Fr. Emmanuel Chijioke Ogbuowelu(

Ochanya, a 13-year-old pupil of Federal Government College, Gboko, Benue State,was the last of 11 children in her family. In search of quality education, she was compelled by her parents to leave the comfort of their home in Ogene-Amejo village in Okpokwu local government area of Benue state to Gboko in order to stay with her aunt and her family. She was forced to make this move because the only public school in her community, not far from her home, had been shut since 2011 due to non-payment of teachers’ salaries. So, in 2012, when she was just seven, Ochanya started living with Mr. & Mrs. Andrew and Felicia Ogbuaja and their five children. That sounds reasonable and simple. However, in Ochanya’s case, it became the proverbial journey of no return. It was only months after she began living with the Ogbuajas that Victor, the couple’s eldest child began to rape and sodomise her. One fine day while Victor was engaged in his new favourite pastime of raping Ochanya, his father, Andrew Ogbuaja, a 54-year-old lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, came upon them in error. He reportedly scolded his son and sent him out. But from that day Ochanya’s torture rather than being alleviated, became double. The 54-year-old Ogbuaja decided to join his son in violating Ochanya who had now turned eight.It wasn’t long before the gross violation of her young body took its toll, as the poor defenceless girl came down with Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), a horrible health condition that saw her leak urine and faeces uncontrollably. As months went by, her health kept deteriorating as she became a frequent visitor in the hospitals. She even had to wear diapers. For five years Ochanya bore the pain and shame of her condition till she couldn’t anymore. On October 17, 2018 the girl died.How can the parents of Ochanya forgive the perpetrators of this evil on their daughter? Suppose Ochanya later recovered from the disease, will she ever forgive her persecutors? The story of Ochanya is a story among many evils one may experience that makes forgiveness very difficult. How will siblings forgive the uncles who took away their father’s property when they lost their father at a young age? Such evil made them and their mother suffer greatly to see to their upkeep. If life favours them and they find themselves owning a big company later in life, will they employ their cousin in their company if he comes seeking for a job?In Matthew 18: 21-22, Jesus answered Peter that one has to forgive his brother seventy times seven, indicating an infinite number of times. It is possible to forgive one an infinite number of times, for example the little noise-making of students in the class. Some teachers are likely to forgive their students now and then when it comes to noise-making. However the challenge of forgiveness comes in big offences like the story of Ochanya, murder of one’s breadwinner, rape etc. In Luke 23: 34, Jesus cried “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” I expected Jesus to say I forgive you, but he said Father. Yes, the Father forgives. However could it be that the pain was so much for Jesus that he cried – Father forgive them…? That statement explains the hackneyed expression: To hurt is human but to forgive is divine. “This is too much for me so I implore you Father to do that for me. Forgive them…” The Killing of Naboth by Jezebel just to possess his land in 1 King 21: 1-25, David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah, her husband ( 2 Samuel 11) and such evils are what can be very difficult for one to forgive. If one put himself in the shoes of Naboth, Ochanya, Uriah, you will see how difficult forgiveness can be. So the great question here is why should I hurt my brother in such a way that he will find it difficult to forgive me? Do not do to your brother something that will make him to find forgiving you very difficult.When Saul hurt God by disobeying him, not destroying utterly the Amalekites, God confronted him (1 Samuel 15). David confronted Saul when Saul who wanted to kill him was delivered into David’s hands by God (1 Samuel 24). Nathan confronted David for having committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uria, her husband (2 Samuel 12). These show that the person offended must make his feelings known to the person that offended him. Some people find it difficult to express appropriately their feelings. If you were offended by your superior, colleague or mate, it demands that you express assertively and politely your sadness for the offence committed against you. Similarly, you have to do so to your subordinate. Even some offences from some offenders need aggressive expression of feelings from the one offended. For example a child of 8 years stealing 1000 naira note from his parents purse, needs to be reprimanded aggressively especially if the parents had not being lacking in taking proper care of him. The child has to recognise that what he did is very bad from the tone of the parents’ voice. When you cannot express your feelings, others may not know that you have been deeply hurt by them. And