessandro is a powerful illustration for us today. Forgiving Alessandro did not bring back little Maria, it did not change what happened in the past. But by Assunta finding forgiveness in her heart toward Alessandro, it did change the future. As poet William Blake said,
“The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.”
Assunta forgave Alessandro but there is another part of forgiveness that often gets neglected. That part is what we look at in today's Epistle reading. Peters strategy on forgiving is one of the most important lessons in relationships: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8).
Love covers a multitude of sins.
When I am hurt by someone, I have two choices to resolve that hurt. Since forgiveness is not an option for me as a Christian, I have the choice of how I will forgive: I can confront it or I can cover it. Remember this about forgiveness: we base it on what God has done for us, not on what another person has done to us. Our forgiveness from God is our motivation. According to Ephesians 4:32, we forgive because we have been forgiven. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Peter wants us to cover the offense. And that fervent love is the prerequisite for that choice. We can't cover an offense because we don't want to confront a person, but we can cover a hurt because we fervently love someone. To cover a hurt is very biblical, meaning not everything that is hurtful has to be an offense. We don't have to address everything every time we are offended. In fact, I think it's a sign of maturity to let certain things go. There are somethings I think God wants us to absorb to show and extend mercy. Why? Because that is the only way to build our mercy account: As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). There will come a day when we will need to withdraw from our mercy account and that can only happen if we showed mercy, not simply prayed for mercy.
Proverbs 19:11, says there is honor in covering an offense: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
The greatest people I know are not easily offended. Instead, they practice the habit of overlooking offenses. They take the high road, and give the offender the benefit of the doubt, and they move on. They are, as one person put it, “magnanimous -high soul”, able to overlook and injury or insult; rising above pettiness or meanness.
But what does having fervent or earnest love mean? Peter said that's the way to cover an offense. The fervent/earnest kind of love. The word fervent, or in some translations earnest, is critical in this verse and means to be stretched out. This kind of hurts to say it, but the word was used of a torture device that would stretch its victims on the rack.
Fervent love stretches you beyond your normal capacity.
Covering an offense is not based on the size of the offense but on the size of our heart, and if there is fervent love there. Solomon also talked about the concept of love covering an offense: “Love covers all transgressions” (Proverbs 10:12)
There is no chapter that best describes fervent love than I Corinthians 13: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way and does not count up wrongdoing ...”
What is love? It will hardly even notice when others do wrong in order to cover an offense, we need love. A fervent, earnest love, the kind of love that stretches us.