September 16, 2016

Speakers share how to find forgiveness, joy amid sorrow

Jennifer Trapuzzano speaks on Aug. 31 about finding forgiveness and joy in times of trial during the Southside Catholic Business Professionals’ ninth annual “Inspirational Insights,” held at the Primo Banquet Hall and Conference Center in Indianapolis. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

Jennifer Trapuzzano speaks on Aug. 31 about finding forgiveness and joy in times of trial during the Southside Catholic Business Professionals’ ninth annual “Inspirational Insights,” held at the Primo Banquet Hall and Conference Center in Indianapolis. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Few people have walked the path of faith that Jennifer Trapuzzano has during the past two years.

She was married to her faith-filled husband Nathan for less than a year, and was a month away from giving birth to their first child when he was gunned down on April 1, 2014, while on an early morning walk in their Indianapolis neighborhood.

Despite the uniquely tragic nature of her experiences, Trapuzzano has drawn a message of mercy and forgiveness from it that is relevant for people who face more ordinary crosses in their daily lives.

More than 300 people heard her story on Aug. 31 at the ninth annual “Inspirational Insights” hosted by the Southside Catholic Business Professionals (SCBP) at the Primo Banquet Hall and Conference Center in Indianapolis.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, another speaker at the event, reflected on the lives of three people he has known to offer perspectives on finding joy amid pain.

The SCBP also honored the Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove as the “Catholic Persons of the Year” for their many decades of ministry in the archdiocese, especially in Catholic education.

“It is a gift to us to have served on the south side especially, and in all of the archdiocese,” said Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild-Horner, prioress of Our Lady of Grace upon receiving the award on behalf of her community. “St. Benedict calls us to receive Christ in each person we meet.

“As we have served in the schools and all around the churches and hospitals in this area, we have been receiving Christ in you. And so we thank you for being with us and helping us serve.”

“Inspirational Insights” is also a fundraising event through which the SCBP has helped to support Catholic schools and charitable agencies across Indianapolis.

Trapuzzano noted how the Catholic education she received as a child helped form her to face her difficult challenges later in life.

“This Catholic institutional life, while I did not know it at the time, was the base for where my faith is today,” she said. “I want to take a moment now to thank you all today for coming together to support these institutions. Attending a Catholic elementary school was certainly a foundation to my faith today, so thank you all.”

‘Choosing to forgive’

In the immediate aftermath of Nathan’s murder, Trapuzzano said she had times of devastation and deep prayer.

“The days and weeks that followed left me tired with little energy to do much else than pray and contemplate heaven and my path to seeing Nate again,” she said. “I relied on the backbone that was my faith and prayed constantly. My tongue felt too tired, my thoughts too incoherent to speak much those first few days, but I was able to pray the Hail Mary and the Our Father over and over again.”

Her faith was steadfast as she faced crosses she never imagined.

“Jesus calls us all to follow him,” she said. “And sometimes even in the really hard, difficult days, he asks the hardest questions. But once you’ve experienced such sorrow and pain, you find it easier to unite yourself with his pain on the cross, and you find it easier to say yes to him, despite your inadequacies.”

That faith was put to the test later when she was invited to speak about the effect of her husband’s murder at the sentencing hearing of his killer, Simeon Adams, who was 16 at the time of the shooting.

She said she looked at it as “the biggest opportunity I could ever have to truly be a witness to Jesus Christ.”

“So the one chance I had to speak to my husband’s murderer, I told him that I forgave him,” Trapuzzano said. “Because in my heart I knew, I could not pray the ‘Our Father’ and speak the words ‘to forgive those who trespass against us’ in good conscience if I refused to do so myself. How could I call myself Christian, if I did not follow in Christ’s basic tenets of love and mercy?”

The act of forgiving her husband’s murderer was a moment of healing for Trapuzzano.

“By choosing to forgive, I allowed my heart to let God in even more, to bring him to Simeon who needs him more than anyone I have ever met, and to find even more grace than I could ever imagine,” she said. “I cannot put into words how much of a release it is to not feel such hatred, but to rather feel pity and hope. It is an incredible feeling to not be trapped by anger. And all of that came down to a decision I had to make for myself, a ‘yes’ I had to say to our Lord.”

Trapuzzano acknowledged that making a choice to forgive can be difficult and that she took solace in knowing that Jesus, dying on the cross, didn’t forgive his persecutors personally but asked his heavenly Father to forgive them.

“If you are having trouble with forgiveness, then ask the Father to do the forgiving for you,” she said. “On the days I could not bear to even think the words, I told the Lord to say them for me. If you match your will with the Father’s, it will bring great healing to you. Forgiveness is a process, but it is what we need. It is the healing that we need. And that mercy and compassion is there.”

‘Christian joy does not die when sorrows abound’

In his remarks, Archbishop Tobin explored the path of finding joy amidst the pain of the cross by recalling three people he has known who “taught me something about the mystery of the cross, and how God will not allow suffering and death to have the final word.”

One was a religious sister who was confined to a hospital bed for decades while suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.

Another was a priest who was determined to keep serving God’s people despite being partially paralyzed by a stroke.

And the last was his father, who lost a leg while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.

“They taught me … that it is in embracing that cross and following in service to others that you’ll find real joy,” Archbishop Tobin said.

The challenge of such a lesson, though, is that feelings like joy cannot be produced simply by choosing to feel them.

“If God commands these certain emotions of us and we can’t make them happen on our own, then we have to pray, ‘If you’re going to command me to feel these things, grant that you would give them to me when you command them,’ ” said Archbishop Tobin, paraphrasing a prayer of St. Augustine.

Ultimately, he said, it is the Holy Spirit that brings the believer to joy when experiencing sorrow.

“Feelings are movements of the soul,” Archbishop Tobin said. “And they’re produced simply by us as Christians. They’re produced by the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit produces joy in us, not magically without my mind being engaged, but by causing me to see the glory and the beauty of Jesus Christ.”

He concluded his reflection by noting that “Christian joy does not die when sorrows abound.”

“Joy and sorrow in the Christian life are not sequential. They are simultaneous,” Archbishop Tobin said. “We’re called to rejoice always and yet sorrow breaks over our lives like waves. … Joy and grief can often exist in the same human heart. That’s the nature of the Christian life.” †

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