Continuing our daily Advent reflection series on the Feast of St. John of the Cross, Bree Haler writes about man named John Sage whose radical forgiveness inspired her toward greater appreciation of God’s grace.
When I was living in Houston, Texas I volunteered for a restorative justice program called Bridges to Life. The mission of Bridges to Life is to connect communities to prisons in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate (particularly that resulting from violent crimes), reduce the number of crime victims, and enhance public safety. The spiritual mission of Bridges To Life is to minister to victims and offenders in an effort to show them the transforming power of God’s love and forgiveness.
Bridges To Life was founded in 1998 by Houstonian John Sage after the brutal murder of his sister, Marilyn, in 1993. His sister’s killers were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. John began to realize the terrible toll his sister’s murder had taken on his life, the lives of everyone else in his family, Marilyn’s friend’s and the community. After reflection, prayer, and time, John was able to forgive his sister’s murderers; he also realized that he had a place in his heart for all offenders. This life-changing experience inspired John to develop a rehabilitation program to take crime victims into the prison to work directly with offenders.
Meeting and working with John Sage was a life changing experience. I had never met anyone before who understood so deeply the power of God’s grace. His ability to not only forgive his sister’s killers but develop a program to facilitate real change in the lives of offenders and victims of crime transformed my own understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation. My encounter with John Sage increased my own capacity for mercy and ability to recognize the human dignity in every person, even those who have committed violent crimes. He has shown me how God can take our hearts broken by sin and heal and stretch them to make room for Him and all the faces with which he reveals Himself into the world.
Coming tomorrow: “A True Missionary” by Fr. John Ullrich, OFM
Bree serves as the Assistant Director of Evangelization within the Office of Campus Ministry at University of Notre Dame. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s Echo program, she is a proud supporter of Franciscan Mission Service.