A few days ago the Stoffel family was enjoying a beautiful day in idyllic Menasha, Wisconsin. They were crossing a bridge in a popular park when a deranged gunman decided to shoot as many random people as possible. Four people lost their lives: Brian and Olivia (Father and daughter), Adam Bentdahl (unrelated victim), and Valencia Del Toro (shooter). Erin, the mother, was shot three times and is in severe condition but expected to survive.
According to those who were there, Brian used his last breaths to say “forgive the shooter”. As reported in the Milwaukee paper:
“The family would like to make it known that Erin said Jon’s last words to her after he was shot were, ‘Forgive the shooter.’ We truly love because Christ first loved us. This was the heart of a man who walked the talk — his dying breath and last wish was only that his wife forgive the gunman.”
Would we be able to forgive like Brian did? Could we lie dying next to our wounded family and so quickly forgive the killer? How many of us could truly live out the virtue of forgiveness which, as I often quote from GK Chesterton, is only a virtue if we are able to “pardon the unpardonable“. These are the powerful questions Brian Stoffel forces us to ask ourselves, especially as Christians.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
We hope that the suffering from this tragedy has a meaning we can’t comprehend. We pray for the souls of Brian and Olivia Stoffel. We pray for Erin, that her mind, body, spirit, and living children are able to recover. We pray for the soul of Adam Bentdahl, the third person killed who was also trying to enjoy the nice weather. And, just as Brian asked us to forgive the shooter, we pray for his soul, that he, too, is able to be judged fairly by our Lord and viewed favorably despite this horrendous sin.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears! Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Amen