The Trial of Forgiveness
The patient man hath a great and wholesome Purgatory; who, suffering wrongs, is more concerned at another’s malice than at his own injury; who prays freely for his adversaries, forgiving their offences from his heart; who delays not to ask pardon of others; who is easier moved to pity than to anger; who does frequent violence to himself, and strives to bring his flesh wholly in subjection to the spirit. – Thomas A. Kempis
Forgiveness is one of those things that many of us struggle with, whether it be forgiving ourselves, a friend, a stranger, or someone we dislike. Sometimes it is done with gritted teeth and clenched fists. Other times we cry because it pains us to recall the memory of being hurt, but we are happy that there is opportunity for healing.
For most of us, forgiveness is easier said than done. Sometimes, it is just easier to just think to ourselves ‘that person will get what’s coming to them, and when they do, see if I care’. We can become so consumed by our anger or pain that forgiveness isn’t really something we even want to think about. We can so easily become focused in our own feelings, and feel that we are the ones that deserve an apology, justice, or revenge in extreme circumstances.
However, our imperfect ability to forgive is challenged when we seek forgiveness from God. Gods forgiveness is perfect. It overflows graciously when we ask for it in confession. Without pause, God forgives us of our sins. This example of loving mercy and compassion should drive us to give forgiveness compassionately as well as to seek it with a humble heart, for Jesus said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”.
Going to confession is a hard thing to do. I am a sinner, these are my sins. I am ashamed of them, and now I have to confess them to God who already knows them? Its hard, especially if the sins are ones we haven’t confessed long since the sin was committed, and our shame is great. In reality, when we sin, we hurt our relationship with God. And yet, when we confess our sins, when we sincerely apologize to God and make our act of contrition, those sins are forgiven. What a magnificent gift God gives to us!
Should we not also give this gift to others? How readily do we forgive when someone approaches us in humility for forgiveness? Sometimes we are silent, still fuming away because of how we have been abused, betrayed, and hurt. Other times we lash out in anger. I have been in both of these circumstances. I have gotten angry. I have pursed my lips tightly and eaten away at the insides of my lips just to keep myself from shouting out. Holding back is sometimes not easy, especially when we are so deeply wounded.
Sometimes, when we are challenged to forgive, we create our own victim complex. Our pain is always worse. We are always the ones that need to be apologized to. We are never at fault and its always someone else’s fault. The world is always against us. This is a manifestation of pride. In choosing to think this way, we fail to recognize our own failings and therefore we further distance ourselves from our neighbours and wound our relationship with God.
This does not mean that there are not situations where we are not victims, and that there are times where we do need an apology to move forward. What is important though, is the freedom that forgiveness can bring. It may not always be full healing, but the fact that there can be potential for it is a crucial aspect to getting on with life and not being held back by fear and pain. We must remember to always be forgiving, even if forgiveness is not asked for.
The greatest example of forgiveness is found on the crucifix. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” After all that had happened to Him, He still asked His Father to forgive His executioners, the ones that humiliated Him and tortured Him, and even those who had cheered for His death. Jesus’ pain was so great and immeasurable, we can not even begin to comprehend it. He had been betrayed, sold for silver at the hands of Judas, Peter denied even knowing Him, and the torture He endured was slow and painful. And yet still, His love was greater than that. As Christians, we must seek to love others in this way.
This may mean we might have to forgive our brothers and sisters over and over again, just as we confess our sins in the sacrament of confession time and time again. We shouldn’t forgive as little as we need to, but forgive as often as we can.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
As our Lord said, it is actually required for us to be forgiving. This does not mean that we allow for sin, but it means always being forgiving when we are wounded by our neighbour.
We must also recognize the need to say “I am sorry, please forgive me”. It is when we do this with a friend, a family member, perhaps to someone we just bump into at the market, we are humbled. When it is of a sincere heart, we are acknowledging our fallen, broken nature. We must be able to do this if we are to come to terms with this ourselves. It is only through humility that we can overcome pride, which is the root of sin.
In exercising forgiveness, we strengthen ourselves, not to mention help ourselves in ways that aren’t just spiritual. By choosing not to forgive, we choose not to move forward. That choice to not forgive can be more devastating than the initial harm at times. It can hold us back from having better relationships. It can prevent us from fully overcoming feelings of pain, and even stop us from forgiving ourselves.
Let us be inspired by all the saints who heroically forgave. Saint John Paul II forgave the man who shot him. St. Maria Goretti, a young girl, forgave the man who tried to rape her and stabbed her when she resisted. Most importantly, we must remind ourselves of Gods forgiveness and mercy, and of how He is abounding in compassion.
Let us pray for one another, that we may all grow in strength to forgive everyone, including our enemies. Pray also for me, that I may forgive.
Posted on February 9, 2015, in Catholic, Christian, Christian Life, Confession, faith, family, forgiveness, Love, Trust, Truth, Virtue and tagged forgiveness, how to forgive, love, Prayer, revenge, Truth, victim complex. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.