Saturday, November 07, 2009

Two stories of forgiveness for Trinity XXII

Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom, whose Dutch Reformed Christian family hid Jewish refugees in Holand during the Nazi occupation, was sent to prison by the Germans. Her whole family died there, including her sister Betsie in the same part of the prison. Corrie was released by what she would later find out to have been a clerical error. From her book The Hiding Place, here is an excerpt:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message Fräulein”, he said “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your Forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Pope John Paul II

(From various resources)

As he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience on 13 May 1981, John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a trained expert Turkish gunman who was a member of the militant group Grey Wolves. The gunman used a Browning 9-mm semiautomatic pistol, striking him in the belly and perforating his colon and small intestine multiple times. John Paul II was rushed into the Vatican complex and then to the Gemelli Hospital. En route to the hospital, he lost consciousness. Despite the fact that the bullets missed his mesenteric artery and abdominal aorta, he lost nearly three-quarters of his blood and neared exsanguination. He underwent five hours of surgery to treat his massive blood loss and abdominal wounds. When he briefly gained consciousness before being operated on he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation.

Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul II visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for 20 minutes. John Paul II said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.″*

Oddly enough, in the eyes of the world, it was the pope who acted like someone with an obligation. Perhaps that is exactly how he felt; obligated to represent our Lord Jesus Christ to the man who had tried to kill him, a lost soul who needed a genuine picture of Jesus, such as he had never imagined.

Later, during a private meeting following Pope John Paul II's weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, the pope embraced Muzeyen Agca, mother of Mehmet Ali Agca - the man who shot the Pontiff 15 years earlier. The Pontiff, speaking to children at a Rome parish on Oct. 10, 1999, said the teachings of Christ instructed him to forgive Agca.

* "Complete trust," to those of us who were not there, sounds a bit naive; but the example of forgiveness is what we all may learn from. Whether forgiveness will benefit the other party or not cannot be known always, but always forgiveness is about who we are in Christ.


poetreader said...

"Love your enemies" is neither a suggestion nor a request, but a commandment, a direct order to which we are bound. If we do not obey, we are as much grievous sinners as is a murderer. Of ourselves we often cannot obey, and therefore, without repentance, do not ourselves receive forgiveness.

Repentance is not just expressing sorrow for our sin, but also a plea for strength to do what we cannot, and to be changed in ways we do not wish to change. Only so do the gates swing open for us.

The "faith" in "sola Fide" is not faith at all without repentance.


Allen Lewis said...

A second powerful post on the meaning of the command to "forgive our enemies and pray for them that persecute you."

I confess I am not up to that standard, and, without Our Lord's help, I will never meet that stnadard!

A sinner (but redeemed),

Allen Lewis