Miracle of Mercy: A Love that Goes Beyond Justice

Fr. Peter Cameron (the English edition editor of Magnificat magazine) opened the Crossroads Cultural Center event reading from Victor Hugo’s iconic story of mercy, Les Miserables. The end of the passage he read were the words of Bishop Myriel...

Fr. Peter Cameron (the English edition editor of Magnificat magazine) opened the Crossroads Cultural Center event reading from Victor Hugo’s iconic story of mercy, Les Miserables. The end of the passage he read were the words of Bishop Myriel:

Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man....Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you...I withdraw it from dark thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.

This story, as the evening, was about mercy. Like the story of Valjean, the two women we hear would tell stories of pain, of sorrow, of seeming injustice, and of their incredible certainty that love is stronger. Rita, a wife, mother and poet, lost her husband Frank after a battle with cancer earlier this year. Barbara, a mother and wife, saw her son Matthew die at the hands of a gunman during the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007. Each woman, candidly shared their very personal journeys with us.

Rita described how her relationship with Frank grew; it was clear that a marriage filled with love is not without trials. In fact, it is the circumstances which cause that great love to grow. Frank was a man who suffered from addictions, loss and loneliness. The audience watched a video in which he himself recounted the suffering of his life (told two years prior at the New York Encounter). “I had lost myself”, he said, “to the point of wanting to take my own life.” But after a mysterious encounter with a priest and later with CL, he said, the turning point was understanding that, “I had to fall in love with myself and with my life” before I could be right with the world and with others. It was at that time in Frank’s life that Rita and others began a friendship with Frank, and what started as a desire to “help him out” grew into a great love, marriage and a family. It was only then that Frank’s cancer diagnosis came. His two and a half years of suffering was trumped only the witness he was for his friends and family. As people came en mass to visit and comfort Frank, Rita recounted, they found themselves edified by a man who was full of hope, love, who prayed all night and offered his sufferings for the world. This man loved his life, scripture (in particular she told of how he loved how Adam and Eve who would talk with God freely in the Garden of Eden before they sinned, something he had a great nostalgia for), family, friends.…in his own words, “I love everybody!” In the video, Frank shared of the mercy and forgiveness he felt in his life that could have only come from God. “I have joy today that is not generated by me.” Rita concluded by sharing how Frank longed to carry the cross on Good Friday’s Way of the Cross each year. The last year of his life, because he was too weak, he could only hold the cross at the beginning of the event. “I don’t carry the cross” he said many times, “the cross carries me.”

Barbara shared her story, and that of her son Matthew. This year, 8 years after his death, Matthew La Porte was posthumously given the U. S. Armed Service’s Airmen Medal. Matthew and 32 other members of the Virginia Tech Campus were gunned down on April 16th 2007, but not before Matthew put himself in harm’s way to block the shooter, who killed Matthew and immediately took his own life. The honor, which was the result of 8 years of forensic research and testimonies, was one of few given in US history. Barbara’s witness told not so much about her son’s life or act of heroism; it was the story of a mother coming to know what it meant to really love, because of her son’s death. “Through the grace of God I don’t have any anger,” she told us. It was the day after Divine Mercy Sunday that he died, and that day she prayed for her two children, little knowing that it was hours before Matthew’s death. When he was found, they later told her and her husband, Matthew had a smile on his face—he was in peace. She was certain that he had seen the Divine Mercy at his death; that he knew that peace and loving embrace that she too was experiencing. Barbara and her family have not only forgiven the shooter, but have reached out to other families suffering such tragedies. “We have found that it is better to reach out in community then to try to deal with our own suffering.” Initially, to occupy her mind, she returned to school, obtaining a master’s degree in theology (“because I had questions I needed answered”). Today she and her family are working on college campuses to enact legislation for safer academic environments.
A mother and a wife sharing their losses. Who would have thought in a room where stories of tragedy were re-told, there would be such love, joy, hope, and laughter. In all of Greenwich Village, I don’t think there were hearts that were more alive! This is the attractiveness of Christianity that Fr. Ibrahim, Fr. Pepe, Rose, and so many of our friends are giving witness to in the world. The miracle of mercy, of forgiveness, of beginning again because Another has “bought your soul”, and thus you belong to God.