I don't know much about this wrongful conviction, other than what was in the story, but of course the forgiveness angle was obvious. A mother of three was jailed for the murder of a homeless man, on the testimony of a [now deceased] woman with a penchant for lying. The actual murderers were eventual found, and now, 17 years after the conviction, Susan Mellen has been reunited with her family.
"I'm a free woman now. Let me do the running man," she said, and did a few jogging dance steps before the microphones. She joked and beamed but also described her imprisonment as "cruel punishment."
"I would cry every night" in prison, Mellen said, but never lost faith and even wrote "freedom" on the bottom of her tennis shoes "because I knew I was going to walk free one day."
Mellen said she held no ill will against those who put her behind bars. "No, no, I always forgave my enemies," she said. "Even your haters, you have to forgive them and sometimes you have to thank them because they bring you closer to God."
Mellen said she planned to go to dinner with her family and wanted to eat an avocado, steak, or maybe something she had never had. She also hoped to have a McDonald's Happy Meal with her youngest daughter. "Me and her were at McDonald's when I got arrested and we didn't have a happy meal that day," she said. "... It's a happy ending right now...We're going to have a new beginning."
I would contend that her spirit of forgiveness allowed her to dance and joke, during what would have otherwise been an opportunity for rage and resentment. Anger is not out of place, and there may be dark moments when it seems overwhelming, but if she keeps making her acts of forgiveness -- for the undoubted injustice and lost opportunities -- whe will maintain that joy for the rest of her life.
When schedules change and families spend more time together, we are given an opportunity to have important conversations with those we love. Whether during slower days at home, get-togethers at vacation spots, or traveling to visit distant relations, discussions often turn to shared events of the past--which can be the occasion of laughter, bittersweet recollections, or dredging up old conflicts, with all their baggage.
When families gather together and reminisce, one is often shocked by how others remember particular persons and events. We carry with us an eclectic composite of memories that have shaped us over the years, and that have colored our opinions about how the world works, but occasionally two persons will remember an occasion or encounter so differently that they have trouble recognizing the shared experience [continue reading].
The story of Saint Josephine Bakhita is a marvelous testament to the power of God's love, the power of forgiveness, and the power of love to overcome evil. She was kidnapped by slave traders when she was a small child, beaten and scarred, treated as a near-worthless object—but she persevered until she found a new way to live. This short segment from my book explains how forgiveness fits in:
It was her fifth owner, the Italian consul at Karthoum, who first showed her kindness and ultimately brought her to Europe, where she discovered Christ. While taking care of the young daughter of a family there, she was introduced to the Canossan Sisters with whom she eventually found a home as a religious sister. Fifty years of quiet consecrated life allowed her to witness to others the deep abiding peace that faith and forgiveness can bring. Seeing God’s hand even in the difficult path of her life, she noted, “If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I'd kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman.”
At her beatification, Pope John Paul II praised her as “Our Universal Sister,” pointing out that she offers us “a message of reconciliation and evangelic forgiveness in a world so much divided and hurt by hatred and violence.” Note that Bakhita didn’t say that what the slave traders and her owners did to her was right—it most certainly was not. But she recognized that through her wounds she found salvation, which she could not ignore.
Cardinal Weurl reminds us of the importance of her story as it relates to the suffering of women even today:
At Bakhita’s canonization, Blessed John Paul II called the first saint from Sudan “a shining advocate of genuine emancipation” for women victimized in today’s world. “The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance, but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights,” the pope said.
Some have promoted Bakhita as a possible patron saint for the victims of human trafficking, the modern-day form of slavery that includes forced labor and many women and children of both sexes being forced into prostitution. The feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, February 8, has been designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a day of prayer to raise awareness of, and to help end, the scourge of human trafficking.
The severity of human trafficking cannot be underestimated. It is estimated that there are as many as 27 million trafficking victims at any given time worldwide. A recent article in the Catholic News Service notes that experts estimate that five million of these trafficked and enslaved people are children. The evil is unfolding not only in foreign countries. A 2013 report from the U.S. State Department confirms that the “United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children – both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals – subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking.”
That number—27 million—defies comprehension, but try to imagine the horror of each of those isolated souls. We must beg Saint Bakhita's intercession to bring light, emancipation, and joy to these captives. But there's more to the suffering than even the statistics reveal:
There are many forms of slavery, including those that do not have visible chains or leave outward marks. We suffer from them as long as we cannot name them, claim our own dignity which comes from being created in the image and likeness of God, and renounce them from holding us captive. The liberation that forgiveness can offer is as stark as the sundering of iron fetters and the opening of a prison door—it is for the one who suffers to choose freedom and wholeness of heart, despite her surroundings. The graces of God are available to all even in the darkest hours and each cross bears within it the seeds of Easter for those who cling to Christ.
Please pray for for all who are captive—from those enduring physical constraints to those trapped in a cell of resentment over past injuries. Consider how freedom may be lacking even in the lives of those around you, and share Bakhita's story. Even when all the slaves have been freed, it remains for us to show them how to rise above the past, and how to realise all the good that God has in store for those who forgive.
Had a nice chat with Wendy Wiese of Relevant Radio this afternoon. The archived conversation can be found here. For more on the book or how to set up a forgiveness conference for the women in your area, kindly go here. This Year of Faith would be a great time to knock down obstacles to God and to free yourselves to love without fear. It's worth it, I promise!
Although I missed living in the 1950′s by a hair’s breadth, that
decades’s culture was long celebrated in movies, books, and music.
Whatever may have lain in the hearts and minds of that generation, from a
distance the prevailing word that comes to mind is “convention.” Skirt
lengths, hair cuts, meal preparation, school discipline, and cultural
tastes were widely chosen by convention, and those who didn’t conform
(due to choice or poverty) felt the opprobrium of those around them.
Even church attendance on Sunday was highly conventional, and the pews
were filled on a regular basis. [cont.]
The Crescat has an excellent post on domestic violence, based on a tragic situation that erupted very close to her. She brings her own experience into the piece, which gives her a tremendous amount of ethos concerning such scenarios. That said, I will add two cents more.
There are certainly questions of shame, self-esteem, embarrassment, isolation and fear. There are the imagined reactions of neighbours, the family, and co-workers to consider, which often hold people bound. There is also the sheer vulnerability of being weak, poor, and confused -- a person with very limited options. All of these must be surmounted in order to escape. But then what?
[P]rudence will help a woman to
distinguish when to remain in a hostile environment and when to
leave, or when to bear with the unkindness of others and when she is
becoming an enabler—which is hardly Christian. So consider the case
of a bitter woman who is tied to an abusive partner by her low
self-esteem and no options. In her trapped state, the daily injuries
that naturally accrue spiral into one enormous ball of pain. The
anger beneath the surface often flares up and borders on rage—so
much so that they are both being crushed under the weight of sin.
When forgiveness becomes habitual,
prudence can be relied upon, illuminating how to proceed even in the
most delicate circumstances. Interestingly, it may become clear that
it’s not necessarily the choice but the disposition of the one
making the choice; therefore, two women with similar circumstances
may each discern a different response, and the same choice made by
two women may be an occasion of sin for one and a path to sainthood
for the other. That is why, in the introduction to the book, I
insisted that I don’t know what the right choice for another may
be—and in pretending otherwise I could trample on the Holy Spirit,
Unless one forgives, one will always lack prudential judgment. I know it is counter-intuitive, but it has been proven over and over -- and it is foundational to our faith. When the woman is freed from a situation like this, she must be helped to forgive or she will continue to wander in the darkness.
Prayers for the victims in Kat's story, and let's pray for the gift of enlightenment when we're close to frightening situations like that one.