"I stood here in line to wait to talk with you because I thought you should know there were four angels standing behind you during your entire talk." Dazed by her words, I just nodded and thanked her. Because she was right, there was a line of women standing there, wanting to speak with me about this talk I had just given on the subject of Forgiveness. A talk I'd said I would love to do months before and then had a near meltdown the week before the scheduled conference. Realizing I had nothing to say. What was I going to say to a few hundred Catholic women? Women who had been Catholic far longer than my meager two years in a religion I still felt belonged more to those who had never walked away from God.
Desperate for something to ground the talk on, I had taken my husband's car to the store. His radio dial was turned to some Christian evangelical station. Just as I was about to turn the dial to my favorite music station, I heard a lawyer talk about United States v. Wilson as the model for man's need for and refusal of the mercy of God. Evidently a convert, like me. I was so mesmerized by his words, I pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out a spare piece of paper to take notes. I had found the ground for my talk- this was indeed the spot-on allegory. Wilson had been sentenced to death by hanging in 1829 for mail robbery and associated other crimes. But influential friends of Wilson appealed to Andrew Jackson for clemency. They were heard and Jackson issued a pardon. Wilson, however, refused the pardon. The President turned to the Supreme Court who said this:
"“The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it…. It is a grant to him: it is his property; and he may accept it or not as he pleases.” Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…. (But) delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and…we have no power in a court to force it on him.”
Of course, forgiveness is all about grace, there is no merit, warrant or justification. "For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
But the doubts roared back the day of the talk. My good friend seemed to feel my rising anxiety as we sat together listening to a well-known Catholic writer and activist talk about her views on the subject, views which were decidedly different from the theme of the address I planned. One without any reference to gender inequality or unfairness. Without looking at me, Kate reached over to squeeze my hand, hard. By the time I stood to look at the lectern, my knees were shaking, literally. But public speaking was something I had done a lot of in my past, I was accustomed to all the signs of stage-fright and knew the fear would pass. I had worked hard on the talk, prayed hard and felt that the message was a good one.
But angels? Four of them standing behind me? Even now, all these years later, what is there to say to the woman who stood in line just to say that there were four angels standing in back of you?