It’s been a long time since I last wrote an article for the newspaper. I think it's because I don’t like to feel judged. As if exposing my thoughts isn’t enough, my husband is the publisher, so, yeah, no pressure!
I am a recovering people-pleaser, unapologetically flawed like that. But this last month, something happened that inspired me to write again.
I am the sixth child born into a big Brazilian family and practically raised by my devoted Catholic grandmother, “Vovo.”
Vovo raised us with lots of love, food and a sprinkle of “holy guilt.” When we did something wrong, she scared us saying: “ Please, confess the truth, because when I pray, God listens!”
The fear of being judged is stronger among Catholics, because we believe in not just heaven and hell, but in “purgatory,” a place in between where we can practically feel the heat.
I love the faith, until the day I discovered my friend was being abused by one of my favorite priests. My world fell apart and I told my family the Christian God was dead to me. I spent the next decade trying to find God everywhere else.
My neighbor introduced me to Islam, but when I discovered I needed to pray five times a day, I realized I was too lazy. My collegemate invited me to study Judaism, but since my mother was not Jewish, I didn’t feel “chosen.” My last effort was Buddhism, but it didn’t take me long to realize Nirvana was not a place for someone who couldn’t last five minutes quietly meditating!
I also went through an atheist phase when I was studying psychology. At that time, my grandma used to tell me that she was praying for God to heal my wounds and touch my heart again.
I spent a decade questioning God’s existence before he took back his lost Latin sheep, but I never felt the same way about the Catholic Church.
Recently, my friend asked me if I could join her in a meeting with the local bishop. As we got to his office, I felt like a Catholic girl in trouble at the principal's office. (It’s incredible how much respect you feel when you go to someone’s office and the first thing you see is his non-smiling painted portrait on the wall. I may steal this idea to intimidate my preteen daughter!)
My fears started fading away when the bishop, with a smile on his face, gave us a warm welcome.
He started sharing with us the hurt he feels with what is happening with the Catholic Church and how much healing needs to take place. I felt a deep sadness and humility from him that truly touched my heart. At the end of the meeting, I felt compelled to confess: “I was too hurt by the church and it’s hard for me to let it go.”
He took my hands and began to pray, tears rolled down my face as he prayed for God to come into my heart and heal my wounds. He prayed not only for me, but for all the people that somehow got hurt by someone they trusted.
I left the meeting feeling a sense of peace I haven’t felt in a long time. I realized my unforgiveness toward one person blinded my eyes to see the good in the hearts of so many people who, inspired by their faith, make this world a better place…
People like my friend Marina who, inspired by her Jewish faith, wanted to bring social justice to all people and opened a nonprofit to provide medicine for wounded victims in Syria; my Muslim neighbor, Naira, who learned the importance of caring for children who lost their parents and volunteered at the orphanage; or Bishop John Folda, who even though was feeling hurt himself, took the time to pray for my wounds.
After that unexpected meeting, I felt inspired too, to start working on bringing more forgiveness to the parts in my heart that were wounded by the ones who hurt me — not because they deserve my forgiveness, or freedom from justice — but because I deserve the freedom that forgiveness brings.
God is not dead, and maybe my Vovo was always right … when she prays, God listens!
International Women’s Coach, psychologist and founder of the Flaw Club, Cris Linnares was recognized by Glamour magazine as a “Hometown Hero” for her work with women’s empowerment. She is also a proud Fargo mom, a Brazilian wife of a Midwest man (who happens to be the publisher) and a self-proclaimed global citizen.