Discover the healing touch of Jesus when you embrace forgiveness.
Irene La Palambora shares the extraordinary story of confiding her wounded past to Jesus, allowing Him to transform her life.
From my earliest days my parents felt absent, leaving us to almost bring ourselves up. My mother was a social butterfly who loved to have parties and go dancing, but did not like to have children around her. My father was a workaholic, who loved to hunt and fish, so he was rarely home with us. Our need for nurture and love did not seem to occur to them. I do not ever recall my mother expressing verbal or physical affection. When I vomited after eating wild mushrooms, she simply scolded me for making a mess and told me to clean it up.
I was growing up so haphazardly, that my father decided to send me to boarding school. On every school holidays I was sent to my grandparents’ farm. They were very devout Catholics and gave me the love I was craving.
When I returned home for the first time, I discovered that my mother had just given birth to my youngest brother in an emergency caesarean. We did not even know she was pregnant, so it was a big shock and she was still very ill. My grandparents had taken my siblings to their place, so my father and his friend took me with them to the hospital and to ‘wet the baby’s head’ by having a few drinks at the pub. Since I was not allowed into either place, I just sat in the car by myself.
When they finally came out, neither was really fit to drive. On the way home, they were arguing about which way to go. My father made a wrong turn into a quiet, secluded place then slumped over the steering wheel to sleep it off. So I got out of the car to get some air and explore. Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind. My father’s friend ripped my clothes off and brutally raped me, then left me sobbing on the ground and returned to the car.
Trembling with shock and pain, I scrambled back into my clothes. Although I feared for my life, I realized that the only way I could get home that night was to get back in the car. My father did not even notice that anything was wrong and I did not know how to talk about it. When we finally got home, they clattered into the kitchen to eat while I rushed straight to the bathroom and locked myself in. I just ran a scalding hot bath and tried to forget it had happened. Nobody ever knew what happened to me, but it impacted my life dramatically.
Although I found great comfort in the prayer life at school and was keenly studying to become a Child of Mary, I was struggling with the strict discipline. The nun who was in charge of the boarders had taken a dislike to me from the start. She often singled me out for criticism and never gave me a turn at special favours like choosing the hymn at bedtime. Whenever anything happened, I always got the blame for it, regardless of my guilt. One day, it all got too much. When Sister dictated what I had to paint for my art project, I ran away from school and spent the day at a disused butter factory before taking refuge in the church when it got dark. The police found me there and returned me to school, where I was publicly reprimanded and nobody was allowed to speak to me for 48 hours.
I felt so alone and unwanted, especially when my weekly letter to my mother in hospital came back marked ‘Return to Sender, Not at this Address’. I thought I was totally abandoned, My whole spirit was crushed and I could not trust anybody. In this time of desolation, the parish priest was a great comfort to me. He treated me like a daughter and consoled me when I despaired. “You have to remember that your soul is like a block of marble. To form it into a thing of beauty you have to take chips out of it.” Our Lady also fortified me. After I was finally admitted to the Sodality of the Children of Mary, I would wrap myself up in her cloak whenever I was afraid to go to sleep.
We are always told God loves us, but it did not make sense to me. As I grew up, married and had children, I was always searching for this God who supposedly loved me. I knew the theory. I tried to be a good Catholic; singing in the choir and helping in the parish, but I felt like I was just going through the motions.
My aunt told me that my mother had been in love with another man, but had to marry my father because she got pregnant with me. Maybe this was why my mother never loved me. I was a mistake. Another aunt told me that I had almost died of malnutrition at 18 months because I would not eat or drink. That always puzzled me. Why would a baby want to die? For many years I used to ask the Holy Spirit, what was wrong with that baby?
When I was painting one day, I felt a sudden compulsion to talk to a priest about all the things that had been bothering me. I did not really want to, but after a long chat, I made a good Confession. In that moment, I felt enveloped in this cloud of love. Jesus penetrated my heart and I understood that Jesus loves me just as I am. It was the most amazing thing.
