Forgiving is often difficult, but…not forgiving hurts ourselves and loved ones
For some reason – perhaps many reasons – we often find it hard to forgive others. Is it fear they will do it again? Is it self-righteousness ego/status? Is it a desire to punish them? Only each of us can really answer those questions. Every situation is different.
It’s helpful to be reminded that forgiving someone does not mean there should not be some consequences to their actions – the community must be protected. It’s inspiring to see people in the 2019 Mosque attack in New Zealand forgive the killer. It was obviously not easy, and the killer still faces life in jail. These extreme cases of forgiveness teach us the important lesson that forgiving the other person sets us free. The alternative is to carry bitterness all through life.
To forgive the other person we need the healing that comes from other people listening to us, encouraging us and showing us love. The love we receive gives us the capacity to forgive.
Some years ago, one of our Oblate priests was kidnapped in the southern Philippines. The Muslim extremists took him deep into the jungle of the mountains. Later he shared that he felt very angry for the first few days, but had a change of heart. He decided to cook and wash, and speak nicely to them. The atmosphere in the camp changed from one of fear and anger between them, to a more relaxed atmosphere where people started smiling. One of the extremists was confused by the behaviour and soon asked the priest why? The priest basically said, he wanted them to experience the love and forgiveness that God gives to each one of us.
The few days of reflecting and praying forced the priest to remind himself that God had loved and forgiven him many times in his life. Because of that praying & reflection, he was able to be counter-cultural and forgive his kidnappers. Then, the presence of love in action, transformed the situation: he was treated with respect; there was less fear; there followed many hours of dialogue leading to mutual understanding – eventually he was freed.
How do we break the cycle of wrong-doing, anger, revenge, unhappiness, more violence, etc? As someone said: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
In simple terms, by not forgiving, we continue to punish ourselves/ family and community.
We break the cycle by acknowledging that all of us have been forgiven by others. And, recognising that if we had not been forgiven, we may not have had the opportunities we’ve had: by making the acknowledgement, we develop a sense of gratitude.
Secondly, we have to decide: “am I just here on this earth to make myself happy, or do I want to make a difference in our world?” To be an agent of transformation?
So many people are worried about the environment, about refugees and migrants, about many other situations of people being abused. Some are trying to make a difference, but display anger and violence trying to achieve their gaols. The energy and desire are good. But nothing will really change unless we become transformers at the “ground level.”
We have to forgive each other. We have to be willing to absorb some pain. For example: A young Christian working man told me that he’d lost a valued tool from his tool box and recognized it later in the box of another worker. Being the only Christian at work, he felt it incumbent upon him to show forgiveness. So he went to the thief and said, “I see you have one of my tools, but you can keep it if you need it.” Then he went on with his work… During the next two weeks the thief three times tried to give the value of the tool to its rightful owner… The incident closed with a lasting friendship between the two men, because, said the thief, “I couldn’t stand being forgiven.” [Source: Henry & Tertius van Dyke in Light My Candle; F.H. Revell Co.]
Are you angry with your parents? Are you angry with the Government? Are you frustrated by corruption? So often we think violence will change the situation.
However, I wonder what would happen if we wrote letters of forgiveness to our Ministers and other Government officials whom we suspect of corruption; if we had a crowd of people holding placards saying: “We forgive you! Now do good to help us all.”
In the Responsorial Psalm we are reminded that “The Lord is kind and merciful” to us, and we know how often we repeat our sins and bad attitudes/habits.
Most of us are wounded – either from long ago or more recently – and, when we hurt others, it’s usually caused by that “wound” that we carry. The wound that has not been properly healed with a love that makes us feel valuable again. When we forgive others, we help heal their wound, so they may not hurt others, again.
St Paul reminds us that we can be someone who transforms our community, or someone who divides it even more: The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI