Stunning has been the power of love on display for the last week and a half in Charleston, S.C. For a nation beset by hate in recent months, the reaction to the bloodshed there has shown us something better.
What a deep reserve of love there must be among the family and friends of those murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for them to forgive. This is meant to be the Christian way, and yet when we actually see it working it is quite dazzling to behold.
Remember what Pope John Paul II, now known as Saint John Paul, said from Gemelli Hospital in Rome in May of 1981? “I pray for the brother who shot me, and whom I sincerely pardoned.”
Where does this come from? The kind of love that forgives what any reasonable person would quite naturally consider the unforgivable?
It has something to do with freedom, and it’s worth reflecting on as we approach another Independence Day. Across the Pond, at Stonyhurst College in England, resides a treasure trove of history that predates the United States and, in many ways, is a part of our story. Religious freedom was part of our founding desire and mission. But why does it matter? Why is it worth preserving and protecting?
One of Stonyhurst’s many gems is a poem written by St. Edmund Campion, S.J., who was ultimately imprisoned in the Tower of London and martyred for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. He probably never intended for his “Anima” to be read by others, so intimate a plea it is to his Savior.
In it, a courageous and eloquent witness bares his soul to his Lord, in utter gratitude for the gifts he has been given, for the redemption that he has been offered through his faith in Jesus Christ.
O where would I now be,
Had Your Grace not rescued me from my loathsome failings,
Filled me with a better light,
And exchanged, for the eternal Fires of Hell,
The holy fires of Love?
Give pardon to the one confessed,
And, as much as You are pleased to temper your Justice with a father’s kindness,
As much as You grant the power to prevail to those petitions,
Which the whole Church pours out,
Bride to You, Mother to me;
As much as You, Christ, will be, of Your own will, the Sacrifice on splendid altars,
As much as the Solemn Rite of the day demands,
As much as Your compassion bears,
So assuage the great agonies I deservedly suffer.
Deservedly! See the tremendous depth of his gratitude! He lives out of the love of one loved. His very life is gift. All is gift. When you breathe within that reality, everything looks different.
And see how not only his faith but the very Church is essential — his Mother, who gives him the living God.
And evil isn’t senseless so much as it is a reality in our fallen world.
Hope, greatest and ever-present to the Dead,
Hope is the Host which I behold;
Here, be assembled here, I pray;
Here celebrate God, and for the afflicted seek peace.
It is believed that Campion “scrawled” (as the historians put it) these lines in 1580 on his final journey home to England after eleven years of exile in Ireland and on the Continent. Perhaps he had some premonition of his end, for he wrote:
Now I have spoken: I am going back.
For, though I undergo bitter tortures,
I have no desire to climb, blessed, to that High Seat, before I am purified:
But this is not the place for such sordid matters.
Only this I ask: Have pity, Sweet Jesus.
Rightly do I owe thanks without measure to you, my Guardian Angel,
Who have brought comforts joyous with light,
That light which has borne witness to the manifold Majesty of the Lord,
And vouchsafes the distinction, stature, and honour of God.
One of the hymns of praise that have been heard from Mother Emanuel (as the Charleston church has been dubbed) is “Be Thou My Vision.” Its lyrics include:
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
When God’s will reigns in one’s life, there is a freedom this world cannot fully make sense of.
When God’s will reigns in one’s life, there is a freedom this world cannot fully make sense of. It’s a union with eternity — that “inheritance,” as the hymn puts it, that Christmas and Easter exist because of.
explained what we knew: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again.”
And yet, she added: “But I forgive you.”
“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”
This is the love we’ve seen from Egyptian Coptic Christians whose husbands, sons, and brothers were beheaded by ISIS in February. This is the gratuitous love of God, which keeps us honest and generous and drawn out of self-centeredness and indifference. This is the indispensable support to any experiment in ordered liberty. This is the seed for renewal.
For every news story of burnings and murders and hatred, remember this. Remember the nine who died in Charleston as they were getting to know their Lord better. Remember the passion of a soul who longs for the Heaven he does not believe he deserves. Remember where our liberty comes from. And pass it on, for another Independence Day. Give thanks for those who live out of love and hope for an eternal Independence Day.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.