Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Power to do the Impossible

Whether it is easier to forgive the big things or the little things, this much is clear, sometimes it is fairly easy for us to forgive -- but sometimes it is, for all practical purposes, impossible for us to forgive. Some hurts are just too large, some injuries are just too great (or sometimes we allow ourselves to get so self-centered that even little injuries seem great) that it is impossible for us to forgive.

Or, perhaps I should say that it is impossible for us to forgive.

But, as we shall soon see at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit allows us to do the impossible. And that is why the otherwise mystifying Sacrament of Confirmation is so vitally important. Not only did the descent of the Holy Spirit allow the weak and terrified Apostles to come out of hiding and bravely and loudly proclaim the Gospel, not only does it allow the persecuted, such as Perpetua and Felicity, to gladly endure the suffering of martyrdom -- something that otherwise would be unthinkable and not humanly possible -- the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to what we otherwise could not humanly do, including that which is perhaps the most impossible thing to do at times -- forgive the unforgiveable, forgive the debt that can never be paid.

One of the best examples of this is described in "Left to Tell," by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide while the rest of her family was hacked to death, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Eventually, the man who had led the group that killed members of her family was caught, and the jailer who held him allowed Immaculee to confront him (and take her revenge).

But, as the murderer knelt before her, she "wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man." And when the jailer shouted at the killer and hauled him to his feet, Immaculee touched his hands lightly and quietly said, "I forgive you."

The jailer was stunned and furious. After the killer was dragged out, he said, "What was that all about, Immaculee? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question . . . to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?" In her book she says that she "answered him with the truth: 'Forgiveness is all I have to offer.'"

But the forgiveness she gave did not come entirely from Immaculee. As she says in the Introduction, her book "is the story of how I discovered God during one of history's bloodiest holocausts." And this discovery, this lesson, forever changed her. "It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me -- and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family."

Forgiveness is sometimes easy for us, but sometimes it is impossible for us. Some crimes are simply too great. But God gives us the power to do the impossible.

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