As human beings, we have a real capacity to hurt one another very deeply. Sometimes the things we experience can change the course of our lives and have a profound effect on how we see our self and others. There is no excuse for the terrible things that people do to each other, but no act of violence has the power to destroy our potential for peace and happiness unless we give ourselves over to hate, which consumes our spirit. Can you think of anything that one person could do to another that would not have to be forgiven?
Josephine Bakhita was born in the region of the Sudan around 1869. Seven years later she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders and forced to walk barefoot 600 miles to a slave market. For the next twelve years she was bought and sold more than a dozen times and treated with extreme cruelty, beaten severely and mutilated. Eventually she found her way to a convent of sisters in Venice where she was baptized and formed in the faith. Her new life in Christ brought her so much joy that she said:
If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for it that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today…The Lord has loved me so much; we must be compassionate.
She joined the religious community as a sister in 1896 and was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II on October 1st, 2000.
There are thousands of stories of individuals who have overcome terrible injustices and have been able to forgive the ones who hurt them because they discovered a love greater than their hurt. God is the source of all love and everything good and when we humbly approach him with our brokenness, he will gradually make us whole if we persevere with our prayers and trust in him. He promises that he will be with us if we come to him.
If we persist in asking why the injustice happened, we are asking the wrong question. However, if our priority is to be made whole, God will do it. No matter how bad we have it on the worst day of our life, there will always be someone who has had it much worse and was able to experience forgiveness, peace and happiness because they approached our loving God. Love conquers hate!
A Dominican Priest wrote:
To Thee, and those who love Thee, nothing is impossible,
I can do all things in Thee who strengthens me to do them.
Living Catholicism is a monthly column originally appearing in Today’s Catholic newspaper. Deacon Tom Fox is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope.