Simon Weisenthal Biography, The Sunflower

Over 80 members of his family died in a Nazi concentration camp. He saw his own mother machine-gunned right in front of him. He tells the story that one day a nurse came out to where he was working, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to follow her. He was taken to a hospital room where a member of the dreaded SS troop lay dying. He was just a young man.

He told Simon how he had been in charge of a unit dealing with Jews. This meant just one thing, herding them into a building and then douse the building with gasoline to set it on fire. Then machine-gun anyone who tried to escape. The young trooper had been a Catholic before he had become a Nazi and he began to feel guilt over what he had done. He had requested that a Jew be sent to him, any Jew, male or female, he needed a representative Jew. He begged Simon on behalf of his people for forgiveness. He said he was not born a murderer and he did not want to die one.

Simon Weisenthal said the only response he would give was to get up and leave the room without saying a word; without granting forgiveness, and for the rest of his life he was troubled by his non-response. What would you have done? That is a question that we could talk about all day and so, I would like to ask you another question. Have you ever been in the place of the Nazi officer? Not mass murder? Are there any Simon Weisenthal’s in your life who cannot and will not forgive you? People you may have hurt so bad that they want nothing to do with you ever again and they are most likely those closest to you?

And so we have two questions, if you are Simon Weisenthal, the gospel challenges you with the imperative and the demand to forgive, forgive your enemy. If you are the young Nazi and you badly want forgiveness and the people in your life cannot or will not or are unable to forgive, then turn to the gospel and you find out that Jesus will stand in their place. This is also, I suggest, why he invented the sacrament of confession. It is the place that Jesus has set up where we are reconciled to the Father. It is the one place where we can be reassured that in our broken and dying moments the Lord will come and say, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.”

I suppose in the end it comes down to how seriously we take the prayers we say every day. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

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