After this powerful experience, I knew that I had to forgive the many people that had damaged me, but it was so hard. I could not even pray the Our Father, because I did not want to forgive those who had trespassed against me. As I prayed and talked to Jesus about it, I suddenly saw Him on The Cross, bleeding and in pain, trying hard to breathe. It was an awful sight. His eyes were full of love and tenderness and I heard Him say, “Keep turning the other cheek. As I have forgiven you, you must go and forgive”. I just sat there thinking it was true; I could not hang on to my grievances because I have been forgiven so much.
So, I asked the Holy Spirit to show me each person that I had to forgive. It took a long time to go through them one by one, but when it came to my parents, I was having a real struggle. I said to Jesus, I choose to forgive my father but you have to help me. When I arrived home, I shocked myself and him, by immediately sitting down with him and saying, “Dad, I love you”. He did not say anything, but looked at me and smiled. The moment I said it, I knew that I had forgiven him and truly loved him now..
A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with cancer and only survived 7 months. As I sat in the church heartbroken, I asked Jesus, “Why would you take my father? I was just getting to know him”. As my tears trickled down my face, I looked towards the altar and saw Jesus with his arm on my father’s shoulder and both were smiling. My father looked so young, handsome and well! Jesus lovingly told me, “Irene, now you can talk to your father any time”. Instantly, I was lifted from the pits of despair rejoicing to know that he was with Jesus and that I will see him again.
I also received the grace to forgive and really love my mother. In her old age, I looked after her tenderly doing whatever she needed. After she had a massive stroke, I took care of her and loved her right through to the end. I felt so blessed that I could be there for her until the moment she died. I was even able to forgive my rapist. I was finally free of him!
God even brought a priest into my life who understood what I was feeling, even before I told him. He became my Spiritual Director and was like a real father to me, keeping me on the straight and narrow. He always said to me, “If you need human intervention for anything, God will send someone from the ends of the earth just for you.” After his death, I really needed someone to talk to. When I went to Mass, the celebrant was a priest unexpectedly visiting from India. I knew he had come just for me and our conversation provided just what I needed.
One evening, the Holy Spirit finally answered my burning question. “The baby was abused”. Then I felt an excruciating pain from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I did not even know how I was going to get home, but the Lord looked after me. Jesus came and picked up my hand and he led me back to the ‘baby’. He picked up the baby Irene and cradled her in his arms, gazing at her tenderly. Then He breathed on her face, breathing life into her.
My heart welled with gratitude and I felt so wonderful. “Jesus breathed life into me, into the baby!” Then I thought, “But Jesus, if you breathed life into that baby, why did all those other things happen? Where were you then?” Then He said, “Irene, I’ve been suffering with you the whole time, but I have always held you tenderly in my heart. You are so special to me”.
When we had children, I decided they would be the most loved and looked after children because I did not have a childhood. So I really did my best to make sure of that. Despite the bad things that happened to me, I am very grateful for them now because they made me who I am today. I still go through trials, but God helps me through them when I abandon myself to His grace.
For instance, when I was suddenly beset by grave doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I was already registered for a retreat the next day. I only went because I had already paid for it, but as I sat at the back of the Adoration chapel thinking “How can they believe all this nonsense”, I said “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) over and over again like a mantra. Suddenly, I felt filled with the brightest light and all my doubts were dispelled.
My whole life is filled with peace and joy now because of Jesus and His great love. He taught me perseverance and courage, so I could face problems as they come. Every day I give thanks to the Father for the gift of life, the gift of a new day and the strength to live it in His company.
