This morning I got up at sunrise to go for a quick run. I had been sick previously during the week, so since this was my first run in a while I decided to do a slow 3 mile shake out run. It was a gorgeous morning; I felt like I was in California because it was mid sixties and cloudy, just like California mornings.
I’m a thinker and often think deeply while running. This morning I thought of a man who God used to help teach me the power and beauty of forgiveness. His name is Dr. Burns and he use to be a professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO. Dr. Burns graduated from Colorado State University in 1973. He spent 20 years as an Air Force officer and flight instructor in both B-52 and B-1 bombers. He is a distinguished graduate of Squadron Officer School and Combat Crew Training School. He holds master’s degrees in both Theological Studies and in Management. Dr. Burns is a devout Catholic and has dedicated his life to serving Christ’s Church.
Today is his birthday and I will never as long as I live forget my encounter with him.
It was May 22, 2009 and I was in Colorado taking a week of graduate classes at the Augustine Institute. That morning I had gotten up early with one of the other students to go for a run in the mountains. We had returned in time to shower and make it to Mass without being late. The chapel was about a fourth of a mile walk from where we were staying and as I was walking there that morning Dr. Burns was walking ahead of me by himself. I recognized him by a picture I had seen, but had never formally met him.
I put a little spring into my step so I could catch up to him and meet him. As I approached him I extended my hand to introduce myself, Hi, I’m Maura. It’s a pleasure to meet you. He had a distinct presence about him; my brother James has the same, so I knew he had been in the military. But there was something else there too, he radiated peace, yet kept close to himself. I was intrigued.
Once inside the chapel, he chose to sit in the last row by himself. I sat several rows in front of him and when I turned around to give the woman behind me the sign of peace I saw him again. I knew in my heart that I was in the presence of someone great I just didn’t know why. I wonder what he is going to talk about this morning, I thought to myself.
Dr. Burns was our third professor and speaker that morning; and I sat up a little straighter when he walked in. The week was exceedingly condensed and I was exhausted; I think I may have dosed off before his talk and was determined to vigourously take notes during his class. Only the Lord knew that instead He wanted me to be still and listen with my heart.
At first he talked about the New Evangelization and how the Church exists to evangelize. And to be completely candid, I was slightly disappointed because I had heard countless talks about the New Evangelization, not that one could ever hear enough. I just thought he was going to talk about something that was going to leave me breathless. Little did I know as I sat there drinking watered down coffee that everything I claimed to believe in was about to be tested in a dramatic way.
I remember thinking, I could really use a real cup of coffee or a few shots of espresso. Then Dr. Burns said, “Is forgiveness possible?” What? You were just talking about the New Evangelization and I was day dreaming about a good cup of coffee and taking a nap, how did we jump from that to forgiveness?
I instantaneously snapped to attention. Dr. Burns proceeded to share the story of his abusive father with the class. There was one particular day in his childhood that he was describing that caused me to quiver. I saw someone who had hurt me in his story and started to relive a memory I had repressed for so long.
Tears began to well in my eyes and he glanced at me and without words said, there is hope in the Lord who heals. He continued his story and then my tears turned to torrents. Dr. Burns paused and said he was available after class to speak with me. He had to stop half way through the story to compose himself and it was actually comforting to me to see that it was okay to cry.
When he had finished describing the trauma he told us about the beauty of reconciliation. He shared about how he was driving to Texas and listening to a tape in the car when the speaker started talking about forgiveness. The speaker told her listeners that when we forgive from deep within, we not only free ourselves but free the other person as well. God’s grace and our free will to chose to forgive will release the one who has caused harm. Dr. Burns said that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. For that gift we need grace and must frequent the sacraments and ask God how to forgive. God promises that He will not give us anything He can’t handle, for His grace is sufficient.
He continued to tell us how he pulled over on the side of the road and begged God to help him live out that message and prayed for the grace to forgive his father from his heart. As he grew in God’s wisdom, Dr. Burns realized that he needed to forgive not only his father, but his mother for allowing the children to be subjected to harm and ultimately he needed to forgive himself for believing it was his fault.
I could never compose a string of words deep enough to describe how God used Dr. Burns to inspire me to forgive my father, mother and myself. As I sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament one last time before returning home I begged our Father in Heaven to help me put into practice Dr. Burn’s talk. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. “For gold is tested in fire.”
Coming home I wrote out a battle plan, which I go into detail in my book. More than two years later, I am in utter awe at what our Father has done. He deserves all the praise and glory. When God said He would never leave His children; He meant it. And His grace is like the ocean, vast and deep.
Forgiveness is a choice and I am exceedingly blessed to be privileged to know Dr. Burns. He is one of the most humble, courageous and encouraging people I have ever met. I am blessed to know him and thankful for his witness. His courage and virtue changed my life and I want to honor him today for it.
I think of Dr. Burns when I see this quote.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”