Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: The Rosary -- The Prayer That Saved My Life

As the priest opened the doors of the church for me this morning, I handed him a small piece of Ghiradelli chocolate: “Just to let you know that you’re remembered this day, Father.”  He smiled and said thanks.  The candy was left over from my Caregivers Support Group meeting last night.
Today is Valentine’s Day:  candy, silly cards, maybe dinner, and if you’re extravagant, perhaps even flowers (or you’re guilty).  It is a day which might be said to have a serious intention, but it is dismissed lightly.  Love: a word which seems to have so many meanings these days, and so little meaning at the same time.  But it is not that way for everyone.
I thought about the caregivers who came to the meeting last night.  Those are people who truly know the meaning of love, and I admire them for it.  I put some candy on the table as we talked; it was for them.  They are people who have committed their lives to the caring for a loved one, someone who perhaps in their dementia or Alzheimer’s disease does not even remember their name, yet still they love.  They probably won’t be buying their loved ones candy or cards or flowers:  they give love, instead.  We gather once a month, to talk about how hard love, real love, is, and to encourage one another to fight for that love.  I’m tempted to write of some of their stories --- some are most amazing, but I don’t think they’d want that.  They don’t desire thanks or fame or recognition for what they are doing; they know it is right.  They know it is right to love, no matter what: in health and in sickness, ‘til death do us part.  That is real love, which isn’t remembered or celebrated on a particular day, but every day.
I recently completed reading the book: The Rosary, The Prayer That Saved My Life, by Immaculee Ilibagiza.  I wasn’t planning this, but today seemed like a good day to review this book.  The title says it is a book about prayer, but I assure you, it is a book about love.
It helps understand this book if you know something about its author.  Immaculee was a young girl in high school in Rwanda in 1994.  Twelve years earlier, the Virgin Mary had appeared to some other Rwandan children, telling them that they needed to spread a message that prayer was fervently needed for their country, and hatred among peoples needed to be ended, or there would be a great tragedy.  In 1994, that tragedy struck.  The ruling party/tribe in Rwanda was the Hutu, and the minority was the Tutsi.  Immaculee’s family was Tutsi.  The President of Rwanda “promised peace and equality for all Rwandans” --- and then he was murdered.  Within 24 hours of his murder, the country’s radio screamed that every one of the 1.2 million Tutsi’s must be killed immediately, and the slaughter began.  The hatred that had been talked about for many years, was put into action.  Neighbor killed neighbor; co-worker killed co-worker; school children killed classmates; Christians killed Christians.  The slaughter was all that you could imagine: beheadings, rapes, and terrible tortures of all kind.  And while Immaculee’s father and mother gathered their Tutsi neighbors around them, encouraging them to love and forgive, and to not fight back, they told her to run to the home of a neighbor, a Hutu friend who they would trust her life to, a Protestant minister.
And for the next 91 days, Immaculee and seven other women were hidden in a small three by four foot bathroom in the minister’s home.  This book is the story of what Immaculee did during those 91 days:  she prayed. 
The first third of the book is about Immaculee’s early family life, and her education.  “Mom and dad drilled two guiding principles into our heads from the moment we were born: The first was to be well educated …. The second principle (and even more important one, they stressed) was to be a good and decent person, and the only sure way to accomplish that was to embrace and spread the love of God.”  She was 12 years old when her Catholic school teachers taught her the Rosary prayer, but “The rosary utterly confounded me.”  She didn’t understand it, the prayers and “mysteries”, but as a bright young girl she memorized the words.  Her priest counseled her to understand the prayer, the meaning of the mysteries.  And finally she did, passing her “rosary test,” which was given each student individually by the priest, with flying colors.  She was so proud.
But until she began praying that rosary, on the beads her father had given her, in that tiny room, for hours on end, as she heard the screams and slaughter outside, she really didn’t understand what the Rosary prayer was. 
The bulk of this book is a walkthrough of each of the mysteries of the Rosary, as Immaculee experienced them in that small bathroom.  Immaculee writes meditations on each mystery, her thoughts, her prayers, and her personal conversations with God.  With no knowledge of what was happening outside but the screams she could hear --- and even the taunts of her former closest friends:  “We’ll find you and cut off your head” --- Immaculee prayed, and she grew in faith.  Dear God, You say we should forgive, but sometimes I pray for the killers to die … please forgive me … but I don’t want them to find me and kill me and kill other innocent people … it’s so complicated, my dear God … how can You love them and love me?  … No matter what pain I might be going through now, I truly do want to live and serve You, and I don’t want to die in such terrible fear.  Please take care of my parents and my brothers, and please promise to hear their prayers as well.  Thank You.  Amen.
“Losing everything brought me face-to-face with the one essential truth of my existence:  We can rely on nothing but God.”  I know you must have Your reasons … maybe we are all supposed to learn some big lessons from this nightmare, and maybe it will bring us closer to You … but it is so hard to know if that is true when the killing continues on the other side of the bathroom door. Please help me find the strength to keep You in my heart always, so I can find Jesus wherever I look … even if I am looking at people who are trying to kill me.
I found some of the most powerful words in this book when I read Immaculee’s meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries, “where I learned to evade the Devil’s grasp … how to let go of my anger and to forgive.”  Reflecting on the Agony In The Garden, Immaculee wrote: “For me, lying on the bathroom floor and using all my powers of prayer to save my own skin, everything clicked into sharp and sudden focus.  I realized that the moment Our Lord yielded to his higher self, his mental agony ended … submitting to and doing God’s will, and not his own.”  Immaculee had a moment of insight we all need to come to:  “I began to see that when we come to God in prayer only when we seek relief from our own suffering, we are forever asking God what He can do for us, not asking God what we can do for Him --- which is where real spiritual growth begins.”  And during her prayers, she begins to see what drove the hatred and killing in her country:  I still have much anger and hatred, and no matter how hard I try, it is still there in the corner of my heart and comes over me without my permission.  I continue to ask  You to show me how to rid myself of this bitter disease of anger… I can see what happens to people – to the world – if they let their hearts stray from You and then choose to satisfy whatever urge sweeps across them. 
There are many other words I could quote from Immaculee’s book, but they are all summarized in these few words from her meditations on the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion:  “I have learned that we can’t love when there is hatred in our hearts.”   
When Immaculee came out of the bathroom after 91 days, it was to find that her parents and her brother were among the hundreds of thousands that had been killed --- while the world stood by and watched.  Immaculee went into that bathroom a young girl and afraid.  She came out a young woman, with a great faith in God.  She has written a number of books and now speaks around the world on what she learned in those 91 days.  She learned that love, real love, is the most important thing.
If you are looking for a truly loving gift for this Valentine’s Day, don’t give candy or cards or flowers that will be forgotten tomorrow.  Give this book.  It documents a knowledge that saved a young woman’s life.  Isn’t that what you would truly want for someone you love?

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