A true story of a man haunted by the past, whose life had been totally miserable due to the harrowing burden of guilt……
A priest in California was preparing to go to bed on a Sunday night after a busy day when the phone rang. It was a nurse at the hospital which was a couple of hours drive away. A man was dying. He was a Catholic and would “Father” come. The priest was reluctant because there was a storm raging outside. But he decided to go. Upon arrival he entered the room of the dying man. He introduced himself and was gruffly told to “go to hell.” The conditions of the storm had worsened, so the priest decided he would hang around for a while. An hour later he approached the man again. “I am a Catholic priest. You are dying. Are you sure I can’t help you in any way?” Again the man rebuked him, demanding that he be left alone. For some reason the priest decided he would try once more. He waited another hour. Then he entered the room for the last time. To his surprise the man responded, “Well, I may as well tell you.” Then he began to relate the story of his life. Forty years previously he worked on a railway signals box. Everything was done manually in those days. It was Christmas time, and he had been drinking. When the train was approaching he pulled the wrong lever. The train went down the wrong track and collided into a car as it was crossing the lines. A woman and her two children were killed instantly. He told the priest that from that day onwards he had lived with the guilt of that accident. He kept to himself, never married, and gave up on life. He lived in quiet despair.
The priest, who had been listening very intently, asked him a few more questions about the date and time of the accident. Then he said to the dying man, “I want you to listen closely to me. You did not know this. But there was another little boy in that car. He lived. And when he grew up he became a priest. And he is speaking with you right now! And I want you to know, I forgive you.”
That man, who had spent his whole life in such an awful prison of self-hate, guilt and self-recrimination, was able to hear from the priest the words of forgiveness that set him free. He was finally able to forgive himself as he not only heard the words of absolution from the priest, but also the words of forgiveness from the little boy who had lost his mother and siblings in an accident 40 years previously. He died in peace…
When you live in the darkness of depression and despair, when the Light shines in, even a sliver of it, it is deeply welcomed for it liberates the imprisoned soul. There are so many of us living within prisons. Trapped by ourselves. Trapped by others. We grieve and rant for we are unable to find the key to the lock of our dark, dank cells.
There are too many sitting in prisons, and too few holding the keys to unlock those prison cells. And this is why, even as we live imprisoned lives, we must strive to release others. We cannot wait to be free ourselves before we free others. We need not wait! And if we know the pain of being imprisoned, it must never be our wish to see others share our fate. Guard against it we must, that perverse joy of seeing other souls suffer as we do. No comfort must we seek in seeing the numbers increase in prisons like ours.
And even if that sordid wish lives in a secret crevice within us, we must turn away from it and not give it life, for it makes no sense to welcome death for others while we fight it ourselves.
Even as we stumble along the lonely terrain of Calvary, even as we bleed and hurt, we must train our wounded-ness to find joy in freeing other imprisoned souls.
To watch in peace through our own prison bars, that other soul soar free. To welcome that inevitable sting of sorrow that others are free whilst we aren’t. For that sting is not selfishness; it is our wounded-ness.
And when we have freed others, and if that Sting comes – that they are free and we arent, we must know that angels stand in gentle wait to take our pain.
Our wounded-ness in all its forms, our own imprisonment, must never hold us back from freeing others. We are both prisoners as well as jailers. We might not possess the keys to our own freedom, but we have with us that which can unlock other cells not ours.
And unlock them we must.
For to free others is to love Him.
To free others, is to free ourselves.