Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A 12 year old murder victim teaches us how to forgive. A note on how to avoid 'the bitterness trap'

Presently America has the honour of having the relics of St Maria Goretti tour from church to church, the virgin-martyr born 125 years ago this month.
125 years ago this month, Maria Goretti was born in Italy. Poverty had a vice-like grip on her family. When she was six, her parents lost their farm and had to up sticks and earn a meagre living working for other farmers. Following the untimely death of her father, Maria, her mother and siblings moved again, and not begin able to afford a house of their own, had to share with the Serenelli family, which is where little Maria Goretti got to know their son, Alessandro.
Three years later, the 18 year old Alessandro started lusting after 12 year old Maria. One afternoon while her mother was working in the fields, Alessandro sexually harassed little Maria. She stood up to him, warned him his salvation would be in jeopardy if he defiled her, and cried out, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” Enraged by her refusal to submit to him (and probably because she pricked his conscience) Alessandro lost all inhibitions and stabbed Maria 14 times.
While Maria lay on her death-bed, she forgave Alessandro. Alessandro was jailed, but remained unremorseful, indifferent to the grief he had caused Maria’s mother.
A few years after her death, Maria Goretti appeared to Alessandro in a dream, assured him that she forgave him and put lilies into his hands. Alessandro broke down and admitted that he was wholly guilty of her death. On being released from prison, he sought out Maria’s mother and begged her forgiveness. Copying her daughter’s example, Maria Goretti’s mum told Alessandro that she readily forgave him.
St Maria Goretti’s capacity and desire to forgive puts most of us to shame. Those of us who find it agonising to forgive small slights have only to compare our reluctance to forgive with St Maria Goretti’s total, unconditional willingness to forgive, and it shows us how far off the mark we are.
Her example seems so simple, and yet is crushingly hard to emulate. St Maria Goretti showed no hesitation in forgiving Alessandro. There is a lesson here for us, it is easier to set your will to forgive no matter what, instead of letting in the doubt of “will-I-forgive-or-won’t-I”. Our will is like a block of wood, and debating as to whether we are to forgive or not is like a sharp metal wedge that divides the will between bitterness and forgiveness, weakening the will to the extent that only half its power is dedicated to forgiveness.
Alessandro offers an essential lesson in asking for forgiveness. Admittedly, Alessandro was a child murderer and the vast majority of people are not guilty of so heinous an evil act. Thus, most people would take umbrage at being told that if Alessandro Serenelli can ask to be forgiven, then so can they. Yet those who have been hurt, even in small ways deserve the soothing balm of a sincere apology so they may heal.
Forgiveness is not a feeling, and some people may still feel angry and traumatised even after they have forgiven someone. The scars of trauma are like that from surgery, they need time to fade. I see Christians grow impatient with fellow Christians and non-Christians, who have suffered at the hands of others, telling them that they are “bitter” and “not living like Jesus”, if they have difficulty recovering. This is bad for both parties: there is little emphasis on asking the perpetrator to ask for forgiveness so the victim is less likely to enjoy healing, and without being told precisely how their actions have hurt others, the perpetrator may imperviously hurt others in the same way.
The Bitterness Trap
Bullies often berate their victims by calling them bitter and taunting the victim’s apparent inability to forgive – as a way of control freakery. The victim feels under pressure to prove they are not bitter by allowing the bully into their lives again.
I wrote this blog for The Catholic Herald on-line. To see all my work for the Herald to date, visit my author archive

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Surviving ISIS: "At night they would torture me, during the day I was giving these young men advice on their marriage problems"

At my parish of the London Oratory, Fr Douglas Bazi gave a talk in St Wilfrid's hall, the long drawing room with dazzlingly high ceilings.  Aid to the Church in Need have brought Fr Bazi from Iraq. He gave one of the most fascinating talks I've ever heard; it was both inspiring and heartbreaking.  He says that if a young Catholic man in Iraq decides to become a priest, he knows he will be martyred, 'to be a priest in Iraq is a one way mission; you will be killed.'

