It is now almost two months since the life of Brother Roger of Taize came to a tragic end. I have not had the opportunity to write about him before this, but have wanted to do so. I believe he has had an enormous impact on the world and still has a great deal to teach us.
I remember at the World Youth Day Mass in Rome looking at Pope John Paul celebrating Mass and just a few feet away from him in the front row was Brother Roger.
I looked at them both in front of that crowd of two and half million young people, both men in their eighties sitting in the blazing sun, and thought what an incredible influence these men of faith were having on young people throughout the world.
Brother Roger made a particular point of encouraging people to live in peace with each other, to be reconciled with one another, he knew forgiveness to be a Gospel imperative, and he also knew what it does to our hearts – brings us an inner freedom we never think is possible.
I was shocked when I heard of Brother Roger’s death on 16th August. How could someone who had given his life to working for peace and reconciliation have such a violent and tragic death? How ironic and sad it was for a man who was 90 years of age to die by being stabbed while at prayer. How tragic it was for a man who had lived a life committed to finding peace between peoples, who had been such a gentle prayerful man to die like that. I don’t know why his death came in that manner, none of us do.
What I am absolutely certain of is that Brother Roger would forgive the woman who killed him. His life was dedicated to and built on forgiveness.
He lived a life of forgiveness and gentleness; I believe that even in death he would have been ready to forgive.
In 1940, at the age of 25, Brother Roger left his native Switzerland in order to live in France, the country of his mother. For several years he had borne within him a calling to begin a community where reconciliation between Christians would be lived out in daily life. A community where ‘kindness of heart would be a matter of practical experience, and where love would be at the heart of all things’. He made it look and sound so simple. Imagine what it would be like if the guiding principle of our life was to build our families and communities around ‘kindness of heart’ and that ‘kindness of heart’ was a matter of practical experience. Imagine what it would be like if love was at the heart of all things.
It seems that we often find it difficult to find the freedom to forgive, and yet when we do forgive we discover a freedom we never thought possible.
It’s sad that so many in our society today hold on to grudges and resentments and seem determined not to let them go, all the time not realising that holding on to grudges and storing up bitter memories does nothing for us.
I share with you some of Brother Roger’s words, as I do believe that he has a great deal to offer a world which I see has need for forgiveness and learning how to reconcile.
You want to follow Christ, and not look back: are you going to make your way through life with a heart that is reconciled, even amidst the most crippling tensions?
In any disagreement, what is the use of trying to find out who was wrong and who was right?
Suppose people distort your intentions. If you are judged wrongly because of Christ, forgive. You will find that you are free, free beyond compare.
Forgive and then forgive again. This is the highest expression of loving. There you make yours the prayer of Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.’
Reconciliation is springtime of the heart. Yes, to become reconciled without delay leads to the amazing discovery that our hearts are changed by it.
When the church listens, heals, reconciles, then she becomes what she is in her most radiant aspect: a crystal-clear reflection of a love. (Brother Roger)
Where can you and I find the fire of a love that reconciles? I had the privilege of being at Taize in 2000. On two consecutive nights Brother Roger prayed.
‘Holy Spirit, help us to be confident in your love for us.’
When we are confident in God’s love for us, we too will have the courage to forgive and will know the fire of a love that forgives and reconciles.