I watched a video of Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan massacre that brought death to her entire family. She survived by hiding with others in a cramped toilet in the house of a brave Protestant pastor. In the video, Immaculee  later met the man who killed her parents and brother. Immediately she told him she forgave him. The man could not speak, could not even look at her. Overcome was he by the shock of such great kindness.

This story reflects another shocking episode in the Gospel. A maddening crowd dragged a sinful woman to the feet of Jesus. The woman was stymied by her sins. The crowd demanded judgment and death. Instead, Jesus shocked everyone by refusing to pass judgment. Instead, when the crowd dispersed, Jesus sent the woman on her way, with new life and fresh courage to conquer her past and embrace her future with hope.  The woman was terrifed by the crowd, but she was truly rocked by the experience of a merciful and forgiving God.

It is not easy to forgive. How could Jesus forgive? How could Immaculee forgive?

Immaculee described it as a struggle. She began with boiling anger and a desire to take revenge. But then she prayed. Inside that toilet for 3 months, she prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet countless times each day. And she felt the love of God slowly, even for her enemies. She felt the desire for freedom… for herself… for other people.  Inside that toilet, she decided to forgive. She decided to take the side of love, not of hate.

Im sure there are people who hurt us and made us suffer. Naturally we want to fight back, to get even. But as Christians, we already have an instrument to help heal the anger and transform it into love. that instrument is prayer.  Jesus was very forgiving because he knew the love of the Father in a deeply personal way. Immaculee was able to forgive because prayer softened her heart and changed her.

Forgiveness is always a challenge. This Lent, we can start on the road to forgive by praying sincerely, seriously, deeply. May the Lord open our hearts, soften our hearts, set our hearts free, and set our neighbor free.