Forgiveness

I was especially pleased to find Bishop Robert Barron’s article (“Forgiving Dylann Roof”) in the March 2017 edition. I admire Barron a great deal, but I would like for him to help me understand the mechanics of forgiveness a little more clearly.

Obviously, forgiveness is a critical part of our relationship with God. We are taught by Jesus (through the Lord’s Prayer) that we are to ask for forgiveness for our own sins, but also recognize that receiving forgiveness is contingent on forgiving those who trespass against us. Also, the Bible consistently teaches us to seek salvation through contrition and a “turning away from” our old sinful selves. My understanding of soteriology is that our salvation is contingent upon asking for God’s forgiveness. In other words, God wants me to enter into a saving relationship with him, but it requires an act of the will. It requires me to acknowledge my falling short of the glory of God.

Forgiveness is one of those acts associated with our being made in the image of God. We are instructed by Jesus to forgive because God forgives. So if my own forgiveness by God depends upon my acknowledgment of being in need of forgiveness, wouldn’t it be necessary for the same conditions to be in place for forgiveness between two humans? I know that it sounds like I am splitting hairs here, but I would argue that the families mentioned in the article are not truly participating in “forgiveness” until the perpetrator (in this case Dylann Roof) is ready to admit his own need for forgiveness.

The victims of an act of evil, whether it was a heinous murder or an act of libel or an act of theft, are able to relinquish their hatred of the perpetrator by not holding a grudge. But this act of the will that releases the perpetrator is not forgiveness unless the perpetrator asks for forgiveness. Again, I point to the ultimate paradigm of forgiveness: God stands always ready to forgive me, but my forgiveness is contingent upon my own acknowledgment of being in need of forgiveness.

It is commendable for the victims’ families to release any hatred against Roof. It is an act of removing the poison from their hearts that hinders healing. But forgiveness requires the perpetrator to know he needs forgiveness, and he must ask for forgiveness in order for it to actually happen.

Chris Mcintyre
springhill, louisiana

It is, at the very least, astounding for the African Americans who were friends or relatives of the victims so callously murdered by Dylann Roof to have chosen not to hate him but to forgive him. Robert Barron, in “Forgiving Dylann Roof,” points out the iconic quality of their gesture: “They loved with the love of God. They broke free of the egotistic rhythm of exchange, and they thereby ­demonstrated the existence and nature of God.”

Barron, as usual in his writings, does us a real service by highlighting their remarkable (and potentially evangelizing) act of mercy. But I demur from his understanding of forgiveness in one way. He quotes the loved one who said: “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.” This statement describes perfectly what the victims’ loved ones did: They let go of their anger. Through the power of Christ’s love within them, they extinguished the fires of hatred. This act, however, does not jive with Barron’s definition of forgiveness: “When we forgive, we lift the burden of responsibility from the shoulders of the offender. We give a very specific gift: the exoneration of the obligation to right the wrong done. Forgiveness is the writing off of a debt.”

What Barron has done is ­conflate the unconditional and conditional levels of forgiveness. Forgiveness, I believe, has two dimensions: grace and reconciliation. In its initial grace dimension, forgiveness unconditionally lets go of anger against an offender who has caused deep hurt. God did this for David, who said of the Lord, in Psalm 103:9, “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.”

But for the second (conditional) stage of forgiveness (reconciliation and friendship) to ensue, God, through the prophet Nathan, ­insisted on genuine confession and repentance from David. For that to come about, God provided chastisement—­penance to produce penitence. David was tortured with disease, such that he felt his bones broken by sin. God purged David with hyssop, and performed “heart surgery” on him.

What the forgivers of Dylann Roof did was the first stage of forgiveness. But for full reconciliation to ensue, which is often not possible, justice is required: The murderer would need to take responsibility for his act. Without justice, the loved ones cannot, nor should they, write off the debt.

I could very well conceive of a loved one saying she had no room for hatred, while at the same time serving as a key eyewitness for the ­prosecution. When John Paul II visited in prison the man who tried to kill him, the pope forgave his offender, but did not, to my knowledge, implore the authorities to release the man from prison. Nor should he have.

I will not stop reading appreciatively everything that appears from the pen of Robert Barron. My letter is charitably intended as a nuancing of his thought, not as an outright ­disagreement.

Clifford E. Bajema
twin lake, michigan

Robert Barron responds:

I was very grateful to receive both of these thoughtful responses to my article. In answer to Chris Mcintyre’s concern, I would observe that forgiveness, precisely as an act of love, is not contingent upon its acceptance by the one to whom it is offered. Jesus says that the divine love is like the sun that shines upon the good and the bad alike, or like the refreshing rain that falls on the just and the unjust alike. And the Lord’s pardon from the cross is granted not to those who are likely to accept it, but to those who are actively killing him. To be sure, forgiving love is meant to awaken an answering love in the one who receives it, but this cannot be the condition for the initial gift.