Fr Bazi knows this viscerally; ISIS terrorists kidnapped him for nine days. He was driving in traffic, when two cars sidled up and blocked him. Chaining his hands, they took him to a toilet where he was kept for several days with the instruction, 'if you open your eyes, we will shoot you.' They starved him and gave him no water for four days.  When he thought things were at their worst, Fr Bazi tried off-beat humour to show them they were not getting to him, and thus make them

Mary O'Regan,  Fr Douglas Bazi

doubt their efforts to hurt him, by saying to the young men of ISIS, 'this is a picnic'. But he concedes that this was, 'a very bad idea' and only motivated the very young Islamic men to torture him more brutally. They went from chaining him to a toilet, to taking a hammer and breaking his back teeth and smashing a disc in his back.  When he was alone, Fr Bazi would use the chains that bound him as a means of saying the Rosary, each link would be used to count Hail Mary's.  Fr Bazi used all his remaining strength to forgive them and this was the secret of his survival:  he didn't grow bitter and cold towards them and when these emotionally disturbed young men needed a friendly ear, they told Fr Bazi their problems.  

Fr Bazi was clear that he readily forgave these unstable young men at every moment. During the day, these jumpy young men who had been lured by promises of being a prince in Heaven (ISIS teaches their wards that if they kill an infidel priest, they will be made princes in the next life) would ask Fr Bazi for advice on their marital problems and their other issues. One complained about his lady saying, 'Fr Bazi, my wife is so picky, I can't please her!' 

At this point in the talk, me and my fellow parishioners surprised ourselves by chuckling at the hapless young men. Fr Bazi said smiling, 'I advised him to be sweeter to his wife, and try a little gentleness.' 

Getting inside the mind of these young men who are desperate to prove themselves, Fr Bazi said, 'I knew that these young men were under orders from their higher-ups, after they had asked me to listen to their problems, they would get new instructions and then torture me at night.'  Fr Bazi tackled the question of forgiveness directly, 'yes, I forgive them, but I can't forget.  And I am not here to tell you to hate them or their religion, but to tell you the reality.' 

After ISIS had let him go, Fr Bazi has dedicated himself to running a refugee camp for persecuted Christian families who are fleeing Mosul.  The families are given this choice, they either convert to Islam or pay taxes. If they don't pay the ransom for their souls, they are hunted out of their homes. Fr Bazi said it is very tempting to harass Christians so that their houses can be seized and looted, once the Christian family have fled their neighbourhood. 

The persecuted families now live cheek-by-jowl in the camp, but 'they never call each other refugees, they call each other relatives.' Conditions are cramped: each family has a tiny container, about five foot by ten foot.  Married men say to Fr Bazi, 'my wife has become like my sister, we never have any privacy.' Fr Bazi says it is difficult on girls and young women, 'who have to wait until night fall to change their clothes.' 

Fr Bazi said that when Iraqi Christians meet each other for the first time, they ask each other, 'do you live in a house or a container?'

If the current persecution continues, Christianity will have disappeared from Iraq in five years.  Even more precise details of the plight of the Iraqi Christians is to be found in, Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on the countries worldwide where Christians suffer for their faith. 

After the talk, some red wine was served and Fr Bazi got to mingle with the audience. There was a collection for Aid to the Church in Need. I'm going to get in touch with Fr Bazi and give him a copy of Drunks and Monks, John Carmichael's humour and his amazing conversion story will buoy Fr Bazi's spirits as he works all hours in the refugee camp. 

Neville Kyrke-Smith of ACN and Fr Bazi

A million thanks to Daniel Blackman for taking photos at the talk and putting them on Flickr. See the full album here. 
Neville Kyrke-Smith,  Mary O'Regan

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Such truth in parody: let's re-name Amnesty, Shamnesty

Liam Neeson lent his voice to the Amnesty International video calling for the repeal of the Eight Amendment of the Irish Constitution.   A most patronising piece, it puts forth that Irish women are in 'chains' because the Eight Amendment introduced a constitutional ban on abortion, and that people who are against the mutilation of the unborn are locked in the past.  

Manipulative in that it attempts to evoke the stigma that many Irish people feel when they think of 'poor Catholic Ireland'. I find it very offensive that they think Irish people will be so easily manipulated, apparently the only way Ireland can prove it has gotten over its past, is if abortion is legalised.

The most infuriatingly derisive statement is, 'it is the shadow of the country we'd hoped we'd left behind.'  Working on the assumption that we or all of us share their driving ambition to allow the legalised destruction of babies, evades acknowledging that there are Irish pro-life people who do not want Ireland's pro-life laws scrapped at the behest of pro-abortion lobbyists. 

