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And Mary Conceived Through the Holy Spirit
by Michel Feuillet
The Miracle of Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo (1726)
by Sebastiano Conca (1680–1764)
The editorial of the month
by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P
For the longest time I have had a book on my bookshelf that I finally got around to reading. I regret it took me so long! It is entitled A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness. The book offers a striking perspective on forgiveness—one I had never considered. If nothing else, the season of Lent is the time to make our own those words Christ speaks from the cross: Father, forgive them.
Forgiveness and human connectedness
The author is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a clinical psychologist who served on the Human Rights Violations Committee of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The book is the account of Gobodo-Madikizela’s prison interviews with Eugene de Kock—the commanding officer of state-sanctioned apartheid death squads. Dubbed “Prime Evil” by the press, de Kock was personally responsible for kidnapping, torturing, and murdering an unknown number of anti-apartheid activists. In 1996, he was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences plus 212 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
Here is the stunning question the book aims to answer: What enables some victims to forgive heinous crimes? What makes it possible for enemies to connect in a way that would otherwise seem unimaginable?
Gobodo-Madikizela wonders, “Could it perhaps be a source of hope that, through our recognition of evil as a constant possibility in human experience, we can learn to prevent it from taking over our lives?”
What enables this is empathy:
We are induced to empathy because there is something in the other that is felt to be part of the self, and something in the self that is felt to belong to the other. Empathy feels with the other in a reciprocal emotional process in which his very situation seems to ask for it, and the other responds by offering it.
This empathy extends even to the most monstrous evildoer:
The possibility of making an empathic connection with someone who has victimized us, as a response to the pain of his remorse, stems significantly from this underlying dynamic. The power of human connectedness, of identification with the other as “bone of my bone” through the sheer fact of his being human, draws us to “rescue” others in pain, almost as if this were a learned response embedded deep in our genetic and evolutionary past. We cannot help it. Empathy reaches out to the other and says: I can feel the pain you feel for having caused me pain.
Gobodo-Madikizela goes on to explain that “the psychological compulsion that makes us identify with and want to rescue others in severe difficulty, and the desire to be rehumanized by someone who had denied our humanity are such powerful emotional dynamics that they can drive many victims to forgive and to enter in a constructive encounter with the offender.”
Forgiveness as a path to healing
The author notes that “forgiveness can open up a new path toward healing for the victim.” Conversely, “not to forgive means closing the door to the possibility of transformation.” For, “the victim in a sense needs forgiveness as part of the process of becoming rehumanized. The victim needs it in order to complete himself or herself and to wrest away from the perpetrator the fiat power to destroy or to spare.”
It is to seal “cracks in their psyche that many victims discover within themselves an inexorable movement toward forgiveness at the moment when the person who represents their pain drops his façade of indifference and opens up to express contrition.”
Forgiveness begins with the person
Gobodo-Madikizela stresses the transcendent essence of forgiveness:
Forgiveness does not overlook the deed: it rises above it. “This is what it means to be human,” it says. “I cannot and will not return the evil you inflicted on me.” And that is the victim’s triumph.
Thus, “forgiveness, while not disregarding the act, begins not with it but with the person. Forgiveness recognizes the deed, its impact having been and continuing to be lived by the victim, but transcends it.”
In the words of Mrs. Pearl Faku, the widow of a policeman murdered by de Kock, upon meeting the killer: “I couldn’t control my tears. I was just nodding, as a way of saying yes, I forgive you. I hope that when he sees our tears, he knows that they are not only tears for our husbands, but tears for him as well…. I would like to hold him by the hand, and show him that there is a future, and that he can still change.”
The article of the month
The Fatima Centennial by Father James M. Sullivan, o.p.
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