Forgiving a murderer

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One morning 25 years ago, Kathleen Beckman and her husband were taking their sons to play baseball when they received a terrible call: her father-in-law had been brutally beaten. They rushed to the hospital where they saw a man with "no semblance of his former countenance," said Beckman. Her father-in-law died from the injuries, and Beckman grieved bitterly for the beloved man she had known since age 13.

Some days after his death, she would sit in a chapel and mourn from the time she dropped off her kids at school until she had to pick them up again. Yet with God's help, eventually she was able to forgive her father-in-law's murderer, she told the participants of the Women's Conference, held March 12 at St. Joseph Church in Herndon.

During her prayer she would cry to God for justice, but eventually she began to pray, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." At first she simply recited the verse, but soon she began to truly mean the words. She hoped for the salvation of the assailant who had caused her and her family so much pain. "There is no one outside of God's mercy," she said.

Beckman, the co-founder and president of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests, was one of two speakers at the Women's Conference, titled "God, the Father of Extravagant Mercy." The conference was sponsored by the diocesan Office of Family Life and the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. While Beckman spoke of forgiving in extraordinary circumstances, Sister Clare Hunter, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office, spoke about accepting God's mercy in everyday life.

Sister Clare said she often feels like a person who plants a seed one day and comes back a day later to see if it has sprouted yet. "I often feel panicked that I'm not perfect yet, like it's something to finish up. By Wednesday, I should probably be pretty perfect," she joked.

Recently she said she headed to confession hoping the priest would reprimand her for committing the same sins over and over. Instead, the priest told her he was so glad that she was there. He showed her loving compassion. "He was the heart of Christ," said Sister Clare. We are never going to be perfect, she said, and so we have to live the joy of constant conversion. Catholics are called to accept God's much needed mercy every day, she said.

"Mercy and love are synonymous. Mercy reveals God to us. Mercy is a bridge that connects God and man," said Sister Clare. In His mercy, Christ enters into our brokenness and suffering, she said.

Jesus showed mercy upon the "normal, holy, and dysfunctional family" of Lazarus, Martha and Mary when He raised His dear friend Lazarus from the dead, said Sister Clare. John 11 speaks of how Christ journeyed from miles away to comfort the grieving sisters. Martha greeted Him, saying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know God will give you whatever you ask of him." Her statement showed a beautiful level of discipleship in the midst of mourning, said Sister Clare.

Yet like all of us, even in her belief she lacked understanding. When Christ commanded them to open Lazarus's tomb, Martha replied that it would undoubtedly smell. Like the kind priest who ministered to her, said Sister Clare, Christ tells Martha to let go and trust in Him.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde celebrated Mass for the 400 women attending the conference. In his homily, he encouraged the women to meditate upon Christ's moments of mercy in the Bible with their families and in adult formation.

Preaching on the Gospel, the bishop noted that all the early disciples came to see Jesus because He spoke like no one ever had, like one with authority. "Let us devour every word of the Lord," said Bishop Loverde.

Di Mauro can be reached at or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016