Writer Norman Cousins said that life is an adventure in forgiveness. I think Fr. Lawrence Martin Jenco would agree.
In 1984, Fr. Jenco traveled to Beirut, dedicated to help the poorest of the poor. On January 8, 1985, he was kidnapped by Shiite Muslim extremists and held hostage for 564 days. He endured imprisonment, beatings, illness and heartbreaking periods of sorrow and loneliness. Several years after his release, he wrote a book (Bound to Forgive, Ave Maria Press, 1995) about his experiences in captivity and, more importantly, about the power of love and forgiveness.
Fr. Jenco tells about being taped like a mummy from his ankles to the top of his head each time he was transported from one place to another. He described being forced to breathe only from his nose as his mouth was stuffed with a cloth and taped shut.
He tells of times when his captors said they were going to kill him and he waited for the bullet to go through his head. Other times he was dressed up and told he was going home, only to have his spirits dashed when he was later informed they were teasing.
He remembers being chained hand and foot, donning a plastic bag on his head, and left in a two-foot by six-foot closet. And he remembers his stench when he was denied washing for over four months.
He was later asked what lesson those of us who haven't been in such a position can learn from his experience and apply to our daily living. He said, "Just look at the madness that goes on in the world today. We lug our hates and our bigotry and prejudices from generation to generation and we pass [them] on.... We [must] stop and look at each other and say, 'I am so sorry for the hurt I caused you. I ask your forgiveness.' And then [we must] extend forgiveness and... receive forgiveness. Somewhere along the line we are going to have to do that. We're all bound to forgive."
Fr. Jenco has forgiven and can attest to the power of forgiveness. And though our hurt may not be the same as his, it is no less real. We, too, are "bound" to forgive. For when we covenant with life to earnestly forgive whatever hurts come our way, we see amazing results. We find inner peace and, often, improved physical health as well. As Dr. O. A. Battista says, "One of the most lasting pleasures you can experience is the feeling that comes over you when you genuinely forgive an enemy -- whether he knows it or not."
I've come to realize that genuine forgiveness is crucial if any of us will find peace. Whether or not it restores a broken relationship, it sets our own hearts free. Those who will be bound by the promise to sincerely forgive, will be freed from the bonds of the past. Those are Fr. Jenco's words: "We're all bound to forgive." And those who are bound to forgive are bound to be happy.
-- Steve Goodier