By Robert R. Schwarz
Forgive: to give up resentment against or the desire
to punish ; stop being angry with ; pardon…
( Webster's New World College Dictionary )
To forgive someone is for us. You don't do
it for that person. It doesn’t mean forgetting
any evil done. .. ( Dr. Vernon Bell, psychiatrist,
addictive behaviorist specialist )
Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing…( Jesus being crucified:
Luke 23:34 )
The three quotes above might tell the reader that all the books in the world could not exhaust the subject of "forgiveness "nor, likely, could any two people today agree on the best way to write a how-to-do-it manual about it. Nevertheless, here are a few true-life scenes which I believe display the many facets of forgiving someone despite how badly he or she has wounded us or the wickedness of the deed. One is about a saintly Dutch woman who forgave a murderous concentration camp guard during World War I ; another is a healing service conducted in a suburban church outside Chicago by a priest whose family were victims of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 ; also there is a retired U.S. Army general and an army chaplain I interviewed about forgiveness as a key ingredient in healing the so-called moral wounds of our combat soldiers; and , lastly , I write about the poignant scene of my mother again forgiving dark side behavior of my schizophrenic brother.
I Corrie ten Boom Could he erase her death simply for the asking ?… The most difficult and heart-wrenching act of forgiveness I know of was related on a network radio station four or five decades ago. The radio voice was that of Corrie ten Boom , who related how after the war, she forgave , face to face, the Nazi guard in the concentration camp where she had been interned and where her sister and hundreds of others died slow deaths.
Born in 1892 in Amsterdam , the Netherlands, Cornelia ten Boom , a Christian and a watchmaker, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust . For this, she was imprisoned in the Ravensbruck camp. The following are excerpts from her book , "The Hiding Place", as appeared in the July 24, 2014 internet post of Guideposts :
"It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives...The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe.. People stood up in silence, collected their wraps, and left the room…
"Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent. Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: 'A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! '
"And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course. How could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors, and my blood seemed to freeze.
“ 'You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,' he was saying. 'I was a guard in there.' No, he did not remember me.
“ 'But since that time', he went on, 'I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well, Fräulein (again the hand came out) will you forgive me '?
"And I stood there–I whose sins had to be forgiven every day –I could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
"It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives us has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. If you do not forgive men their trespasses, Jesus says, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.
"I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
"And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.
"And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!
"For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
" But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behavior–but only draw them fresh from God each day. "
II They had come to be healed; but first, to forgive…They had come to be healed on the morning of last March 11 of their illness or affliction or an emotional wound for which , presumably , no doctor had been able to heal . Many among the standing-room only "Mass with Healing Prayers " service in the Arlington Heights ( Illinois) church were likely surprised when advised that a condition for this healing was their "opening five doors," one being that the individual forgive anyone who had hurt him or her either physically, mentally, or other wise. The man telling them this was Fr. Ubald Rugirangoa, a priest from Rwanda . He had lived through the genocide there in 1994 which took the lives of 45,000 of his parishioners, among them 80 members of his own family.
As a prelude to the healing ritual, Fr. Ubald spoke not only about forgiveness
but also on the other "four doors" which, he exhorted , had to be "opened ". Among these doors were professing faith in God , acknowledging gratitude for all that God had done for the individual, and a decision to "connect" to Jesus Christ.
Taking hold of the monstrance ( a golden, cross-shaped vessel in which the consecrated communion host is exposed for adoration ) , Fr. Ubald then slowly paced up and down each of the four aisles while making the sign of a cross with the monstrance as he paused now and then to bless the more than 500 people sitting in pews. As he did this for an estimated 20 minutes, the people chanted the word "Jesus" to the tune of Amazing Grace . Many crossed themselves with arms raised in praise.
At the end, after much praying by Fr. Ubald and the people, the priest and his assistant, Monique Stevens , went to the apse ( lectern ) . Fr. Ubald whispered to Monique each particular healing which he believed had just occurred. As he did, Monique called out each healing over a microphone. Next, the priest invited all those who could now lay "claim" to their healing to come up and relate it the congregation. At least 20 people did, many choked with emotion and praising God for healing them or a loved one. They told of pending divorces and other serious marriage or family problems, various types of cancer , an inability to fall asleep at night, epilepsy of a loved one, chronic unemployment, intestinal and stomach afflictions, the conversion of a child, and an inability to forgive someone.
"The Lord makes known to Fr. Ubald the healings that have occurred during his service, and he then relays this to the people ," Monique told me. She said two years ago , at a church in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Fr. Ubald healed her of a serious allergy that caused sunlight to harm her skin.
' Extreme Horror Requires Extreme Forgiveness '
[ note: the following are excerpts from Fr. Ubald's
websites, https://frubald.files.wordpress.com/.../extren-horror- requieresextrenforgiveness-upd...or www. frubald.com ]
|Fr. Ubald holding a monstrance at a|
"healing Mass" in 2016 in the Kigali
stadium in Rwanda
III A psychiatrist comments…Many years ago, as a journalist, I reported on a lecture by Dr Vernon Bell, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictive behavior. The following are some of his comments about forgiveness:
" Asking to be forgiven doesn't mean you’re being asked to give up your rights."
" It doesn't mean you'll be restored to wholeness; that's God's job."
" The value of forgiving someone is that it will prevent you from dwelling upon the hurt or the harm you did."
" Don't expect the person to accept it."
