TRIDUUM IN HONOUR OF THE JUBILEE YEAR OF THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF
“BECOMING RECONCILED FAMILIES”
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; * even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, * we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, * not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As human beings we have a tendency to redirect words of scripture, such as the one above, to others or at best place it in the category of the ‘ideal’ which becomes a wink to say ‘ it would be a bonus if i did that’ leaving us with the warmth of being ‘safe’.
However if we begin to apply it to ourselves and to the situations in our lives that it challenges it begins to change colours, colours that are not altogether pleasant.
For how can you say to me that i need to be an ambassador of reconciliation when the person you invite me to reconcile with is the father who raped me? Or for me to reconcile with the mother who knew about this and kept quiet about it. How can i forgive those who made me blame myself for being abused?
How can i forgive a church that makes me feel like an alien because i am divorced? Its not easy to overlook the hurt by the church which told me that i and all the people in my previous religion were doomed because we did not belong to the Catholic church? How can i forgive and reconcile with the church whose minister defiled me and took away my innocence when i trusted them to protect me?
How do you expect me to be reconciled to God who would not spare the life of my only child even after i prayed and fasted and cried unto him? He took my spouse away when he knew that they were all i had in this world?
Most of our hurts come from the expectations we rightly have of the different relationships that we are in. We expect love, trust, loyalty from family and friends. We expect to be cared for and protected by God.
The word reconciliation presuppose that something which was in balance has gone out of balance and needs restoration. The nuclear family ought to be a place of safety, love and trust. When it becomes the very source of my pain it means there has been betrayal of my legitimate expectations. It means things are out of balance.
The WHO reports that every year 60,000 cases of domestic violence are reported in South.
Africa. 60,000! Think about that! Most of the victims are women and children (both boys and girls but more girls). This does not mean that men are not victims sometimes. Indeed society as a whole has a tendency not to care for the men as much as it cares for women. An example is that society frowns on women who engage in risky behaviours like smoking and drinking but does not condemn it in the same manner when men engage in these activities. Some men suffer in silence because they are afraid of appearing weak.
I mention all these levels of the difficulty to forgive and reconcile because we form cells of families at these different levels; as nuclear families, Parish families, societal levels and even national and universal levels. We encounter hurts that mar us for life. It is no light matter to ask for reconciliation with the ones who took advantage of my trust and hurt me. As the Psalms say; ‘It is not my enemy who taunt me – I could bear that… but it was you my equal, my familiar friend, with whom i kept pleasant company’ (Psalm 55: 12:14).
However we know that we need to forgive and let go. Forgiveness does not excuse the evils we have suffered. It does not justify or endorse the things that brought those pains. We decide to forgive because WE NEED it. We choose forgiveness because we know we deserve better than continue to empower the villains in our lives. We know there is evil in the world but we cannot perpetuate the wounds they have brought to us. We cannot go on with such load. WE NEED LOADSHEDDING!
You may say yes but ‘you don’t understand what they did to me’ and on top of that ‘they are not even sorry’ . This need for the offender to apologise or show remorse is a significant obstacle that stands in the way of forgiveness. As John Patton says in his book Is Human Forgiveness Possible? ,this need for apology appeals to a sense of justice in us. We feel a certain level of moral authority over the offender. We feel we wield a certain level of power over them because we occupy the status of victim. So that the tables are turned around on the battlefield of forgiveness. ‘I will not forgive you because you have done to me what i have not done to you’ . Absorbed in our pains we assume a self righteous pose and claim some god-like attributes to ourselves. Part of the path to forgiveness is the discovery that our offenders are mere humans like us. That we ourselves are capable of hurting others in other ways yet significantly. The fact that i sin differently to you does not make you superior to me. Indeed the words of Jesus comes to shake us out of the daze of our righteousness when he asked the self righteous crowd that gathered round the woman caught in adultery ; ‘Let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone’ (John 8:7).
As a priest i have had to struggle with forgiveness. I lost my elder sister in a way that was humanly unnecessary. She was with a family friend of ours that night. He drove into a one way traffic. The impact of the collision with the oncoming vehicle was on her side of the vehicle. He left her there on the road to ‘go look for money to take her to the hospital’. That is an image i could never get out of my mind. I could lock dow on it and be bitter all my life. I could also choose not to forgive all the staff of that hospital who had become so anaesthetised to human suffering and would not give her necessary attention until she died during the early hours of the next morning. I could choose to surrender myself to the void of her absence and fill it with hate for all those who were remotely responsible for her death. I could remain angry with God for not ‘doing something’ to save her. I could remain the ball of pain that her death made me into…
Barely months after this i providentially met a 17 year old girl struggling with cancer. Her equanimity and bravery was frightfully amazing. I was sure she would fight this off and surely the Lord would not let her die. I and my Redemptorist community prayed for her with the assurance that she would fight and conquer this cancer. I kept vigil and begged the Lord with her family who suffered deeply as they watched her being eaten alive by this evil disease. I went to pray with her one Sunday evening as was increasingly becoming my custom and the nurse on duty told me ‘Mikayla passed away at 9am today’. Time stopped. I was back to the moment when i heard the news of the death of my sister. I couldn’t pray. I could not understand. I will never forget the feeling of anger at God that i felt at first. I asked him why? No answer. Doing that funeral with this was one of the hardest thing i have ever donee in my life. Shall i remain angry with God?
Yet i take inspiration from the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in my struggle to forgive and reconcile. The Icon shows the archangels Gabriel and Michael carrying the instruments of the Passion. The cloth with which they carry them signify these instruments as holy objects eliciting reverence from the one who gazes on the icon. Are the instruments of the passion which caused so much pain and humiliation to Our Lord to be revered? The message here is that these instruments are held in this manner as a hint to the resurrection. The deeper message is that our pains and hurts do not have the last words. The scars may never go away but we will triumph over them. They will not hold us captive. We will not remain prisoners to our past hurts. Indeed there will be a resurrection and the things that caused us so much pain will become the beginning of our testimony.
I know i can find consolation in the Mother of God who watched her son beaten, humiliated, derided and killed in the most gruesome manner. She has felt my pain and much more. Yet she celebrated the resurrection. She is a mother of consolation. Her story reminds us that love conquers all. It is no wonder her Icon is called the ‘Icon of Love’.
We do not have a choice about the hurts that come into our lives but we have a choice how to deal with them. Our story, like the story of Mary, can be represented in this Icon if we choose to.
And so I pray that you may have the courage to take that step to let go. May you find the strength to cut yourself from the burden and lay it at the feet of the infant Jesus who now carries your burden. May you be set free. May you be reconciled! Amen