©Irene La Palambora ARTICLE is partly based on the Shalom World TV program “Seventy times Seven” where Irene La Palambora shares her extraordinary story of forgiveness. To watch the episode visit: https://shalomworld.org/episode/irene-la-palombara
There is a curious and intriguing passage in the third chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which in the context of the missive seems almost tossed-off, but which has proven to be a cornerstone of Catholic moral theology for the past two thousand years. Responding to some of his critics, Paul says, “And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:8)! One might formulate Paul’s somewhat convoluted statement as follows: we should never do evil that good might come of it. There are indeed truly wicked people who seem to take delight in doing evil for its own sake. Aristotle called them vicious, or in extreme cases, “beast-like.” But most of us who do bad things typically can find a justification for our behavior through appealing to a good end that we were hoping through our action to achieve. “I’m not really proud of what I did,” I might say to myself, “but at least it brought about some positive consequences.” But the Church, following the prompt of St. Paul, has consistently frowned on this manner of thinking, precisely because it opens the door to moral chaos. Concomitantly, it has recognized certain acts—slavery, adultery, the sexual abuse of children, the direct killing of the innocent, etc.—as “intrinsically evil”—which is to say, incapable of being justified through appeal to motivation, extenuating circumstances, or consequences. So far, so obvious. But this principle has come to my mind recently, not so much in regard to the moral acts of individuals, but to the moral assumptions that seem to be guiding much of our society. I might suggest that a sea-change occurred in 1995 with the trial of O.J. Simpson. I think it’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of reasonable people would concur that Simpson committed the terrible crimes of which he was accused, and yet he was exonerated by a jury of his peers and vehemently supported by large segments in our society. How can we explain this anomaly? The exculpation of O.J. Simpson was justified, in the minds of many, because it was seen as contributing to the solution of the great social ill of the racial profiling and persecution of African Americans by the Los Angeles police department in particular and police officers across the country in general. Allowing a guilty man to go free and allowing a gross injustice to remain unaddressed were, at the very least, tolerated, because it appeared they conduced to some greater good. The O.J. Simpsonization of our legal thinking was on gross display much more recently in the sad case of Cardinal George Pell. Once again, given the wild implausibility of the charges and the complete lack of any corroborating evidence, reasonable people were bound to conclude that Cardinal Pell should never have been brought to trial much less convicted. And yet Pell was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, and a later appeal confirmed the original conviction. How could we possibly explain this disconnect? Many in Australian society, legitimately outraged at the abuse of children by priests and the subsequent cover-up by some in ecclesial authority, felt that the imprisonment of Cardinal Pell would somehow address this overarching issue. So once again, in violation of Paul’s principle, evil was done that good might come of it. The same problem is evident in regard to sexual aggression against women. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein situation and the subsequent #MeToo movement, no serious person doubts that numerous women have been unconscionably mistreated by powerful men and that this abuse is a cancer on the body politic. Therefore, in order to achieve the good of solving this problem, men are sometimes accused, harassed, effectively condemned without investigation or trial. To show that I have no partisan axe to grind here, I will draw attention to the treatment of both Justice Brett Kavanaugh and, in recent days, former Vice President Joe Biden. The thinking seems, again, to be that the righting of a general wrong justifies morally irresponsible behavior in particular cases. The prevalence of this moral consequentialism in our society is supremely dangerous, for the moment we say that evil can be done for the sake of the good, we have effectively denied that there are any intrinsically evil acts, and the moment we do that, the intellectual support for our moral system gives way automatically. And then the furies come. A very instructive example of the principle is the Terror that followed the French Revolution. Since there had been (undoubtedly) tremendous injustices done to the poor by the aristocratic class in eighteenth-century France, anyone perceived to be an enemy of the revolution was, without distinction or discrimination, swept to the guillotine. If innocents died alongside the guilty, so be it—for it served the building of the new society. I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that Western society has yet fully to recover from the moral chaos visited upon us by the lethal consequentialism of that time. Therefore, even as we legitimately fight the great social evils of our time, we must remember Paul’s simple but trenchant principle: never do evil that good might come of it.
