Sacraments of Reconciliation
Part 8 Exploring Forgiveness

Chapter r82 The Sunflower

Preliminary Questions


The Story

The Comments


To Think About

Preliminary Questions

It is interesting (and important) to think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this context.  Who is forgiving whom? 

In this view, the priest certainly has no right to forgive -- and God has already forgiven.

For the Jews, would one have to "go to confession" not to the priest, but to the one he/she had offended?

Does sacramental absolution take something away or proclaim that something has already been removed?

 Why didn't the SS soldier in Wiesenthal's story confess to a priest?  Why did he confess to a Jew?

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Wiesenthal, Simon.  The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.  Revised and Expanded Edition, New York:  Schocken Books, 1998.  ISBN 0-8052-1060-1.  Paper.  $13.00.

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The Story

Wiesenthal, Simon.



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The Comments

Forgive and Forget? Forgive and Remember?

"Without forgetting there can be no forgiving." (Moshe Bejski, The Sunflower, p 116.)

"I believe that one should forgive the person who has committed atrocities against oneself and humankind. But this does not necessarily mean one should forget about the atrocities committed. In fact, one should be aware and remember these experiences so the efforts can be made to check the reoccurrence of such atrocities in the future."  (The Dalai Lama, The Sunflower, p 129.)

"Forgiving and Forgetting are two separate acts. One should forgive---not out of altruism but out of the need to be free to get on with one's life--but we ought not forget." (Matthew Fox, The Sunflower, p 148)

"Unlike South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Germany never established a public forum at which crimes against the Jews were openly confessed." (Susannah Heschel, The Sunflower, p172.)

"So do not grant pardon before you are certain that the guilty on their side will always remember their guilt." (Manes Sperber, The Sunflower, p 248.)

"To be forgiven is to feel the weight of past lifted from our shoulders, to feel the stain of past wrongdoing washed away. To be forgiven is to feel free to step into the future unburdened by the precedent of who we have been and what we have done in previous times." Harold S. Kushner, The Sunflower, p184.)

"If genocide goes unpunished , it will set a precedent for tomorrow's genocide.  Without Justice, there can never be reconciliation and real peace."  (Sven Alkalaj, The Sunflower, p 104.)

"Whoever is merciful to the cruel, will end by being indifferent to the innocent.  Forgiveness can brutalize." (Cythia Ozick, The Sunflower, p 215.)

"I explicitly and emphatically reject the idea of collective guilt." (Sven Alkalaj, The Sunflower, p 104.)

"Even if Wiesenthal believed that he was empowered to grant a pardon in the name of the murdered masses, such an act of mercy would have been a kind of betrayal and repudiation of the memory of millions of innocent victims who where unjustly murdered, among them, the members of his family." (Moshe Bejski, The Sunflower, p 115.)

"Sins of complicity are killing the planet and laying waste the souls of many young people as we live in denial of the prisons we are building to house young persons whose violence stems from despair and joblessness and we lay waste forests and waters and soil and the air itself by our lifestyles of consumption." (Matthew Fox, The Sunflower, p 147.)

"A priest who fully understood the meaning of his role in the sacrament would never grant private absolution to one whose crime has been public. The sinner must publicly acknowledge guilt, and only then ask for absolution. Anything less than that is, I believe, a perversion of the sacrament. For this reason, many Catholics are uncomfortable with the purely private nature of confession if it lacks any form of public penitence." (Mary Gordon, The Sunflower, p 152.)

Divine Forgiveness: The Difference Jesus Makes

"Over the past twenty years I have frequently used The Sunflower as a text in my holocaust course; it has invariably led to animated discussions. One striking feature of these has been that, almost without exception, the Christian students come out in favor of forgiveness, while the Jewish students feel that Simon did the right thing by not granting the dying man's wish." (Eva Fleischner, The Sunflower, p 139.)

"According to Jewish tradition, even God Himself can only forgive sins committed against Himself, not against man." (Abraham Joshua Herschel, The Sunflower, p 171.)

"The crimes in which this SS man had taken part are beyond forgiveness by man, and even God himself is among the accused." (Arthur Hertzberg, The Sunflower, p 167.)

