Jesus’s prayer on the Cross, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”, is very hard to emulate, especially when you have been wounded by others in the deepest, most appalling way. Forgiveness at this level is not something one can achieve by one’s own strength; it can only come through the grace of God.
These thoughts have been prompted partly by listening on the radio to the statement made by Brendan Cox, husband of the murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox. He said: “We feel nothing but pity for [the perpetrator]; that his life was so devoid of love that his only way of finding meaning was to attack a defenceless woman…”
As well as this, I have been reading If You Sit Very Still by Marian Partington, published by Jessica Kingsley, which tells a story more harrowing in its way than that of Jo Cox’s untimely death. Marian is the sister of Lucy Partington, who disappeared on the night of December 27 1973, and whose remains – along with those of many others – were dug up in March 1994 from the cellar of the house in Cromwell Road, Gloucester, where Fred and Rosemary West were living.
A tale of unimaginable pain, horror and eventual transformation, related with great honesty, the book “evolved”, as its author describes it, over 18 years. There was the long drawn-out grief of not knowing what had happened to Lucy for 21 years; then coming to terms with the news of her abduction, rape, torture and death at the hands of the Wests.
In her long inner journey to come to terms with these experiences, Marian was helped by Buddhist and Quaker friends. Most poignantly she relates that Lucy, a brilliant third-year student at Exeter University, some of whose poems are included in the book, had become a Catholic five weeks before her abduction; when asked “Where are you going [after graduation]?” she had replied: “Towards the light.”
In struggling to come to terms with her sister’s killers, Marian was impelled to face up to her own “rotting pile of mistakes and woundings”, admitting that between 1970 and 1985 she had chosen “to terminate four pregnancies”. Relating that she had often been “overwhelmed by a feeling of terrible remorse and shame about the abortions”, she reflects that “it is not consoling, but true, that this has helped me to feel more compassionate towards those who have killed, legally or illegally.”
Now working for the Forgiveness Project, on behalf of which she visits prisons to share her own experiences with sex offenders and murderers, Marian finally came to understand that “There was no room for demonising. I realise that we share a common humanity. I recognised my own capacity to inflict harm.”
Forgiveness requires heroism. It means, as Marian Partington discovered in her suffering, learning to forgive ourselves as well as others. Whether those who practise it know it or not, this involves walking the way of the Cross; following the footsteps of Christ. How else can we possibly learn to love our enemies?
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund