Our hearts are heavy with the recent violence in our nation. Must evil reign? How long will this continue? The prevalence of good seems precarious alongside these acts. It is tempting for our response to be one of despair. I want to remind us of the writing by Fr. Luis Espinal on the eve of his martyrdom in 1980 in Bolivia by paramilitary forces:
There are Christians who have hysterical reactions, as if the world would have slipped out of God’s hands. They act violently as if they were risking everything.
But we believe in history; the world is not a roll of the dice going toward chaos. A new world has begun to happen since Christ has risen…
Jesus Christ, we rejoice in your definitive triumph… with our bodies still in the breach and our souls in tension, we cry out our first “Hurrah!” till eternity unfolds itself.
Your sorrow now has passed. Your enemies have failed. You are a definitive smile for humankind.
What matter the wait now for us? We accept the struggle and the death; because you, our love, will not die!
We march behind you, on the road to the future. You are with us and you are our immortality!
Take away the sadness from our faces. We are not in a game of chance… You have the last word!
Beyond the crushing of our bones, now has begun the eternal “alleluia!” From the thousand openings of our wounded bodies and souls there arises now a triumphal song!
So, teach us to give voice to your new life throughout all the world.
Because you dry the tears from the eyes of the oppressed forever… and death will disappear…
Give voice to your new life throughout all the world. We do not give in to despair as we know the victory is won! Our response as followers of Christ is one of love, not of fear. We do not move forward in a reactive manner, but in a deliberate stance of love and peace that passes understanding. What difference is it if we are kind to our friends. That is no great feat. Active love is the only way to end this horrific cycle of violence.
Immaculee Ilibagiza was a young woman of 24 years when the Rwandan genocide took place. Her father sent her to a Hutu pastor friend who hid her with seven other women in a tiny bathroom for 91 days. It was so cramped that they had to take turns sitting. Throughout the nightmare of that time, they lived in fear as the Hutus repeatedly came so close they could hear them talking. One of the ways Immaculee maintained her sanity during this ordeal was to say the Lord’s Prayer with her rosary—that is she would say most of the Lord’s Prayer. She omitted the part “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” She just could not make herself say it. She skipped that part for many weeks until one dark night, she felt the prick of the Spirit encouraging her to say the words. As she began including them in her prayer, God gave her the ability to begin to love those who she knew were trying to kill her and who had most certainly killed her family and friends. In her book “Left to Tell,” Immaculee tells of the rebuilding of her life following the fall of the Hutu regime. She found that her entire family – every relative – was dead, as well as many of her friends.
She went to the States for a few years for recovery, but then returned to Rwanda. She wanted to forgive and knew she needed to be face to face with those who had hurt her. One of her first efforts was to visit the prison of the father of one of her childhood schoolmates. The guard of the prison was a priest who regularly beat the prisoners–an action condoned by the government. He boasted of the vengeance that he meted out to those in his charge. Immaculee listened and then went to see the man she had come to visit. This prisoner had been one of the top government officials who was involved in the media propaganda to slaughter the Tutus. He referred to them on the radio as “roaches” and urged the people to kill the roaches, especially the baby roaches so they would not grow into adults. Immaculee had played in his home as a young girl and had then heard his angry voice over the radio as a teenager. Yet despite his behavior, she had come to forgive him. She met and talked with him and treated him with kindness. The priest/guard was outraged that she would be kind to such a despicable murderer. Day after day she visited and was not deterred from her course. The priest was astounded and eventually softened. He told her that she was the only person he had met who forgave the Hutus. This was the beginning of a change in him, as he recognized that he too could forgive them.
What good did this do? This is one young woman in a large world. But she understood a deep truth. God is the author of love, not of fear and hate. The only response to violence is to live lives of relentless love.
Lord, give voice to your new life throughout all the world. Make me an instrument of your peace.
Grace and peace to you,