"A well known Talmudic text teaches that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, atones only for sins committed against God; as regards offenses committed against one's fellow human beings, atonement can be achieved only through pacifying the injured party." (Joseph Telushkin, The Sunflower, p 264.)

"That SS officer should take up his case with God. I personally think he should go to hell and rot there. I doubt very much that my God would grant him forgiveness. After all, what does it take to serve in hell?" (Sidney Shachnow , The Sunflower, p 243.)

"According to an old medieval legend the Apostles assembled together in heaven to re-celebrate the Last Supper. There was one place vacant , until through the door Judas came in and Christ rose and kissed him and said 'We have waited for thee'". (Christopher Hollis, The Sunflower, p180.)

"Why was there no outcry from the world's billion Christians while the thirteen million Jews of the world made Soviet Jewry a household word? I believe that there are four reasons: 1) the Christian doctrine of forgiveness has blunted Christian anger at those who oppress them;2) the notion that one should pray for one's enemies has been taken to mean 'pray for them, do not fight them'; 3) the belief that God loves everyone, no matter how evil, makes it impossible for a believing Christian to hate evil people and therefore difficult to fight them (I assume those who love mass murderers are less likely to want them dead than those who hate them); and 4) the Christian emphasis on saving souls for the afterlife has led to some de-emphasis on saving bodies in this life." (Dennis Prager, The Sunflower, p 229.)

"Should not a sentence like 'The SS man had a Catholic education' be so thoroughly a contradiction of its own terms that the words come out jabberwocky?" (Cythia Ozick, The Sunflower, p 213.)

"Does the habit, inculcated in infancy, of worshiping a Master--a Master depicted in human form yet seen to be omnipotent--make it easy to accept a Fuhrer?" (Cythia Ozick , The Sunflower, p 213.)

"For a Buddhist, forgiveness is always possible and one should always forgive." (Matthieu Ricard, The Sunflower, p 235.)

"The best thing you can do now is pray that in your future lives you will be able to atone for your crimes by doing as much good as you have done evil."  (Matthieu Ricard, The Sunflower, p 236.)

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Forgiving and Being Forgiven -- 1) Forgiving

"Forgiveness is and act of volition." (Robert Coles, The Sunflower, p 126.)

"It is a cardinal principal of Judeo-Christian ethics that forgiveness must always be granted to the sincerely repentant." (Edward H. Flannery, The Sunflower, p 136.)

"You must learn the wisdom of how to let go of poison." (Jose Hobday, The Sunflower, p174.)

"Judge not that ye be not judged. It is our duty to reflect how small is our own understanding and that, if we knew all of a story, we should often see how much more there was to be said for another action, how much time--it may be--of the blame really is ours than appeared at first sight." (Christopher Hollis, The Sunflower, p177.)

"Forgiving is not something we do for another person, as the Nazi asked Wiesenthal to do for him. Forgiving happens inside us." (Harold S. Kushner, The Sunflower, p186.)

"I refuse to give you the power to define me as a victim." (Harold S. Kushner, The Sunflower, p186.)

"How, then, do vengeance and forgiveness differ?

In this way: forgiveness is pitiless. It forgets the victim. It negates the right of the victim to his own life. It blurs over suffering and death. It drowns the past. It cultivates sensitiveness toward the murder at the price of insensitiveness toward the victim." (Cythia Ozick, The Sunflower, p 217.)

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To Think About

1.  "An eye for an eye..." What does this mean?

2.  "Forgiveness is impossible without Grace."  If the Is grace always given, then the statement is meaningless; if it is not always given, why would God not give it?

3.  "The real issue is whether the Jew and Nazi were two of God's children sharing a common humanity or whether they are two different sorts of being, irrevocably at war with one another." (Christopher Hollis, The Sunflower, p180.)

4.  On the top of p. 100, Beverly Flannigan says "Forgiveness is not given to events, but to people who have altered a person's perceptions of his internal or external world and of how this world will be in the future."  Later on p. 102 Flannigan says: "I suggest that the relationship between the degree of injury to these offended people and the degree of forgiveness they were able to extend to their offenders represents the relationship between the extent of damage done to assumptive sets and degrees of forgiveness given."

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