I read a moving story in a book entitled Angel Power, by Janice T. Connell. I’m not quite sure what to make of the book itself. She would have done better to have been more exclusively Catholic in her presentation. The author’s language and style are at times somewhat New Agey, though the content is basically sound (but she also makes some references to other religions, which could have been left out without sacrificing anything important in the book’s themes). Most of the information she presents on the nature and activity of angels is derived from the writings of St Gregory the Great and St Thomas Aquinas, though she goes a little beyond that on her own. Anyway, my intention is not to review the book but to reflect on one of the testimonies.
It concerns the sufferings of Marissa, a 17-year-old girl from Spain who moved to New York City with her family and experienced some of the horror of the dark side of big-city life. She was accosted by a man belonging to a satanic cult, who then raped her and stabbed her eight times, and left her in the park where he found her, assuming she was dead. But the girl dragged herself to a road where someone saw her and took her to a hospital. She nearly died, but they were able to save her, though she never fully recovered from some of the injuries.
It’s a long story, so I’m just giving an overview. Marissa had never even considered forgiving her assailant, and she was hurt and angry that God would have allowed such a horrible thing to happen to her. Someone suggested to her that she pray to Our Lady. She did, and things began to improve. She prayed with a group, which, among other things, daily prayed the “Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Mother.” Since she had been stabbed seven times (plus one), she said she would ask Jesus and Mary if they wanted her to forgive, and little by little she was able to.
Marissa said that she had been stabbed seven times in the upper part of her body. The eighth stab wound “was done to the lower part of my body.” She did not explain this further, though evidently it was so horrendous that even the nurses who eventually removed the stitches were weeping over what had been done to her by someone who they said must have been “an animal,” or “a demon.” Marissa said she could forgive the seven wounds but not the eighth one.
Once, when she was praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary, she felt a clear inner locution from the Blessed Mother: “My daughter, I desire you to forgive that person for the eighth wound he inflicted upon you.” Marissa had never told anyone about it, so she said, “How do you know my secret?” Our Lady responded, “My child, I know everything that happened to you.”
She was moved, but still unable to forgive completely. She asked for a sign (she was in church at the time). She said, “I’m sorry, Blessed Mother, I just can’t, but if this is really coming from you, I want to touch the shoulder of the lady in front of me and whatever comes out of her mouth I will accept as you speaking to me.” She did so, and without first saying anything to the woman in front of her, the woman at once turned around and said, “The Blessed Mother is talking to you. Please listen to her.”
Even after that, Marissa was still making excuses. “But Blessed Mother, this Seven Sorrows Rosary only has seven sorrows. I have eight. I need one more proof that it is really you talking to me—that it is really you who want me to forgive.” She felt something happening to the seven sorrows rosary in her hand. She looked at it in astonishment and then showed it to the others in the prayer group, and they all confirmed it. Her rosary that once had seven sets of beads now had eight! She felt the Blessed Mother speaking again: “My precious daughter, you are able to forgive.” That was all she needed to completely forgive the man from her heart. She told the others about the eighth wound, and they all began to thank God, the Blessed Mother and all the angels. An enormous weight was lifted from her and she felt free. Her life changed after that, and she could live in joy and in confidence in the grace and mercy of the Lord.
It might be good to look at your own life to see if there is something like an “eighth wound” that still needs healing, a deep hurt that you have not yet forgiven, but that remains like a knife stuck in your soul. Maybe you have forgiven everything else, except that one “unforgivable” sin against you, that betrayal, that violence, whatever is the source of that unremitting pain or shame. It is time to ask the Lord and the Blessed Mother to help you forgive, to let go, to have the intolerable burden lifted, so that you can have peace and even joy.
To forgive does not mean to condone the evil or even to refuse to see justice done. Marissa picked out her assailant from a police lineup and testified against him at his trial. But she let go of the bitterness, the resentment and anger, the hatred and the unwillingness to forgive. “Forgive,” says the Apostle, “if you have a complaint against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13).
There’s something else I learned in this book, about suffering. The author writes the following: “Suffering somehow prepares us for our places in Paradise. It is the ‘sandpaper’ that redefines and refines the beauty of each person. Suffering is paradoxically a great gift. It serves as a beacon of Truth. Suffering is permitted by God. How we accept our suffering is our gift to Him… It is through faith in God’s Word, His Covenant, that His children are able to accept the suffering He allows. All suffering is for someone. God knows why He gives the suffering and when He will take it away. It is through trust in his Providence that His children bear their suffering in peace.”
What struck me most is this: “How we accept our suffering is our gift to Him.” I can usually manage to offer suffering as a sacrifice or a penance, or even accept it as a just punishment. But I don’t know if I’ve ever offered my patient bearing of suffering to God explicitly as my gift to Him. This is a new and, I think, potentially very fruitful way to look at it. God has his reasons for permitting suffering in our lives. It is an act of faith and trust and love to accept our suffering in such a way as to offer it to Him as a gift.
The author also wrote: “All suffering is for someone.” This helps us get out of our self-absorption in our pain or troubles. We are members of the Body of Christ, and as St Paul said (Col. 1:24), our sufferings can be offered for the sake of the other members, for the Church. Nothing is wasted, nothing is useless in the providential plans of God, and the more we trust and cooperate with Him, the more we will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and help save souls as well.
So think and pray about what might be the “eighth wound” in your life. Choose to forgive. This hurts; it is a suffering, though it can be a fruitful one. Offer it to God—as a gift.