Vengeance makes embittered victims, God’s mercy the only antidote

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo: Patrick J Lee
Photo: Patrick J Lee

Bill Chadwick, a Louisiana businessman lost his son in 1993 when he was a passenger in a car which went out of control and crashed. The driver was convicted of reckless drunken driving. Bill thought he would have closure when the driver was brought to justice.

We think that if there is someone to blame then we can put the matter to rest. The victim will get justice and then we can put the matter away.

Bill had seen people on Oprah and other shows shouting for the death penalty as if this would solve everything. But after a time of deep turmoil he realised that until he forgave the driver he would never find the closure he was looking for.

He still felt his anger towards the driver was legitimate, but he could see that forgiving was different from removing responsibility. The driver was still responsible for his son’s death, but he had to forgive him before he could let the incident go.

He realised that the change that had to happen was in his heart. This change was not something the driver had to go through. Rather it was something he had to go through. He gives testimony that the closure we seek is not outside ourselves; it is within our own hearts. The power to forgive lies within us. Nothing that happens outside us can bring closure until we forgive.

Pope John Paul II was so convinced of the need for a new attitude of mercy in the world today that he dedicated the whole world to the Divine Mercy.

He liked to quote St Faustina: “Humanity will never have peace until it turns to Divine Mercy.” He constantly pointed us toward the heart of Jesus pierced with the lance from which flowed blood and water for our salvation.

“Through the mystery of this wounded heart, the restorative tide of God’s merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret.” On 17 August, 2002, at a Mass for the dedication of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Lagiewniki Poland he said:

“How greatly today’s world needs Gods mercy! In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up.

“Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, there the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about peace…

“Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope.”

Pope John Paul II not only proclaimed the Good News of God’s mercy. He also lived it.

On 13 May 1981, as he was greeting the crowds in St Peter’s Square he was critically wounded by an assassin’s bullet. He attributed his miraculous recovery to the Virgin Mary of Fatima. It was the feast day celebrating the apparitions. The world was outraged. The assassin was arrested and given a lifetime sentence in a Roman jail.

Even the hardest heart could not fail to be touched by the sequel to this disturbing event.

When he was well again the pope went to visit Mehemet Ali Agca, his would-be assassin, in prison. We do not know what transpired in that encounter, but we know for certain that the pope went to bring forgiveness to the man who had attempted to kill him. John Paul II was an icon of mercy for the world.

This is an extract from Fr Ken Barker’s book His Name is Mercy.