September 28, 2006
His work ended with a mental collapse. Yet the thought of Nietzsche influenced modern philosophy since the second half of the 20th century. Nietzsche sharply criticized the Greek tradition's over-emphasis on reason in his Die Götzendämmerung (Twilight of the Idols, 1889). Nietzsche taught that we are not simply driven by our need to stay alive, but by a greater need to have power and use it, even to subdue others in the process. The “will to power” in the human person leads to the control of the environment as well as the domination of other persons.
There are different ways that individuals can attain power over others. Those who have wealth have power that the poor do not. Those who have weapons have power the unarmed do not possess. And those who have knowledge have power the ignorant lack; and, they can use that knowledge to transform society. Just think of the tremendous changes brought about in our way of life by those who know about computers and communication (cf Alvin Toffler,
In our society, we witness the power of those who use violence to further their ideas. The new level of violence perpetuated by organized terrorism has forever altered the tranquility of every day life from air travel to tourism, from television viewing to vacations. No place is completely safe. No person exempt.
When gunmen pumped four bullets into the back of Sister Leonella last week outside the S.O.S. hospital in Mogadishu, the world took notice of how irrational violence can be. Earlier in the day, a leading Muslim cleric in Somalia had condemned the pope for offending Muslims. Some have seen her death as the response of fanatics. They question whether or not she and other foreigners killed in Somalia recently are victims of growing Islamic radicalism in the area. Swedish journalist Martin Adler was killed in June during a demonstration in Mogadishu. Prominent Somali peace activist, Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, was murdered a month later. BBC journalist Kate Peyton was shot dead last year. After warlords overthrew the country’s longtime dictator in 1991, Islamic fundamentalists have seized control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia’s south. The Islamic courts are credited with introducing some order into the region.
In every instance where someone kills another person by an act of terrorism, there is despair on the part of the killer. The terrorist remains blind to the inherent goodness of every human person. To take the life of another by violence is never an act of worship of the God of life. To commit such an act in the name of religion is a perversion of religion and a profanation against God. God is the Father of every human person created in his image and likeness. To hate another is to hate God. “Terrorist violence is a contradiction of faith in God, the Creator of man, who cares for man and loves him. It is altogether contrary to faith in Christ the Lord, who taught his disciples to pray: ‘
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’ (
Mt 6:12).” (Pope John Paul II, Message on World Day of Peace, January 1, 2002)
When the Old Testament psalmist counts up the blessings of God, he places forgiveness at the head of the list (Ps 103:4). So important is forgiveness in the New Testament that Luke sees it as a synonym for the gift of salvation (Lk 24:47). Jesus’ whole mission is contained in his offer of forgiveness of our sins and the sharing of the divine life with us. Jesus taught much about forgiveness in his public ministry (Mt 5:7; 6:12-15; 18:15-17). In his portrait of God, Jesus paints the unforgettable image of the Father who is eager to restore the Prodigal Son to his family (Lk 15).
In his ministry, Jesus extends to all the unprecedented offer of the forgiveness of sin. He announces the inbreaking of the kingdom of God and includes the forgiveness of sins as one of its blessings. When he establishes the New Covenant in his blood at the Last Supper, he says, “This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Because of God’s forgiveness to us, we can forgive others.
When we pray the Our Father and say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are not standing before God in a
quid pro quo relationship. God is mercy. God is love. Unconditional. Not dependent on us. Rather we are asking for that change of heart toward others that will open us to God himself. Forgiving others before they say they are sorry, and even if they remain hardhearted, is the highest expression of love. This is what Jesus did on the cross when he said, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Like Jesus forgiving those who killed him (i.e. all of us), so did the protomartyr Stephen (Acts 7:60). And now most recently, Sister Leonella Sgorbati.
Sister Leonella had worked for nearly 40 years in Kenya and Somalia. She had served the weakest and the neediest. She gave of herself to others without regard for their religion or race. Sister Leonella knew her life was at risk. With a sense of humor characteristic of those who know there is more beyond this world, she used to joke that there was a bullet with her name engraved on it. Nonetheless, with a determination born of fidelity to Jesus, she remained undeterred in her commitment to serve others. The day she was shot, Sister Leonella has just finished teaching medics. But she had not given her last lesson.
Just before she died, she whispered in Italian, “
Perdono, Perdono.” Her twice spoken “I forgive” is a testament to a life lived in imitation of Christ and a death patterned on his. It is “the most authentic Christian witness, a peaceful sign of contradiction which shows the victory of love over hate and evil” (Pope Benedict XVI,
Angelus Message, September 24, 2006).
Sister Leonella’s act of forgiving those responsible for her death is the lesson the world desperately needs to learn. For only such forgiveness makes “it possible to heal the wounds that have sometimes permanently marked people in their very depths and to re-establish in the best possible way the human relations that have been destabilized” (Pope Benedict XVI,
Address to H.E. Iris Jazaïry, Ambassador of Algeria, December 1, 2005). Such forgiveness perfects frail and imperfect human justice. It is not human weakness, but divine power. It is the power of love transforming our world for the best.