“And make sure you forgive.” Those were my friend, Susan Skinner’s firm words to me in her comments to my previous post, Unbeliever. I had written about a hurtful experience with a relative on the day of my child’s First Holy Communion. Our child had received Jesus for the first time. During Mass, we saw something we hadn’t expected to experience and we were deeply affected by what had happened. While this man surely did not know of our experience, for sure he saw how preoccupied we were with our little one on such a meaningful day, but instead of rejoicing with us and heaven, used it to his advantage and backed us into a corner.
When I saw Susan’s words later, And make sure you forgive, my instant self-assured reaction was, Sure I can, nothing to it.
But the very next second, I wasn’t so sure. I no longer heard Susan’s voice; a Supreme Being was speaking through my friend. Still trying to believe that I didn’t have a problem forgiving this man, I imagined seeing him again at church and set up the scene in my mind.
I found myself running into the church to hide from him. And after Mass, I saw myself running into the car to escape bumping into him.
I knew then that I had a problem forgiving this relative.
So, I plunged headlong into prayer. I tried to fashion the words for it. I came up short. Later, in Susan’s post, Dreams and Preparation, I saw this prayer:
Lord, send your Holy Spirit to convict …. repent of their sins,…..confessing them to their priest.
Is that for me? I gave it a go.
Truth be told, I could say the prayer only once before I fell from the weight of it. Even the prayer for the grace to forgive seemed lighter than this. This other prayer was heavy. I’ve never experienced this. It was not due to reluctance on my part. It was not because I wanted to say another prayer. It oddly felt like a heavy door.
And that it was not my place to push it open.
Yet, I didn’t sense it was the wrong prayer.
So, I did the next best thing. I did what I could do: I loaded this relative onto my prayer cart. Then, I loaded in my sinfulness and every difficulty I had in dealing with this situation, especially the struggle to forgive. I asked for His Mercy (I loaded that too). All weekend, I filled up the prayer cart because I didn’t have the words. I couldn’t come up with a simple prayer sentence; I couldn’t even read one with my heart even if I saw it.
But I was not troubled. I knew it was in Good Hands.
Arriving at Mass the next Sunday, I forced myself to look out for this person – as a way of fighting my real desire to run and hide from him. But I didn’t see him. I must say I entered church with more than a little relief.
There, I dropped to my knees. Fixing my gaze on the Miraculous Image, I told my Lord,
Lord, I set down my prayer cart before Thee.
Then, I sat back and waited for Mass to begin.
Our parish priest had never been even a minute late for Mass but this time he was. Minutes ticked by and the congregation became slightly restless, with many turning to the back to see if Fr had entered. My thoughts still on my prayer cart contents, I kept my gaze forwards but I heard the distinct bang of the confessional doors. I knew then what had delayed the priest.
Soon, the Mass began.
Right after Mass, the relative who had hurt us sought out my husband. Uh oh, I thought.
“My mother had a fall last Sunday after Mass,” he announced and went on to describe his 90 year old mother’s condition. She was unhurt but shaken.
I wish I could say that my concern immediately shifted to the poor woman. It didn’t. Too full of myself, I instead held my breath, waiting for the axe to fall. But nothing of that sort happened. We soon parted. There was no apology but neither did he make any attempt to twist us back to where he had us the previous Sunday.
Genuine thankfulness filled me over this conclusion; I had merely tried to forgive him as best as I could. God had done the rest. That was enough for me. It didn’t matter that our relationship would forever be marked by the wound of caution. I didn’t feel like asking for more, because my thoughts were now on something else the wind had rested on my ears.
And what I heard troubled me.
Deep in my pots later that night, my husband sauntered into the kitchen. We chatted about the day again. After a short pause, he asked me if I had noticed that our priest that day had been late in starting the Mass. When I nodded absently, I sensed him hesitate. Then, he asked me if I knew why.
Someone had gone to him for Confession, I replied.
Do you know who? my husband pressed, watching me carefully.
I shook my head, puzzled over the line of questioning. My husband is the last person on earth to keep tabs on others, much less take attendance at the Confessional doors, so I didn’t know where he was going with this.
It was him, said hubby.
I almost leapt at my husband, pot, scrub pad and all, so great was my shock and excitement and incredulity. So many go for Confession, yet I could not name a single person despite years of being a parishioner here because it is simply not something I keep a look out for, much less brand into my memory. But that day, both my husband and I had been alerted in different ways to a stirring behind the door – the greatness of someone’s hidden humility to seek Jesus’ healing love.
It matters not to me what had passed between our relative and the priest, if our matter had even been mentioned. For some reason, our unpleasant experience has diminished in its importance. The mere fact that that he had run to Jesus, considering all that had happened in the space of that week, both stunned and touched me deeply.
And it placed the eyes of my heart squarely on the whispers the wind had brought me about this poor man’s hidden struggle. It told me why my husband and I had to suffer for that wee while.
My relative’s problem(s) was the bigger rock, hitherto hidden. Our trouble with him was the light that fell on it and unmasked it. This time we were not called to pray this person to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That was why that prayer was so heavy. All that was asked of us was that we forgive him.
I’ve heard many times that forgiveness frees both sides. However, till this time, all I knew personally was the healing and freedom I received when I forgave someone. This was the first time I saw the power of forgiveness at work on the other side away from me.
For the first time, I learned with my heart that when I forgive, even wordlessly, in secret, or as part of an ongoing struggle, my forgiving becomes a key that unlocks the jail cell of the prisoner who has hurt me. Forgiving leads to healing – of forgiver and forgiven. And healing leads to conversion.
I cannot see the wind of road ahead for this person. That sight is not afforded to me. But what I do see is that my husband and I had to suffer shock and hurt to save a soul, possibly that of a secret gambler.
We were called to suffer briefly, to be bread broken, that through our forgiveness, a lost sheep might return to its rightful fold.