Immaculee Ilibagiza and Forgiveness

Pope Francis writes, “Mercy has two aspects. It involves giving… but it also includes forgiveness and understanding.” More than just acts of charity, mercy is an act where we forgive others. This is something that all Christians must do. “We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven.” It should be a given that in the Christian community we are a people eager to offer forgiveness.

In our own lives, forgiveness can take a heroic amount of effort, especially if the person we are forgiving does not show (what we think is) proper contrition. But living this beatitude will draw us closer to God, because in forgiving we become more God-like. Christ on the cross cried out, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)) How can we come to truly know who God is if we do not forgive as He has forgiven us? God is love. Love (agape) is a complete gift of self without seeking anything in return. How better to demonstrate and live this than by becoming a person of mercy. Being a person of forgiveness means that we can also heal the wounds that separate us from each other. Very often in families there are deep wounds. But if we can learn to forgive, those wounds can be replaced with bonds of love and fellowship.

A recent example of someone who embodies this image of mercy is Immaculee Ilibagiza. During the Rwandan genocide, many members of Immaculee’s family were killed. She hid in a 12-square foot bathroom with seven others for 91 days. She was tormented by thoughts of revenge. One day, she heard a mother and baby die outside of her hiding place, and she asked God how she could forgive the people who did this. She says that God answered her that this poor baby was with Him in heaven now. He also said that everyone is His child. This moment changed her outlook. After her ordeal, her family’s killers were arrested. She went to the prison and looked at the ring-leader, a man named Felicien. She reached out and touched him, saying: “I forgive you.” The Tutsi jailer asked why she would do that and she told him that all she had to offer was forgiveness.

What are some concrete practices to bring this beatitude in my life?

The first is to acknowledge the injury that I have received, whether real or perceived. Before I can begin the healing process, I must not push away my pain, but acknowledge it.

Second, I must remember how much God has forgiven me for my transgressions. When I keep this in mind, it makes it much easier to forgive others. How could I withhold forgiveness if I have been given God’s mercy?

Third, I can try to take a look at things from the perspective of the person I am forgiving. If I can be charitable in my imaginations, I can see that perhaps that injury was not done out of malice, or perhaps it was unintentional. This can help ease the sting of the injury.

Fourth, I can resolve to forgive this injury from my heart every time I feel the pain. With humans, I know that forgiveness does not always come with forgetting. But I can make an act of the will to always forgive when the hurt becomes present to my heart.

Copyright 2024, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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