In my short time as a priest (I will celebrate my fifth anniversary in December), some of the most powerful moments have been accompanying death row inmates at the Polunsky unit in Livingston, Texas. About a year ago, I was able to celebrate Mass with one such inmate the night before his execution. This inmate, Kosoul Chanthakoummane, had been convicted of the murder of Dallas real estate agent Sarah Walker in July of 2006.
Asked by the district attorney about seeking the death penalty, Sarah’s father Joe, a devout Catholic, responded that he was against the death penalty. Unfortunately, Joe’s insistence did not stop the district attorney from seeking the death penalty anyway. Motivated by his deep Catholic faith, Joe not only wrote to Kosoul forgiving him for his daughter’s murder, but even began praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy for his conversion every day up until the day of his own death.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus concludes his “Discourse on the Church,” with a beautiful teaching on forgiveness. After giving the apostles the authority to forgive sins in his name, Peter raises the question to Jesus: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?” Jesus’ response — however it is translated — suggests that one should forgive continuously.
To illustrate this teaching on forgiveness, Jesus uses the “Parable of the Merciless Servant.” The “much smaller amount” (100 denarii) the fellow servant owes, and for which the merciless servant has him imprisoned, pales in comparison to the “huge amount” (10,000 talents) for which he himself has been forgiven — an amount he would never, in truth, be able to repay.
Each Sunday, if not every day, we pray these words that should be as haunting as they are routine to us as Christians: “Forgive us our trespasses,” or “Forgive us our debts,” “as we forgive . . .” We could rephrase this: “Forgive us in the same manner we forgive,” “Forgive us to the same degree we forgive . . .” Sirach in today’s first reading even takes it a step further, raising the question: “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, [and] seek pardon for his own sins?” So likewise the master at the end of the parable tells the merciless servant, “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”
Joe Walker told a reporter, “If you are going to expect mercy from the Lord, you must show mercy,” echoing the words of Jesus: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” Joe’s living the message of Divine Mercy, praying each and every day for the conversion of his daughter’s murderer, did eventually lead to Kosoul Chanthakoummane’s conversion.
Such forgiveness can seem impossible for us to wrap our minds around, and yet it is the same forgiveness the psalmist speaks of in today’s responsorial psalm: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”
Kosoul died by lethal injection on August 16th, 2022 thanking the Lord Jesus Christ and those who, like Joe, had “aided him on his journey.” Not a single member of Sarah’s family watched from the viewing chamber.BACK TO LIST