Clifford Bajema wonders whether the statement “I have no room for hatred” is compatible with the desire to seek punishment for the perpetrator of a wicked act. Yes, it is, for we know that love is willing the good of the other. Inasmuch as one desires punishment, incarceration, and rehabilitation as positive goods for a criminal, they are expressions of love—or, if you will, they are extensions of the original gift of forgiveness.


Right to Work

I appreciate Max Torres taking the time and effort to contribute an important reminder about the value of work for human flourishing (“America Needs Work,” March), but I am left wondering why a Carrier job in Indiana is more moral than a ­Carrier job in Mexico. I concur with the ends Torres articulated for human ­flourishing, but I don’t understand why those ends should be circumscribed by national borders. Many issues surround the free markets for labor and trade, but don’t those markets allocate the most jobs to the most people worldwide in the most efficient manner over a period of time?

True, we need regulations about child labor, predatory pricing, governmental bribery, and business subsidies, but NAFTA and most other trade deals include plenty of such regulation. All humans ought to have the chance to work—in Indiana, Mexico, or elsewhere—and the free movement of labor and business appear to enhance that opportunity rather than diminish it.

David Jennings
vancouver, british columbia, canada

I would like to thank Max Torres for his article on the importance of work in and of itself. The Church’s teaching on human labor, ­especially in the social encyclicals Rerum ­Novarum and Laborem Exercens, is rich with insight that has been largely underappreciated, and I am glad that Torres has drawn further attention to it.

That being said, I must disagree with two of his points. First, to suggest “working at McDonald’s has no less dignity than working at a law firm” confuses the worker and the work. Of course all workers, as human beings, are made equal, but it does not follow that all work is made equal. Highly systematized, assembly-line style work such as ­McDonald’s offers is specifically arranged to reduce ­human decision-making to a minimum. In short, it is intentionally structured to be as ­un-human as possible. It is therefore inherently opposed to the kind of work that Torres describes as giving us “the means to develop more fully.”

Second, arguing that “unpaid work in the home or with children is as important for a flourishing society as investment banking at Goldman Sachs, perhaps more so” struck me as an odd sentence to find in the pages of First Things. The work of raising children is all but self-evidently necessary for the development of a flourishing society; that the Goldman Sachs investment-banking ­department is good for society might not be true at all.

While I agree with Torres that work is a fundamental human good, I think he has given too much benefit of the doubt to the McDonald’s and Goldman Sachs of the world and ignored the harm they do both to the worker and to the common good.

Jonathan Elliott
warrenton, virginia

Max Torres’s essay “America Needs Work” was a refreshing and thoughtful piece of economic analysis of a kind I thought had disappeared from the public view. Liberal and conservative economists today both view work only through the importance of income. The idea that work itself is valuable and part of what makes us human has been lost. Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons the ­United States has lost its ability to create and maintain jobs is the attitude we have created when it comes to work. On the one hand, there are people who view work as something to be endured and believe that loyalty to the employer is “selling out.” On the other hand, there are people who will do the most immoral actions to “get ahead.” In both cases, the ideology of the self is what matters most.

The group of people who seem most often to defy these destructive attitudes are the developmentally disabled, for I have seen many of them perform “menial” jobs with such a strong work ethic that they put the rest of the nation to shame. They have not forgotten how valuable work is as an expression of duty, creativity, and the common good. However, there are “advocates” who fail to ­understand this and, in the process, have taken work away from some disabled people.

Due to my own disability, I take a paratransit system to my part-time job (to augment my disability income). I used to ride with two men who lived in separate group homes and worked at two separate sites for the same organization, Peninsula Services, a nonprofit that focuses on employing people with disabilities. Disability Rights Washington sued several such organizations, claiming that their disabled workers were being taken advantage of by not being paid minimum wage. The fact that these organizations were nonprofit and that they could not afford to pay minimum wage was never considered.

The result was that these two men had to be let go because Peninsula Services could not afford to pay them minimum wage. So instead of being able to participate in the economy and develop a sense of responsibility and adulthood, their days are taken up in some form of adult day care, where they will always be made to feel like children. To me, this seems like an assault on their dignity—even if their material needs are taken care of.

