Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Necessity of Faith and the Power of Grace in the Fight for Life

If you ever get the chance to hear Guy Gruters speak, do it. And so it is that people are strongly urged to attend the talk he will give at Blessed Sacrament this Friday, November 16, at 7:30 p.m., "I Fought for Life!"

Guy Gruters at 2010 Men's Conference,
photo credit: Catholic Herald
In addition to being awarded more than 30 combat medals, including two silver stars, two distinguished flying crosses, two bronze stars for heroism, and two purple hearts, Capt. Guy Gruters (USAF, retired) was a guest of the infamous Hanoi Hilton for several years after his plane was shot down in 1967 during the Vietnam War. While there, he was nearly starved, the recipient of constant beatings and torture, and witness to the horrific deaths of fellow American POWs in captivity.

His response to this hell on earth? How did he learn to survive, both during his imprisonment and after his release in 1973?

Forgiveness, as related in this story --
As his friends were tortured and killed just feet away and he was unable to do anything to stop it, a maddening rage began to well up inside him that he said was the fruit of his pride. “Great anger started to grow in me,” he said. “And I didn’t know enough to stop it. I had never been angry at anybody in my life, really. But now I’m really angry. And it developed into a terrible hatred.” . . .

When he first arrived at the prison camp, he thought that God could not be anywhere near a place filled with such evil. Later, instead of looking at the evil that surrounded him, he repented of the evil that was within him.

“I just said the Act of Contrition over and over again,” Gruters said. “And I started saying the rosary even though I didn’t remember the mysteries.” This finally led him, grudgingly, to forgive his captors.

“It took me at least three months before I could even form in my mind the words, ‘Lord, I forgive them,’” Gruters said. “But I didn’t mean it. But I kept saying it. After six months, I would say, ‘Lord, I forgive them and I hope you get them to heaven. I understand that they’re your children. And I understand that you love them just like you love me. I’m with you on this. I want to love them. And I want to forgive them. I’m counting on you —- obviously, I don’t have the strength.’”

Such was the prayer of a humbled man.

“God converted my heart from total pride to being able to see through the pride and overcome the hatred and to start praying,” Gruters said. “Once that happened then there was the chance of living through the experience.” . . .

When Gruters forgave from his heart the brutal guards that seemed to be sent to him, he felt closer to God than at any other time in his life. “When I would pray for those people, I had this tremendous warmth in my heart. It was wonderful. It was great joy and peace,” he said. “The greatest joy and peace I’ve ever had in my life was in prison camp. Since I got back, ... I’ve never had that time that I had with God up there.”
(‘Lord, I forgive them’: Faith led POW to humility and peace in Vietnamese prison camp, Archdiocese of Indianapolis)
Prior to this speaking engagement at Blessed Sacrament, Capt. Gruters also spoke at the 2010 Men's Conference (mp3 podcast here), and he gave another excellent talk at Theology on Tap in Alexandria in 2008 (mp3 podcast here).

Forgiveness is not always easy. In fact, some evils are so great that it is essentially impossible for any human being to forgive them. Some hurts are just too large, some injuries are just too great (or sometimes we allow ourselves to get so self-centered that even little injuries seem great) that it is impossible for us to forgive. Or, perhaps we should emphasize that it is impossible for us to forgive. But with grace, you can do the impossible. The grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to what we otherwise could not humanly do, persevere in hope rather than give over to despair during times of hardship, suffering, and/or persecution, as well as doing that which is perhaps the most impossible thing to do at times -- forgive the unforgiveable, forgive the debt that can never be paid. Genuinely have love for an enemy. And then you can find peace and healing. The horror can be transformed and you can finally leave that Hell which is anger and resentment and despair.

Also, if you ever have the chance to read the book Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza, do so. She survived the Rwandan genocide while the rest of her family was hacked to death with machetes, along with hundreds of thousands of others. She made a discovery during that experience, as she writes in the Introduction to her book. "It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me -- and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family."

Capt. Gruters will be speaking on the topic "I Fought for Life!" as part of the Defend Life lecture tour. This is a fight we must all join in. Indeed, the battle is forced upon us whether we wish to engage in the fight or not. The Culture of Death continues apace. But we must not lose hope and should instead be encouraged and inspired by the witness of those like Guy Gruters. The battle is joined, but it will not be won by the force of violence, only by the conversion of hearts made possible through the power and grace of love.

--posted by Mark Rothe, Master Catechist

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