DAD. That was the name of my first hero. I guess that’s what I always thought dads were for. As I grew, so did my “hero-shelf” making room for policemen and firemen and Power Rangers and, of course, Walker Texas Ranger. As I entered my sports phase, Walker was joined by a different type of Cowboy, Troy Aikman, as well as other great athletes: Jerry Rice, Steve Young, “Penny” Hardaway, and Chipper Jones. My sports phase matured into my saints phase. The autographed memorabilia came down and up went pictures of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. Greatness has always spoken to me. It still does. What I recognize as greatness, however, has changed.
I’d like to share about a more recent addition to my list of heroes. Her name is Gabriela*. Her Central American home is constructed of concrete blocks, a cement floor and tin roof. She is in her early-twenties and is paralyzed from the waist down. When Gabriela was still a teenager, her ability to walk was taken from her by a bullet. The bullet was shot out of the gun of a teenage boy trying to rob her. He ended up not only robbing her of the money in her purse, but the treasures of her heart: the priceless hopes and dreams which are proper to young life.
Following this tragedy, the friars began visiting Gabriela on a regular basis. While living in Central America I had this privilege on a number of occasions. I would bring her the Eucharist and then spend some time chatting with her. During one of these visits, she began to share with me some of the details of her story. Speaking of the incident which had happened years ago still had the power to bring tears to her eyes. The physical and emotional pain was still very real. She went on to explain that she knew the young man who did this to her and that a wound hurts all the more when it is inflicted by someone you know. In Gabriela’s life pain, evil, and resentment would not have the last word. In the midst of all this suffering, she said, with absolute sincerity, that she had forgiven the one who did this to her.
This is greatness.
Now, no one is going to make Gabriela action figures, or ask for her autograph. Her name will probably never be listed among the canonized saints. Yet, she is my hero. In her courage, she reveals to me the greatness for which I long, the greatness which I cannot achieve on my own, but Christ can work in me. If Jesus at work in Gabriela can give her the courage and strength to forgive her attacker, certainly he can give me the courage and strength needed to forgive and pray for those who hurt me.
you who sent your Son to reconcile the world to yourself, strengthen me with your Spirit that as I attempt to pray for those who have hurt me and forgive those who have trespassed against me, my efforts may not be limited to my own strength, but may always be aided by the power of your Spirit at work in me.