If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day… Everything will be alright if you hold on to Him. Panic Stricken When the pandemic rolled in, it upended our lives, our homes and our reality like a hurricane. Suddenly — Six Feet Apart; Wash your Hands; Stay Home, and Steer Clear of Everyone became the mantras of the day. We became afraid of the future, the person passing by, or the scratchy throat we feel first thing in the morning. Do I have Covid-19? Does my husband? Is it in my home? Fear and anxiety took the centre stage as people whispered, ‘You will get sick and die alone, without your family around you. You will not be able to feed your family or pay the bills.” Updates on the latest restrictions and predictions of death figures filled our newsfeeds, ramping up our panic as we reeled under the weight of the invisible doom threatening us from all sides. ‘We will get through this’; ‘We are all in this together’, we were told, but where is God? Why did all this happen? Indescribable Anguish Many years ago, I was overcome by fear and panic as I was plunged deep into an indescribable anguish. A paediatric neurologist told my husband and me that our three and a half year old son would die from a rare disease and that there was nothing we could do about it. His words shattered me. They drove me into the depths of despair and they drove me to my knees, begging God for the life of my son. Desperate for prayers, miracles and hope, I sought the counsel of our local priest who advised me that I would learn to pray and teach my family how to pray. It was not the consolation I was looking for. Hope against All Hope My husband and I sought out the best specialist in the world for this particular disease. She bluntly told us, “We don’t know the cause, so there is no cure, but I will try to help you.” My son was admitted into a large children’s hospital in Chicago— two thousand miles from our home where our trials continued. One day my son passed out after he was stabbed with a needle over and over again in a botched attempt to put in an IV line. As I sank to the floor sobbing, a woman reached down to pull me up. Her eyes were full of love and compassion as she enquired, “Did you eat your breakfast this morning? Did you put on your makeup?” I stared at her in disbelief. Was she kidding? “No”. “What is your son’s ailment,” she asked. When I told her, she said, “Good, you have hope” then she pulled back the curtain to reveal a boy of about 12 in the next bed. “That’s my son Charles. He has a double brain tumour. They just operated on him, but couldn’t remove it. The operation took away his ability to speak.” “What are they going to do?” I gasped. “Nothing. They have given him two months to live” she revealed. I was shocked, but she continued, “I get up every morning and I put my make up on and eat my breakfast, not for me but for that young boy right there and I pray ‘Thank you Jesus that I have my son Charles today. That’s all that matters.’” I was speechless. She had no hope yet she was hopeful. I had hope but I was a wreck. Over the next eight days, I watched her go from room to room, bringing joy and hope as she checking on other suffering families. It was unbelievable. How could she do that while her son lay mute in his hospital bed where my son talked to him incessantly about Star Wars? Going through the Fiery Furnace After returning home with a plan to surgically implant a port for infusions three times a week and an appointment to return to Chicago to see his doctor, my husband sent Charles a signed Gator football hat, since we had discovered Charles loved the Gators. Sadly, we never heard back from Charles or his mom. When our son finally began to improve, I stayed on my knees. Our past dreams and ambitions had all disappeared. We stayed on tenterhooks watching our son get better, relapse, get better, relapse. Again and again, up and down, watching, waiting, praying, hoping. About two years later, as we once again stood in the hospital corridor waiting for blood results, I heard my name. Whirling around, I was delighted to see Charles and his mother! He ran up to our son, picked him up and twirled him around saying, “I couldn’t talk to you then, but I can talk to you now.” She looked at me with tears glistening in her eyes as she declared, “He’s not number one on the basketball team and he’s not a straight A student, but Thank You Jesus. I have my Charles today and that’s all that matters.” Even a double brain tumour was not big enough to stop the will of God! As I marvelled at her faith, I heard the words of scripture, Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 My son was not supposed to make it to 4 years old, but he did. And then he went to kindergarten, then middle school, and then he graduated from high school. Today he is at the tail end of a doctorate program and is a theologian. He has been sick off and on his whole life and I have been on my knees off and on my whole life. The priest was right. Suffering has kept me in prayer and taught me how small I am, how little control I have and what really matters. My life is not the life I intended but looking back I see that so many blessings came about because of the suffering. It tenderized my heart and revealed to me that no matter what comes, with God’s help, I will make it through. I will continue to thank Jesus for all that comes, knowing that no matter how hopeless things may appear, I can trust in God’s goodness to care for my family and for me.
