One bright afternoon, in the springtime of Tennessee, I was out for an afternoon walk and decided to stop by one of my favorite spots. Taking a seat on the stone sidewalk where benches were perched, I reclined, looking at a crucifix at the forefront of a cemetery.
At this phase in my life, I was undergoing a pretty big trial. God was revealing past wounds to me and I was in the midst of some intense discernment of my vocation- a very painful process for me. In this hurt, one memory in particular would often come to the forefront of my mind.
Ladies, I am going to be real with you- I nurtured an unforgiveness of that memory in my mind for 7 years. Life changed and moved on, but whenever one aspect of my weakness would peak its head, I had a reason…It was that event in my life, that person, that did it to me.
I lived out my faith outwardly. I went to Mass. I taught what we believed in CCD. I followed the rules and commandments the best I could. But something was not whole- there was still an area where my heart was enslaved, but I could not see where…Until one moment of grace.
Two years later, I was before another image of Christ. It was two years since my discernment out of religious life, and to commemorate it, I went on pilgrimage to Poland in the Year of Mercy…And now…I found myself before the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe died, where he gave his life for another man, even when he was not guilty.
This was a conversion moment for me- this man was free.
What was the source of this freedom? Maximilian Kolbe, along with other saints of the concentration camps, loved with patience amidst pain- what our Faith calls long suffering.
St. Maximilian Kolbe was given a cross, and shows us ultimately what Christ did- that loving in the cross makes all the difference. He practiced the belief that the Resurrection does indeed overcome the cross. Love overcomes all evil.
This man did not deny his pain, he admitted it. But in that pain, he did something. St. Maximilian Kolbe, along with the other saints of the war, were speaking to me through their witness. Instead of turning inward in suffering, they directed it outward. They were patient, accepting the crosses in their life in order to give it back to God in love. They followed after Christ- who, chose love, even when faced with the sins of others against Him.
As Christians, we strive to model after Christ, to be turned into His likeness according to his grace. One of the ways we become more of the people we are created to be is when we can, like Christ, make an act of love for others in our trials.
This is freedom.
Sisters, what is that place in your life where you hold onto past hurt and blame? What is that area in your heart where you feel enslaved by unforgiveness?
This is where God wants to enter. This is where you can choose love. While the pain may not leave, you can choose. You are loved by God and that is all that matters. You can be free to love.
Yes, this takes grace. It takes time of praying on your knees and asking God’s help. But it is immensely liberating.
Maximilian Kolbe used to say, “Hate destroys. Only love creates.”