Francis Jacobson
bainbridge island, washington

Max Torres responds:

I’d first like to thank my readers for their thoughtful and perceptive questions. David Jennings asks why a ­Carrier job in Indiana is more moral than a Carrier job in Mexico, and why human flourishing should be circumscribed by national borders. He then makes an empirical point that I am happy to concede: Free labor, trade, and business markets “allocate the most jobs to the most people ­worldwide in the most efficient manner over a period of time.” In response to his first question, a U.S. job isn’t more moral than a Mexican one. In fact, given the wealth ­disparity between the two nations, and my Church’s insistence on a preferential option for the poor, it might even be less moral. But nations and companies, like people, are enjoined to be moral in concrete circumstances, not in a blackboard exercise of Pareto optimality.

In response to Jennings’s second question, I’d grant that human ­flourishing shouldn’t be circumscribed by national boundaries. In fact, universalizing it should be the hope of every generous heart—but not by just any means. Carrier’s decision, rather than being a maximally moral preference in the abstract, is a contextualized choice to partially retain work in the country that nurtured it; gave it the protection of law; provided capital, customers, and workers for it to grow to the point where it can now consider leaving for foreign shores and cheaper labor ­elsewhere. President Trump’s ­prodding has aimed at catalyzing the provision of work in the country that elected him ­president, which seems reasonable, as he is neither president of the world nor the pope. The president’s responsibility for creating conditions in which human flourishing may occur is circumscribed by national boundaries, even if the desirability of it for the entire human family isn’t. He has convinced Carrier and other companies that, for now, America can best contribute to the world’s prosperity by the example it sets, the opportunities for work it provides to its own people, and the national wealth that it generates and disseminates to Americans.

Naturally, this doesn’t deprive Mexico or any nation of access to the material conditions conducive to human flourishing. It merely obliges them to pursue that end through the stimulation of domestic markets and industries, rather than wooing American companies to relocate offshore. People, and nations, might do well to worry less about the theoretical solution to the problems of maximum long-term job creation and worry more about the problems facing our homes, loved ones, and neighbors here and now.

I thank Jonathan Elliott for his ironic sense of humor, and answer first by noting that “working” as in “working at McDonald’s” is a verb that reflects on the action of a subject, a person, not on the direct ­object, the “un-human” work a person may perform. While I share his aversion to highly engineered work seemingly shorn of human freedom—the fruit of Frederick Taylor’s scientific management—the ultimate human importance of work resides in the interior action of human freedom, not in the exterior actions performed, whether restricted or not. It depends on the purpose that a person freely assigns to work and, in the final analysis, on the amount of love he or she puts into it. Thus, one might convert the rote production of Big Macs into a human service, or a divine task, by doing it for the sake of a hungry customer, the children’s ­orthodontia, or God. I intended to extol the provision of any and all work, which generally affords these means to more fully develop oneself and others. (As an aside, some might consider filing boilerplate motions and billing time in fifteen-minute increments also to be un-human.)

With respect to Elliott’s second point, I chuckled at his denial of the positive value that Goldman Sachs (and, presumably, investment bankers in general) contributes to the global economy, business, companies, workers, homemakers, and children. I suppose the company (and profession) deserves the scorn for the actions of alumni like Jon Corzine, and for its self-enriching forays into the public coffers. Be that as it may, I’d encourage everyone to consider a world without agents of capital formation and deployment—investment bankers—and to ponder from where work, progress, and population growth might materialize in a static, illiquid economy.

Francis Jacobson’s letter is filled with much wisdom. He underscores with the poignancy of a personal anecdote something that I tried to convey in my article: that what Pope John Paul II referred to as the subjective dimension of work—its self-transformational aspect through predominantly social means—is of more importance than its output, or objective dimension, and the income it provides. I wonder how many labor activists have unintentionally served workers as poorly as Disability Rights Washington has Jacobson’s transit companions. For instance, agitators for a $15-an-hour wage at McDonald’s have hastened the arrival of cheery and ­unfailing machines that will take our orders, make our hamburgers, take our ­payments, and thank us for our business without ever complaining or making a demand on the company. That ­campaign has achieved success for neither the people who will lose their work, here and now, nor the ones who will have lost this gateway (dare I say Golden Arch?) to the working world.


Shepherds and Wolves

With great concern I read Douglas B. Farrow’s “To Hell with Accompaniment” (March). I was concerned for two ­reasons.

The first and far greater is simply to have learned that Cardinal ­Lacroix of Quebec City, along with ten of his brother bishops in eastern Canada, has taken an ­accommodationist stance on newly legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia. In their document, “A Pastoral Reflection on Medical Assistance in Dying,” they are careful to suggest rather than state directly that one might receive preemptive absolution for the sin of suicide which one is about to commit, or Viaticum to aid one’s growing “union with Christ” shortly before choosing death over life. Farrow is right that such a document and practice must be soberly objected to as scandalous.