because you can never reveal your true self, you cannot be comfortable with yourself and with others. You will be bearing grudges against an offender who did not even know he has offended you greatly. You will be dying inside and he will be living his life. It is here that one seeks for justice because forgiveness without justice is cowardice and justice without mercy can be violence. When Pope John Paul II was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca on May 13, 1981, the Pope forgave him but the Italian state had to condemn him for attempted murder and thus he spent 27 years in prison. Thus even though he was forgiven, he was meant to understand how bad what he did was. Thus, he will run away from actions that makes forgiveness difficult. In as much as one has to express his pain towards the offender, the offender is bound to ask for forgiveness.In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18: 21-35), the servant owing his Master begged his master for forgiveness. He knelt down, imploring his master. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32), the prodigal son had already rehearsed how he was going to ask his father for forgiveness before embarking on the journey back to his father’s house. Moses time and again asked God to forgive the people of Israel whenever they offended God or himself. In Numbers 21, After Moses had pleaded with God to forgive the Israelites who murmured against God and Moses, God instructed him to mould a serpent and hang it on a tree so that he who was bitten by a snake, and looks at the serpent will be healed. David asked God to forgive him his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 13-24). All these scriptural passages show that asking for forgiveness is important. The offender should ask for forgiveness and restore what he has damaged. In Luke 19, Zacchaeus asked for forgiveness and promised to restore fourfold what he has stolen. Jesus provides us with the sacrament of confession where we ask God for forgiveness to show the need to ask for forgiveness. During the Mass, before the Gloria, penitential rite is introduced. That beautiful prayer of asking for forgiveness- I confess to Almighty God, started with asking our brothers and sisters for forgiveness and praying them to ask God to forgive one. Everyone says this prayer confidently but what it comes to meeting the one we have offended and asking to be forgiven, many fall short. Most often an elder finds it difficult to ask his junior or subject to forgive him but expect his junior or subject to ask him for forgiveness when the subject offends him. Most separated husbands and wives would still be living together if one party had asked for forgiveness. “I am sorry” are three words that solves many problems. It is sometimes easier for the one offended to forgive if the offender asked for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness is a duty and responsibility the offender has to fulfil for peace to reign. Humility is needed here. Humility will help one to see his fault and appreciate it. It will move the offender to say- I am sorry .It demands a contrite heart. A contrite heart Oh God, you will not spurn (Psalm 51:15). However sometimes, the person that offended you may not even ask for forgiveness. When such happens, what will one do?Forgive even when no one ask you for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a decision. It does not depend on the disposition of the offender. I have to decide to forgive my aggressor even when he is not showing any remorse or sorrow for offending me. Many ulcers are caused by anger residing in man and woman. The more I carry the hurt in my heart, the more I hurt myself. Carrying offences within is toxic while carrying love and forgiveness in healthy and peaceful. Moreover, the more I refuse to forgive, the more I perpetually give someone power over me. I make him have power over my disposition. His presence makes me angry. To forgive does not imply that the aggressor can be trusted immediately. The aggressor must earn my trust but I must show him unconditional love by forgiving him. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the evil done against me. That is impossible since I am a human being. It means letting go of the evil done against me. That means I should not go about telling everyone about what my aggressor did to me. That means I should wish my aggressor well and pray God to bless him. Since forgiveness is difficult, it implies I should daily ask God to give me grace so as to continue to forgive my aggressor. To err is human; to forgive, divine calls us to ask God for grace to forgive. Each time we go to confession and ask God for forgiveness, he forgives us, why can’t we forgive our neighbour who has hurt us? Mathew 7:12 prays forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus told us to forgive our brother for God to receive our sacrifice. Whenever we come to the altar to give gifts and remember that we have something against our brother we should go and reconcile with him first (Matthew 5: 23-24). If you want to know peace, forgive.


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