At the time of World War II Coventry England was an industrial town of some 320,000 residents. And because it was home to many factories Coventry was frequently bombed by the Germans. But on November 14, 1940 it was targeted for an especially devastating bombing. That night over the course of several hours more than 500 German bombers pummeled the city by dropping over 36,000 bombs, setting everything on fire. More than 60,000 buildings were destroyed in the attack and it was such a brutal attack that the Germans even invented a new word as a result. From that night on whenever an attack was especially devastating, it was said that the target was “coventried.”
Now among the buildings destroyed was St. Michael’s Cathedral. After the bombing raid only a few walls, of the once grand Cathedral were left standing. One of the walls left standing was behind the main altar, and it remains standing today. After the war a workman took two beams of charred wood that had fallen from the roof of the Cathedral and he formed them into a cross planting it into the ground where the main altar once stood. And on the wall behind the cross two words were etched into the stone. Those two words were, “Father forgive.” Of all the words that could have been carved into the ruins of a church destroyed by an attack that aimed to not only devastate buildings but to kill people, the survivors chose these two words, “Father forgive!”
Today in the Church throughout the world we are celebrating what is known as the Feast of Divine Mercy. This Feast was given to us by Pope St. John Paul II. He gave it to us on April 30th in the year 2000. This Feast was instituted as the result of a series of visions that a Polish sister, named St. Faustina Kowalska, had of Jesus back in the 1930s. In these visions, Jesus made known to her in a very powerful way that His mercy is beyond anything we can conceive, and that it’s His great desire for all men and women to come to Him, regardless of what is in their pasts, and to trust in His Infinite Mercy.
Jesus also revealed to St. Faustina that it was His desire that on this 2nd Sunday of Easter in the Church across the world this Feast would be celebrated. And so it is today. And at the very center of this great Feast are the words that are carved into the ruined wall of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry: “Father forgive!”
Because, of course, 1900 years before these words were carved into that stone, they rang out from the lips of Jesus, lifted high on a cross on Good Friday. With a crown of thorns piercing His Sacred Head, His sinless and pure flesh shredded by the Roman scourging, and His hands and feet held fast by nails pounded into Him by men He had created out of love for friendship, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive!”
St. Aelred, a British saint from the 12th century once commented, that not only does Jesus cry out for forgiveness, but He even goes above and beyond to make excuses for those wounding and crucifying Him. St. Aelred wrote this about the manner of our Lord’s forgiveness from the Cross.
“Father, he says, forgive them. Is any gentleness, and love, lacking in this prayer? Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgment; therefore, Father, forgive them. They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross; if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them. They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognize my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
That cry of forgiveness was uttered for the Roman soldiers who tortured Him to death. That cry was uttered for the Jewish leaders who mocked Him and handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified. That cry was uttered for the Apostles, all of whom except John, ran away and left Him alone. That cry was uttered for Judas, who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed His Creator and the Creator of the universe. That cry was uttered for me and for all of my sins. That cry was uttered for you and for all of your sins.
So, what is it were supposed to do today, as we call to mind the extraordinary mercy we have received from God? Two simple things come to mind. First, let us make sure we take and make some time today to praise God for the fact that He is rich in mercy and forgives us. Let’s not be ungrateful or take for granted all that Jesus has done for us. His mercy endures forever. Second, let’s pray today for those in our parish family who have not yet personally experienced God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let’s pray for those who are discouraged or even despairing because of a poor choice they made, maybe many years ago now. Let’s pray for those who are afraid to draw near to Jesus. Lets pray that God will draw them to Himself, that He will bring them back to the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation, that they will know that the words, “Father, forgive” aren’t just some words carved into a wall of a ruined church, but a cry from the heart of their Savior, uttered for them.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley