My father died last week. It was unexpected. He had had health issues the last couple of years and had never seemed particularly robust, but he was never near death, either.
My mom passed away eight years prior. Here I am, in my 30s (barely!) with five small children and no parents. It’s not a common status among my circle of friends, but it could be far worse.
I mention this simply to show that I have a frame of reference when I talk about grieving deceased parents. This isn’t my first rodeo. What is different this time, however, is that my father was, well, a different man than what he seemed to be. Over the last few years we had uncovered surprising details about his life — details that I will spare you, dear reader.
So the grief I feel is an alloyed grief. There is sadness that the opportunity has passed for our relationship to transform coupled with confusion over details that keep popping up (such as the bewildering claim he apparently made that he had been sent on a secret mission for the Department of Defense) commingled with utter dismay that his last note to us — intentionally placed in a spot where we would find it — was as efficient as a corporate memo and as warm as a ransom note.
The question I am left with — aside from the question of what is true regarding his life — is the question of forgiveness. How do you forgive someone who lies in his grave and whose lies extend beyond the grave? (The last sentence of his last note to us was, in fact, untrue.) How do you forgive someone who betrayed his family but who genuinely believed he could fool everyone — and who maybe, in the end, fooled himself?
As I have pondered these questions, a specific path to forgiveness and healing keeps coming to mind. Think back to Cana, the site of Jesus’ first public miracle. The hosts had run out of wine, and Mary, with the compassion of a mother’s heart, knew the embarrassment they would face. Her son is at the same wedding feast, so she hurries to him and tells him the problem. At first, Jesus seems to resist her urging. But she — great Jewish mama that she is — brushes aside his response and turns to the servants. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says with complete confidence in him. Jesus is moved by his mother’s urging and by her faith. Jesus acts, in this instance, because of his mother’s intercession.
This intercessor was given to us from the cross when Jesus gave her to John. John stands there in history as the faithful disciple but also stands in for us when Jesus gives Mary to his care: “behold your mother.” She is our mother as well, our dear compassionate mother, who is also, in evangelical parlance, a “prayer warrior.” Mary, just as she was at Cana, is a compassionate intercessor for those of us who face complicated situations.
Mary is known by many names. One such name comes from a meditation by St Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the last quarter of the second century and a Church Father. Drawing out a comparison between Eve and Mary, he noted:
“And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary” (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 22).
Man’s fall from grace due to original sin — what knot could be more complicated than that? Original sin, endured since our first parents, was loosed by the obedience of Mary to the will of God when she gave her fiat to become the mother of the Holy God. And so she is known as “Mary, Undoer of Knots.” Mary, undoer of the knot of original sin. Mary, undoer of whatever knot is in your life and the big knot that is in mine.
I once had a lovely little card that had printed on it “The best way out is always through.” The best way out of the pain is to walk through it. And so I have been given the answer to my question of how do I forgive: pray a daily Rosary alongside Mary, Undoer of Knots, for my father’s departed soul and for my wounded one.
What does this prayer do? Two things. When we pray in good faith for someone who has hurt us we cannot help but love that person more. It is hard for us to love the person whom we do not know. I have only done this prayer for the last week, and already I am looking at my father through more compassionate eyes than ever before; somehow, it is giving me more knowledge of him.
Secondly, praying the Rosary has a way of showing us who we are. Contemplating the mysteries of the God-Man being scourged or crowned with thorns gives me pause to think about the ways in which I have unleashed my own contempt for my Savior. The prayer becomes, then, less about offender (dad) and victim (me) and instead becomes two sinners contemplating God’s passion and his love and mercy.
And then, of course, the prayer is the outpouring of hope that God will and does redeem all things. Everything else in my life — my mother’s terminal brain disease, for example — has shown itself to be a gift. Perhaps the gift is a severe mercy, but there is always mercy.
There is always the great Divine Act of turning evil on its head to bless — witness the crucifixion itself.
Praying a daily Rosary for those who have wounded us alongside our great mother and intercessor is ultimately an act of hope, an act of humility, and an act of love. By focusing daily and for a sustained time on the life of Jesus in the company of Mary, Undoer of Knots, I have confidence that I will find healing and peace.
Copyright 2018 Amanda Woodiel