“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
I read a story about a Mexican man named Bosco Gutierrez, who was kidnapped and held hostage by his kidnappers for 257 days in 1990. During the duration of his entire captivity, his kidnappers never uncovered their heads and they never showed him their faces. While he spent the long months locked in an isolated cell, he spent much of his time in prayer. One day, it occurred to Bosco that he should pray for the souls of his kidnappers. On Christmas Day, he told his kidnappers that he would like to pray with them, and so they opened the door of his cell a little and listened to him. He read from a Bible and prayed with those men. Later, when the prayers were finished, the kidnappers each came forward and shook his hand. Later, Bosco said, “Can you imagine the happiness inside my soul? It was the happiest Christmas I ever had!”
I have been reflecting on this story very much over the last few days and weeks, for there was surely something inspired in Bosco’s decision to pray for his captors – and it was so beautiful.
You see, Bosco was not the first person to pray for his persecutors – Christ had already done that when He said… “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
I have been reflecting on that too… For we really did not know that we were doing. I know that I did not know…
I have spent the majority of my life wilfully choosing sin because I simply did not understand what I was doing… I knew of course that sin is bad. I knew that I could damn my soul to Hell for eternity with a mortal sin – which is the spiritually life-ending choice to reject God. I knew that I could land myself in Purgatory for at least a while with venial sins – which are smaller transgressions against God. I even knew that I was offending Christ and the He was dying for LOVE of me and that my sins alone were enough to CRUCIFY the Son of Man.
But though I knew these things with my intellect – I am clever enough and I could understand them dispassionately – that part was pretty easy, I knew NOTHING of what I was doing… You see, I knew nothing in my heart – I knew nothing with LOVE.
I would excuse myself so easily and think to myself… “I’ll go to confession later.” Or “I’m a good person, God knows that.” Or “I’ll do better next time, this doesn’t matter.” Or “God always forgives.” Or “I know God would suffer and die for just my sins, but there are so many sinners anyway, what difference does one extra sin from me make anyway.”
And now, since my conversion where I learned a little more through Grace and no merit of my own, my heart is filled with SORROW – not because my excuses were false – because they are TRUE!
I CAN go to confession – God will forgive ANY sin. I AM basically good – I was made in God’s image. I do TRY better next time – I try to grow in virtue despite my own weak nature. God will ALWAYS forgive me – nothing is impossible to God. And there are definitely other sinners too – for all humankind sins except Our Blessed Mother, Christ and Saint John the Baptist (who was baptised in his mother’s womb during the Visitation when he left within her womb)…
And it is my realisation of the TRUTH of my excuses that causes me sorrow… Because now, I understand a little more of what it was exactly that I did to Him on that Cross, when He made excuses for me. I understand that it was my hand that held the scourge, it was my lips that spat at Him, my tongue that abused Him, my legs that kicked Him, my hands that pushed the thorns into His Holy Head and the Nails into His Holy Hands and the Lance into His Holy Heart.
And I did those things and continue to do them, not because I wanted to torture Him, but because I was too LAZY to stop!
And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of the world.
And I caused all this harm to my Beloved while saying my prayers, receiving the sacraments and calling myself His child.
So now, knowing a little more of what it was that I did – and continue to do – to Him, all I can do is turn my sorrowful face towards my Beloved and thank Him. For He loved me INFINITELY and SAVED me eternally, and EXCUSED me when He prayed that prayer for me with His dying breath, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)…
How could I ever thank God for that? How could I ever?
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.