MOMM's flagship presentation: This film brings the heart of St. Faustina's famous Diary to life in a moving and informative way. Tell All Souls About My Mercy: Includes Chaplet of... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
By Marian Tascio
Immaculee Ilibagiza has had a lot to forgive — more than any of us will ever be called upon to forgive. Among the relatives, neighbors, and friends who were members of her tribe, only Immaculee and her brother survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994: her brother because he was away at school, Immaculee because she was hiding in the house of a Protestant minister. More specifically, she was hiding in his three-by-four-foot bathroom with five other women.
After hearing Immaculee speak at the 3rd Annual Divine Mercy Conference in the Bronx on Feb. 9, I winced at the knowledge of how little I had to forgive and how stubbornly I had been clinging to my anger. And it wasn't only for the sin of mercilessness that I regretted my reluctance to forgive. When I looked at Immaculee, I saw a women filled with joy. The way she spoke about her slain parents and brothers made it clear how much she had loved them, and yet here she was, describing the last time she had ever seen them and the horrible way they died, and her face radiated serenity and happiness.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about my need to forgive my wedding photographer. She was months overdue on delivering my photos, and she wouldn't return my calls or emails. I was terrified that I had lost both my money and the wedding pictures.
By the day of the conference, I still hadn't forgiven her. I knew she wasn't hurting me on purpose, but I stopped caring about that. I encased my heart in ice and directed venomous thoughts and words toward her. That was the point at which her sin of dishonest business dealings gave way to my sin of withholding forgiveness, and I was the one who would suffer for it.
I have heard that carrying resentment is like drinking poison while hoping someone else will die. My anger toward this woman was poison. I was miserable, tense, and almost hysterical every time I thought of her. And because I knew my wrath was sinful, it affected my prayer life, too. I knew Jesus saw into my heart and wasn't pleased. I knew that each time I said the Lord's Prayer, I was admitting to a rejection of God's mercy. By refusing to forgive the one who had trespassed against me, I was denying God the chance to forgive me my trespasses.
The line for confession at the conference was long. I pulled out my rosary and knew I needed to offer my prayer for the photographer: not that I would get my photos, but just for her. I didn't enjoy it at first. Rage threatened to grip me as soon as I thought her name. But I concentrated on picturing Our Lady tenderly embracing her, and gradually I felt the ice begin to crack.
Immaculee finally forgave her loved ones' murderers because she realized that, like Jesus' executioners, they "didn't get it." If they had understood what they were doing, they would have acted differently. Her love for them consisted simply in the wish that they be healed of their blindness.
My wedding photographer was not malicious, but she was hurting many people. If she fully understood that, she would not be doing this. And the truth was that I wanted that wellness for her, not just for my sake and the sake of the other brides in my position, but for her own sake, too. I envisioned the love with which Mary looked at her and knew that I could not wish anything but good for her. In the days following the conference, whenever I thought of her, I said Hail Marys. I did it for myself as much as for her: anger was replaced by calm. Mercy, to summarize Father Benedict Groeschel's talk at the conference, makes us sane.
Four days later, I received an email saying that my unedited photos were in the mail. It made sense. I had prayed for her well-being, and she had to be well in order to live her life productively, including running her business. I don't know when or if I'll receive the edited photos she owes me, but now I can look at those unedited photos with joy and not bitterness. And as Immaculee finally did, I can pray every word of the Lord's Prayer, knowing that the rays from Jesus' heart have melted the ice around my heart, making it possible for mercy to come in once more.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.