This week Letitia shares a powerful testimony to finding freedom through forgiveness. Thank you, my dear friend, for trusting us with your story and for being such a beautiful witness to the reality of God’s Amazing Grace.
In her book, Set Free, Genevieve Kineke says that forgiveness is the universal path to wisdom and the only reliable passage to true freedom and ineffable joy. She goes on to say that through the power of forgiveness, the dignity and vocation of women stands stronger and is illuminated brilliantly once again. She says that despite the fallen world, despite their particular vulnerabilities, and despite the pain involved, it is essential that women persevere in love. They must love for two reasons: The world needs their love, and their own happiness depends upon it. In order for us to be able to fully love, we have to first be free from the wounds that keep us from freedom through forgiveness.
This calls to mind a conversation that I had with Father Ubald, the Rwandan priest who survived the Rwandan holocaust, and his mission to heal his country. Father Ubald lost eighty members of his own family and his entire church parish in the Rwandan genocide. Father Ubald told me the story of a woman whose husband and all but one of her children, a daughter, had been brutally killed during the genocide in his country. He said that he was able to find the man who had killed her husband and children and asked him to beg her forgiveness. The man, with the help of Father Ubald was able to come to the woman and beg her to forgive him for killing her family. The woman, through what had to be incredible faith and strength, was able to forgive this man for the atrocity he committed in killing her family. Through his healing and reconciliation, the man gave to her one of his own sons to help provide for her and her daughter for the rest of their lives. What a miracle!
Father said the key to reconciling and peace for the entire country is for people to forgive and for people to be forgiven. For true peace, both must happen, forgiving and receiving forgiveness. Healing happens only when those who have been injured are able to forgive those who have injured them and for those who have sinned against another to ask for forgiveness and hear forgiveness from those they have sinned against. Of course, there may not always be the opportunity to have both happen and there can be healing on the part of one and not the other. When a heart is healed through forgiveness, it then becomes free to love without any reserves, without holding any anger or grudges. The heart is full of mercy and compassion for others. As has happened in Rwanda, the entire country has experienced a conversion of heart through the healing power of forgiveness and is now a peaceful country.
In my own experience, I was sexually abused by a family member as a young child. As I grew older, I realized that what had happened to me was a grave injustice and violation of my dignity that stripped me of my innocence as a child. I thought my purity had been stolen and so began to doubt my own feminine dignity and my own self-worth. In my brokenness, I could not fully live my feminine vocation as God had intended for me. I had counseling and that helped but since it was not faith based it really didn’t do much to help me regain my dignity. I had no idea that I had a God who loved me and was not mad at me for what happened to me, nor did he blame me. This violation haunted my relationships with my father, husband and all men who came into my life. It was a silent and interior turmoil that I could not tell anyone. Some years later, I had a reversion to my catholic faith that I had neglected for many years. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation I sought forgiveness for my own sins. Receiving The Sacrament of Reconciliation set me on the path to be able to forgive the man who had violated me. After my oldest daughter was born, again this awful and unresolved pain and anger reared its ugly head. One day, while changing her diaper, I wondered how anyone could do such a thing to innocent babies and young children. The answer came to me that only a person who is away from God, a person who is living in sin, or a person with uncontrolled passions could do such a thing. Then I realized that such a sin as this separates a person from the possibility of eternity with God. People who commit any kind of sins against another person must seek to be reconciled with God and receive his mercy and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I also needed to fully forgive him so that my heart would not be weighed down with anger, bitterness, grief and self-doubt. I needed to be free of the guilt and shame that I had put upon myself.
Recently, I was able to put all of it to rest. The man who had done this to me was dying. I went to visit with him. I was told he was not able to speak, so I expected just a quick visit to say goodbye. When I got there he became alert and asked me to help him plan his funeral and asked if my husband, a Catholic deacon, would say some words about him at his funeral (he was asking for my husband to do the homily). I asked him what he wanted him to say and he said, “Just that I was a good person.” He grew up Catholic and had received all of his sacraments but had not been to church since his Confirmation. As I looked upon his frail body and fragile state, I was overcome with pity. He had not enjoyed the fullness of life. As far as I know, he was indeed a good person outside of what had happened to me. But in the moments before death, he needed some sort of affirmation or forgiveness. A while before I got there, although he was not in a state of awareness, he had received the Sacrament of the Sick. He asked me what that meant. I explained to him that he was ready for a proper Catholic funeral with the dignity due all human beings and that he had been forgiven of his sins and God’s mercy was greater than any sin he had ever committed. It was like starting over with a clean slate. All he had to do was be sorry for his sins and ask for forgiveness. I realized then that I had been healed of my wounds. I was free of that one part of sorrow that still lingered in my heart. My story is a familiar story to many women but sadly the forgiveness and freedom are not always part of every story.
In Set Free, Genevieve says that many women have grave wounds that are buried very deeply. We have coping mechanisms to keep them there. When we start to deal with the wounds it can be like unrolling a ball of twine. She says the process can be maddening and complicated. The next process is forgiveness. It is not a feeling but a decision and the decision will take many steps. There will be many layers of emotions and feelings to experience but the healing will happen through perseverance and faith.
In this time in which we live, when families are under unprecedented attack, our world needs us. Our husbands and children need us and they need us to love freely and without reserve and to be joyful even in times of trial. God has given women the beautiful gift of femininity and He is asking us to use it to spread the Gospel. There is no other way to fully receive the Mercy of God and to extend that fullness of mercy without the freedom that comes through forgiveness. We have the now peaceful country of Rwanda to show us how to forgive and be free of the slavery of unforgiven injustices and Father Ubald is a wonderful example of ineffable joy that is possible through freedom that comes from forgiveness even after grave and unspeakable injustices.