Looking for beauty that never fades? Then this is for you! Mark Twain, the celebrated American writer and humorist, once said “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Humor aside, we all know that it is not easy to deal with aging no matter who we are. And for the rich and famous, it is especially challenging to watch youth and beauty fade away. Flying High As a teenager in the early 1960s Mary Ann was beautiful, charming and full of energy. When she saw Dolores Hart’s film “Come Fly with Me” in 1963, she was fascinated by the status and privilege of the globetrotting stewardesses who were the movie’s main characters. The film glorified the glamor, prestige and adventure of being a stewardess. She started dreaming of being like Dolores Hart’s character traveling the world seeking romance and excitement. Landing a job as a stewardess in those days was difficult. But Mary Ann was smart and beautiful and soon got that dream job. TWA, in those days, was one of the most prestigious international airlines and Mary Ann was soon featured in the company’s Skyliner magazine and got lots of attention. Eventually, she found more success after switching careers to publishing and journalism. She enjoyed the attention she received and maintained an active lifestyle. By the time she hit fifty, she started noticing wrinkles on her face. They horrified her. How could she remain who she was without her beauty and youthful smile? Meeting the Abbess A close friend noticed the change in Mary Ann’s mood. When they talked, Mary Ann confessed her concern over the aging process. Her friend recommended that she meet someone special at the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Cloistered Convent located in Bethlehem, Connecticut. On the day of the meeting, her friend introduced Mary Ann to the Prioress, Mother Dolores Hart. Mary Ann quickly noticed the resemblance between the Prioress and the actress she adored in that 60’s movie. Mother Dolores assured her that she was the same Dolores! Mary Ann could not believe that the favorite actress of her teen years was the Mother Superior of a convent, and a cloistered convent at that! In their private time together, Mary Ann told Mother Dolores about the pain of growing old and how the thought of losing her beauty and charm terrified her. Here was Mary Ann speaking with a woman who, before joining the convent was a prominent actress throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Not only had she received the Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination, she was the first actress to kiss Elvis Presley on screen. She had grown up near Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood dreaming of becoming a movie star. Her dream came true, but God had other plans. Out of the Limelight In the early 1960s, Dolores performed at the Broadway theaters in New York City. During a long break, she did not have a house to go to like other actors who lived in the area. A friend told her about an Abbey in Connecticut which included guest quarters, in compliance with the rule of St. Benedict. Dolores decided to stay at this Abbey with its cloistered convent. She was fascinated by how the sisters worked hard and yet remained so gracious. Her stay in the Abbey captivated her so much that she knew she would return soon! Eventually, Dolores recognized a calling to religious life and abandoned her career, her engagement to her fiancée, and the life she had known in order to embrace life in a cloistered convent. A Lesson for Life As Mary Ann listened to this story, she was totally absorbed. Mother Dolores told her that, at the height of her career, she looked at the mirror one day and realized that her fame had come because of her beauty and youthfulness, but those good looks would soon fade. She came to understand that the only beauty which lasts is inner beauty. Mary Ann left that conversation with a new perspective on life. Though still a beautiful woman, it was Sister Dolores’ inner beauty that radiated from her. The body is a temple for the soul, so when we care for the beauty of the soul, that inner beauty is reflected on the face and in all our actions.
When I look into the future, I am frightened, But why plunge into the future? Only the present moment is precious to me. As the future may never enter my soul at all. It is no longer in my power, To change, correct, or add to the past; For neither sages nor prophets could do that. And so, what the past has embraced I must entrust to God. O present moment you belong to me, whole and entire. I desire to use you as best as I can Although I am weak and small, You grant me the grace of Your omnipotence. And so, trusting n Your mercy, I walk through life like a little child, Offering you each day this heart Burning with love for your greater glory.
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