IV Forgiving ourselves to heal a moral wound…Earlier this year I reported on a panel discussion in Chicago about the moral wounds of American combat soldiers involved in the killing of the enemy . Leading the panel was Major General ( ret) James Mukoyama , a veteran of the Vietnam war and founder of Military Outreach USA . Sitting around him were an Army chaplain , a clinical psychologist the a Veterans Administration hospital, and the author of the book They Don't Receive Purple Hearts.
Not being able to forgive ones' self for causing a combat death of the enemy has led to an alarming rate of suicide and homelessness among veterans, the panel concluded. In my feature story that appeared in the Daily Herald ( Dec. 1, 2016 ) , I reported: " For years, Mukoyama has maintained that 'the main approach for moral injury is not a medical doctor with prescription drugs, but rather an approach that includes the forgiveness and grace of moral authority ."
V A Mother forgiving her mentally ill son…My brother Lester before his death several years ago at age 75, had been afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia for most of his adult life . He was dropped from the U.S. Air Force officers training school and later given a general discharge with a 100 per cent disability: then followed a divorce, joblessness year after year, a prison sentence when he failed to take his meds and discharged a firearm while driving, and a long succession of stays in veteran-sponsored retirement homes and hospitals. He was a college graduate and , until the outbreak of his illness , his character had been spotless
When able, Lester would visit his 80-year-old mother once twice weekly in her Arlington Heights ( IL ) nursing home. Lester's behavior when he was not in a care-giving facility was known only to my mother . She had chosen not to share with me what she knew until the afternoon I intruded on a whisper-quiet conversation she was having with my brother in her room. I remember the details—most of which I'd rather forget—of this particular meeting.
" Bring in a chair for your brother," Mom told my brother ,whom I noticed was well-groomed this day—clean blue jeans, a haircut, and a red sport shirt without the usual two or three food stains.
Lester got the chair and then went for the door. " See you later, Robert, " he said.
"Don't go , son, " Mom said. "You know how I love to see you two together."
" We just saw each other Monday," Lester said, and left.
I asked my mother what she and Lester had been talking about . Mom lowered her head. " I shouldn't tell you."
"Yes, Mom, you should. "
" He does things he shouldn't," she said.
" Please tell me."
While she spoke, I saw the anguish of a mother helpless to stop her child from further damning himself with behavior incited , in large, by his mental illness. With her head bowed long pauses, Mom told me of Lester's solitary drinking in his retirement home room, his late night drives to a porno shop , and , most alarming, the skipping of his anti-psychotic meds whenever he could fake swallowing them in front of the nurse who knocked daily on his retirement home door.
"He tells all of this to you, his mother !" I said angrily . later regretting being angry with my mother.
" Who else is there? " she said . "He's hurting so and he hates what he does, Robert. But please, dear, don't say anything to him. Promise ? "
" But, Mom, he keeps doing it! "
"Your brother says he's sorry. He can't help it, Robert. "
" Then what do you say !" I demanded.
" I tell him it's all right… Oh, son , your brother so badly needs to hear that it's all right."
My mother's words would always mean to me that my brother had made a confession to her and that she had--once again--forgiven him.
Finally, my mother looked at me and, as if sharing a long-concealed secret, softly said, " I love Jesus and pray to Him every night ."
When leaving Mom's room on another day, a nurse walked in, followed a few seconds later by two volunteers. Curious , I paused outside the door to eavesdrop. Soon everyone in the room was chatting as if at a tea party. At my next visit , I asked that nurse in the hallway what had been going on in my mother's room that day. She said, "Oh, we go in there now and then to get cheered up by your mother. "
My wife and I were at Lester's bedside at the Veteran's hospital in North Chicago a few weeks before he died. With us was one of the hospital chaplains, Fr. VanderHey . The nurse removed Lester's oxygen mask. My brother was wide-eyed and attentive , a face I had not seen in decades.
Lester had made his profession of faith .
My brother, I thought , appeared as serene as he did that day Mom in her room asked him to pull up a chair for me.
When the three of us exited Lester's room, Fr. VanderHey took us aside and , referring to the conversion of a psychotically ill person in I.C.U. , he exclaimed, "In my twenty years as chaplain, I've only seen this [ kind of conversion ] twice !"
While rummaging through old family documents after my mother's death nine years later, I came across this poem she wrote, I know, with a child-like innocence at age 18—the only poem she would ever wrote. She had quit her job as an Illinois Bell telephone switchboard operator to marry my father and was now pregnant with Lester.
Where did you come from, Baby Dear?
By Dorothy Eleanor Schwarz
Out of the Everywhere into here…
Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.
What makes the light in them sparkle and spin ?
Some of the starry spikes were let in.
What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than anyone knows.
Where did you get that pearly ear ?
God spoke, and it was made to hear.
Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love itself made those arms and hands.
But how did you come to us, you dear ?
God thought about you, and so you are here.
After I had read it three times, I began to sense a holiness in my mother , a sense of pure innocence that resonated from her poem and sounded in her voice when she had told me about my brother . My discernment brought thoughts about the love which the Holy Mother felt for her Son Jesus as she cradled Him at the foot of His cross. This man, I recalled, had taken ownership of all the sins of humankind , including those infinitely more wicked than Lester's. I next found these words of Paul the Deacon, an 8th Century Benedictine monk: "And she [Mary ] knows how to have compassion on human weakness, because she knows of what we are made. "
I had similar thoughts that day about my father's steadfast loyalty to Lester throughout those scandalous years. It made me think of the loyalty Joseph gave to Mary when pregnant with God's Son and how her sheltered Him that night in Bethlehem. I'm sure the world has many, many Marys and Josephs like my parents.
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz