Posted October 06, 2009:
I Couldn’t Forgive Him

by Cheryl Ann Smith.

"I can never forgive him!" I hate to admit it, but these were my words many years ago.

I was a young staff worker, and the person I couldn’t forgive was Albert Osterberger, the newly elected director general of the laymen of Madonna House. The details of our unfortunate encounter are not important, but I felt so hurt and angry and frightened by Albert’s strong response to something I had done, that I wanted nothing more to do with him.

My outburst came as I was going to confession to my spiritual director, Fr. Wild. I knew I had to forgive and let go, but I couldn’t do it.

Fr. Wild recognized my block and said, "You know you’re poisoning your heart by lack of forgiveness. I will give you absolution, but go away and pray about this."

A few days later, I came back to him and admitted that I still couldn’t let go of my hurt. After talking a bit, Fr Wild suggested, "Well, if you can’t forgive Albert for your own sake, can you forgive him for his sake? You hold your brother in bondage when you don’t forgive. I will give you absolution, but go away and pray about this."

Another few days passed, and once again I presented myself to Fr. Wild. "Even though I’m sinning against myself and against Albert, I just can’t let go of my hardness of heart."

Silence met this sad admission. Then Fr Wild sighed, "Well, if you can’t forgive him for your sake or for his sake, can you forgive him for the sake of your Beloved, Jesus, who died to make us one? I will give you absolution, but go away and pray about this."

A few days later, when I returned once again to admit my failure, Fr Wild finally said, "This time I will not give you absolution. Do not make this confession again until you have forgiven your brother. Go away and pray about this."

Well, that got my attention. Quite frankly, it scared me. My eyes were opened to the blight of resentment on my soul. What could I do?

Upstairs to the chapel I went and perhaps for the first time in this situation, I truly opened my heart to grace.

Albert’s room was just outside the chapel, and as I was silently pleading with God for the grace to forgive, I heard the door to his room open and his footsteps approach the chapel.

It was dark, but he didn’t stop to see if anyone else was there. He didn’t hesitate as he made his way to the tabernacle and knelt down.

The next few minutes not only changed my heart towards Albert, but they changed my life. Albert began pouring out his passionate love for Jesus. He kissed the tabernacle. Then whispering over and over again, "O Jesus, I love you"; he kissed it again and again. There was a little silence, and he was gone.

And so was my resentment. The perfume of the love between Albert and Jesus still lingered in the chapel. Jesus had shown me Albert’s heart, which was aflame with love for him.

Albert’s outward personality may have had some rough edges, but when seen beside such passionate love—who cared?!

I knew I had to throw the cloak of mercy over the foibles of my brother, admit my own sin, and allow my breath to be taken away by the beauty of Albert’s soul.

Over the past 25 years, Albert’s "rough spots" were sanded finely until he became father to a fatherless generation. Scores of young people found their way to his side and received the father’s blessing through Albert.

He offered not only the strength of steadfast faith and commitment, but also a joyous, tender love for each person who came. And though he wasn’t one for analyzing or counseling, his simple love and acceptance healed many a broken heart.

In the name of St Joseph, he prayed the Father’s blessing over people hundreds of times. I wonder how many came to believe in the Father’s love through Albert.

When Albert’s mind and body succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s, he became pure light. Like a lamb, he gave up his place, his position in the family, his independence. He became outwardly what he had always been interiorly: a lamp of love, burning brightly, warming all who came close to him.

And now he is one with the Father of all.


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