My lesser concern, which prompts this letter, is that Farrow has forgotten the principle that “the abuse does not take away the proper use.” The bishops base their justification on the concept of accompaniment as introduced in Evangelii Gaudium 169, and Farrow rightly suggests that their so-called accompaniment is a lie if it follows the path to self-destruction.

What both Farrow and the bishops fail to mention is that Pope Francis could not be more clear in upholding this truth. The “Pastoral Reflection” in quick succession quotes from Evangelii Gaudium paragraphs 169, 171, and 172, as if hoping that no one will notice paragraph 170. Here it is in full:

Although it sounds obvious, spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.

To again say what should be “obvious,” one cannot be on a pilgrimage if the road is leading to hell.

Despite the scandalous abuse of concepts such as accompaniment and discernment, their proper use must remain a vital part of the Catholic tradition. One must be careful not to throw the baby out with the ­bathwater, no matter how foul.

Brian Boyd
south bend, indiana

When I read in “To Hell with Accompaniment” the author’s excoriation of the ten Canadian bishops who signed “Pastoral Reflection on Medical Assistance in Dying,” I went to the document itself expecting to find a repudiation of traditional Catholic moral teaching about sin, intrinsically immoral acts, the discipline of the sacraments, etc. I found no such thing.

First, a disclaimer—I am a lawyer, not a professor of moral theology, but I have taken college and postgraduate courses in Catholic medical ethics. The bishops’ document cited extensively the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as Pope Francis’s writings. These bishops recommended that the Church respond to patients and their families who may be considering euthanasia or assisted suicide under Canadian law and who ask for the ministry of the Church. This response would include listening, dialogue, and compassionate, prayerful support. There is no promise of sacramental absolution, Eucharist, anointing, or even of Catholic funerals or burials. “Such a pastoral encounter will shed light on complex pastoral situations and will indicate the most appropriate action to be taken including whether or not the celebration of sacraments is proper.” What, if anything, is wrong in an approach which responds to individuals in crisis rather than making general denunciations?

Neither the Canadian government nor hospital or medical personnel can define for the Church what is an intrinsically evil act. For example, there are situations where a debilitated patient is in pain and doctors give inadequate pain medication because there is an underlying condition such as congestive heart failure, and death would almost certainly occur if an adequate dosage were given. This occurred in my family and is not rare. Often doctors’ actions are governed not by a moral imperative but by a fear of liability if relatives sue because the patient died of an “overdose.” Sin involves intent. Many, if not most, patients want relief from pain that has become unbearable. That is their intent, not death. If the patient signs a document (prepared by the government or hospital lawyer) authorizing “assisted suicide” as the only way to get adequate pain relief, the principle of double effect may apply as it does in some ectopic pregnancies and other medical situations.

Finally, the section that calls for strengthening palliative care options—what is commonly called hospice in the U.S.—is something that all in the Church should support.

Jan Hicks
oak ridge, tennessee

Douglas B. Farrow responds:

I thank Brian Boyd for drawing attention to paragraph 170 of Evangelii Gaudium. I hope Pope Francis is using it behind the scenes to challenge brother bishops who find it convenient to overlook the point there made. And I assure Boyd that I am myself for sparing the baby when ditching the bathwater. Indeed, I was careful to contrast the principled accompaniment of the western Canadian bishops with the apparently less principled “accompaniment” of some in the east. Readers who would like to understand the situation would do well to take some time with the rich document produced by the former, with which the latter, alas, were clearly uncomfortable.

I’m not sure why Jan Hicks was expecting to find in the statement of the Atlantic bishops a direct repudiation of Catholic moral teaching or a promise of sacraments dispensed without any discernment at all. Things are not quite so bad as that. Or perhaps I should say things are not quite so good as that, for indirect repudiation may do even more damage. Nor, for the record, did I imply that there is anything wrong with an approach that “responds to individuals in crisis rather than making general denunciations.” Far from it. But adequate pastoral guidance is not given, either to individuals or to societies, where people are not clearly warned of the difference between the narrow path that leads to life and the broad path that leads to destruction.

Hicks’s penultimate paragraph tempts me to observe that, if Catholic teaching about human destiny is sound, assisted suicide is certainly not a reliable method of obtaining adequate pain relief. Hicks is not suggesting that, of course, but suggesting rather that the problem can often be reduced to a question of how much temporal pain relief is appropriate. Would that this were true. I regret to inform the attorney that we are faced here with a full-blown euthanasia regime, under which an entire society is being encouraged to think that the deliberate ending of human life is a rational and morally upright course of action. Oh yes, and an economically efficient one, too.