Ripe for parody, a You-Tube site has been launched with the intention of poking fun at Liam Neeson's patronising pro-abortion posturing.  The Amnesty 
propaganda has Liam Neeson spouting, 'it is the shadow of the country we'd hoped we'd left behind,' the satire responds, 'here my use of the collective pronoun 'we' applies the opinion that this amendment is outdated is shared by everyone'.  

Share the video as widely as you can, and let's re-name Amnesty, Shamnesty. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Guest post from John Carmichael on how YOU can discover the secret of the Rosary

The Secret of the Rosary

When my dear friend and editor, Mary O’Regan, asked me to contribute a guest post on the subject of the Rosary, the first thing that came to mind was the old line that, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” What I wish I could say about the Rosary seems so often to be beyond language.

Many disciples of Jesus Christ much more advanced than me have had their comment on this great prayer of the Church, but I have found them all wanting.  

Take one for example: Saint Louis de Montfort, a glorious writer on our Blessed Mother. His True Devotion to Mary is for me a transcendent and exhilarating read. So, after having experienced my own startling encounter with the Rosary, I was very much looking forward to reading Saint de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary to find out why the Rosary was so powerful.   

Unfortunately I tried several times but could not get through it. There it sits, The Secret of the Rosary does, silently mocking me for my lack of diligence. And such has been the case with each book I have tried to read about the Rosary. Nothing can live up to or fully explain what actually happened in my interior and exterior life when first I began to pray this powerful and mysterious prayer.   

I think the difficulty I have is this: the true secret of the Rosary is revealed to each individual soul by (brace yourselves) actually praying the Rosary. And I do not mean to suggest that this great prayer is in any way gnostic, or that it will provide through some obscure manner a specialized knowledge available only to in-the-know practitioners. No, the Mother of God, given to us so pointedly by God the Son at the Cross, will do what she has always done since the time she was first asked by the hapless figures at the wedding in Cana to intercede about the wine situation. She will direct a soul to her Divine Son, and instruct the soul to do whatever He says.

And in the mysterious scope of God’s economy, such instruction may come by way of signal graces, just one of the many promises made to those who pray the Rosary. How lovely it is to see the few steps ahead lit with the warm glow of an amber light, even though the rest of the landscape so often remains covered in a grey mist.

In my account of conversion, Drunks & Monks, I tried my best to follow the cardinal rule of good literary fiction and memoir: to show the reader and not merely tell about the dramatic experience of what the Rosary is for me. Yet the two most difficult things for me to write about as they pertain to the Catholic Faith are the Rosary and the Eucharist, both of which seem to hover well above the limitations of human language, and represent a true bridge to the supernatural life of grace in the soul.

When first I ventured to pray it, a humble and holy soul from my choir thrust into my hands a fresh copy of The 54 Day Novena Booklet and a little plastic rosary, and bid me pray this grand prayer every day for 54 days. I had no understanding of its history, no knowledge of the promises made to those devoted to the Rosary, no real faith that anything at all would happen.

The spiritually dynamic events that followed included a general confession, deliverance from evil, readmission to the Sacraments and a deep and deepening faith.

There was a vast chasm that separated my young witness to a devout Irish grandmother who had a daily devotion to the Rosary and my own visceral experience of praying the Rosary. I found I cannot borrow my grandmother’s life of prayer, nor can I rely on de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. 

Instead, I saw what now seems obvious: that I must bend my own knees and finger my own beads and dare to venture into the deep meditation on the life and mysteries of Christ for myself. It is only then that I begin to truly discover The Secret of the Rosary.

Many Thanks, dear John for writing this beautiful meditation 
on the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary.  

John's masterpiece, Drunks and Monks is available on Amazon, it chronicles John's seven year descent into darkness and brushes with death before embracing renewal through discovery of the means for our salvation. John's physical, psychological and soul-survival are aided by the many denizens of the great swath of Southern California who come alive in the book, but none so well as members of a monastery who help heal the author's spirit and teach him timeless truths. 

John Carmichael's Drunks and Monks

Friday, 2 October 2015

'The author gives credit to grace...'

A reader has given Drunks and Monks a five star rating, and has written that, ‘the vulnerability and honesty of this conversion story give us a profound example of every human's experience to some degree...’

The second part of the review called to my mind, St Thérèse of Lisieux’s truism that everything is grace, ‘the author gives credit to grace and the grace received through the sacraments for his ability to see Truth. Great read.’

It was St Thérèse’s feast day yesterday, and I would like to wish everyone a belated happy feast. 

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