Saturday, August 26, 2023

Forgiveness is often overrated and under applied in life

As a priest who very frequently hears the confessions of penitents, I must admit that I very seldom hear my penitents confess that they have withheld the forgiveness of someone or a group of people who had caused them some pain and turmoil some time ago.  It’s not that these hurts do not occur in people, but it does take a special grace from God to allow people who have been hurt in the past, to look at the hurt that they have nursed in their hearts, and make that often painful decision to let that pain go by extending the needed forgiveness to their tormentors.  I have asked some people why is it that past hurts are so difficult to forgive and let go of.  The answer takes me often by surprise, leaving me somewhat dumbfounded.  The most common answer is that they haven’t heard the apology from their tormentors, causing them to withhold the extension of the balm of forgiveness.  I say that it is a balm because only when forgiveness is given from a willing heart that it truly becomes something that heals and soothes the aching heart.  This is also chiefly because true forgiveness is not a quid-pro-quo agreement, where the forgiveness is extended is only dependent on the hearing of a sincere word or act of sorrow and apology.  I say this with firmness because I am truly convinced that forgiveness in its purest and selfless form can only come when it is a decision to love. 


While I am quite aware that deciding to love parties that have caused pain and hurt in the heart is an enormous and hugely challenging effort that is more than herculean, Jesus himself made this clear in his teaching.  He addressed this when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus made it clear that forgiveness becomes singularly the most important of all virtues, and it does decide whether we go to heaven or not.  It was Fr Ron Rolheiser who said that our place at the eternal banquet of heaven is only open to us if we are open to eating with everyone who is willing to sit down everyone – including those who may have been our chief persecutors on this earth.  Only we can open our hearts sufficiently to sit down with everyone for eternity.


The character of Jennifer (played by Ali MacGraw) had a very dangerous remark about love in the movie Love Story.  She told Oliver (played by Ryan O’Neil) that “love means never having to say you’re sorry).  If there is a dangerous line that should never be adopted as truth, it is this line.  Not having to say “I’m sorry” in a relationship doesn’t mean that there is love.  Love is when you are so aware that you must not do anything that would cause you to apologise in the end.  If love means never having to say “I’m sorry”, then the sacrament of reconciliation in the Catholic Church should not even exist.  The truth is that each time a penitent enters a confessional, he or she is apologizing to God for having acted wrongly in life.  If we do not love God, it makes the confession of sins superfluous.


So, if after reading this blog, you realize that you have been carrying a heavy burden of unforgiveness in your heart, you may be traveling with a bit too much unnecessary baggage.  You will walk with a greater degree of lightness in your heart after you have made the decision to forgive by extending love to your enemies in life.  Hear God reminding you to love your enemies, as it prepares you a place in Heaven’s eternal banquet of love. 


Forgive, and travel light.