Which brings me back to the point of my article and the discernment I am calling for: The Church must stand squarely and forthrightly against this regime. It must deploy its sacraments in the cause of life, not of death, and defend them from compromise with the ways of death. Where there is even the least doubt about this, it is serving neither its Lord nor the least of his brethren. I am not, however, concerned chiefly with euthanasia, but rather with the Church itself. For euthanasia is not the only front on which attempts are being made to compromise its sacraments and its witness.


City Life

In his review of the many recently released books by and about the great urban thinker Jane Jacobs, Michael J. Lewis points out that none of them sufficiently address the role of religion in her thinking (“What Jane Jacobs Saw,” March). However, I would note that Robert Kanigel’s brief discussions of Jacobs and religion in Eyes on the Street is far more than I have ever seen anywhere else, and that it sheds more light on her fundamental beliefs than the reviewer gives it credit for.

As Lewis notes, Jacobs was a churchgoing atheist. When asked about this apparent contradiction, Kanigel recounts, she responded that the services at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Greenwich Village “gave me the satisfying, in fact inspiring feeling that I was a link in a long, sinewy, living human tradition of being.” This comment, however brief, should be taken seriously. More than anything else, this reverence for life and the systems that sustain it was the closest thing Jacobs had to ­spirituality.

Kanigel also offers one possible origin of this guiding principle: an early experience with her father. Sitting on their front porch together one day in Scranton, he gestured to the oak tree in their front yard and asked rhetorically, “What is its purpose?”

Kanigel recounts her thoughts: “The tree’s purpose? What purpose did it need, really? It was alive.” ­Jacobs recalled answering that “the purpose of life is to live.”

“Yes,” her father says, “That tree has a great push to live—any healthy, living thing does.”

Jacobs’s many books testify to the enduring impact of this parable on her thinking. She argued for bustling streets, entrepreneurship, and cities because they facilitated so many people’s lives and livelihoods. She argued against the big, comprehensive plans of governments and corporations because she believed they undercut the diversity, complexity, and unpredictability necessary for life to thrive.

However, for Jacobs, the “great push to live” ran deeper than ­observable facts. When asked by a reporter in 1970 whether she had any prejudicial attitudes, for example, ­Jacobs replied that she couldn’t shake her “feeling against abortions,” though she suspected it was a prejudice. “All my instincts say human life is sacred,” she continued, “and this feeling is not amenable to contrary reasoning.” She was equally skeptical of laws forbidding abortions and of the cultural pressure to abort “­unwanted” children, ­especially when population control became a common argument of the early environmental movement. When faced with the unknown or the unknowable, Jacobs always returned to the sanctity of life as her guiding star.

Perhaps the most succinct summary of this most dearly held belief can be found in the long epigraph by ­Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. that Jacobs chose to begin her first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “Life is an end in itself,” it reads, “And the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.”

Nathan Storring
new york, new york

Michael J. Lewis responds:

Nathan Storring and I are in agreement: No critic who has written about Jane Jacobs has ever done justice to the role of religion in her upbringing and mature thought. Our ­disagreement is of the half-full/­half-empty variety. He ­appreciates the new evidence unearthed by ­Robert ­Kanigel of Jacobs’s indisputably religious worldview; I lament that ­Kanigel fails to see it as such, and that he does not draw the ­obvious link between her Presbyterian childhood and the deeply moral understanding of community she ­developed as an adult.

Kanigel depicts a rather generically countercultural figure—­associate of Alger Hiss, victim of ­McCarthyism, scourge of the establishment bulldozer. Best of all, she performed what for the progressive is the ultimate hajj: emigration to Canada in 1968 to shield her sons from the draft and Vietnam. That this same woman could express deep qualms about abortion (which I learn about from Storring for the first time) is inexplicable unless one understands the fundamental continuity of Jacobs’s moral thought. And for all the good of Kanigel’s biography, it stumbles badly here.

But this has been a problem for American scholarship for well over a generation. At a certain moment, perhaps in the late 1970s, the subject of religious affiliation became a kind of taboo among university students, and dropped from polite discussion. This soon worked its way into the scholarship. I have noticed in my own field that biographies of American painters, sculptors, and architects customarily mention religion only in passing or not at all, as if it were no more relevant to understanding the work than one’s astrological sign. But if one does not know, for example, that Charles McKim was a Quaker, Stanford White an Episcopalian, and Frank Lloyd Wright a Unitarian, one can hardly begin to understand their wildly different relationships to the physical and social world in which they acted.

I thank Nathan Storring for his thoughtful letter, which strikes me as the outline for a splendid essay that I very much hope he will write.