Forgiveness & reconciliation…

I remember, as a child, when my mother proposed to me the concept that “there is no sin that God cannot forgive”, following her around the house the rest of the day trying to think up the most horrific sins as a child I could imagine.  My mother’s constant, identical answer, a credit to the her own faith and constancy, was always, “Nope.  He can forgive that one, too.”  I could not find a crack.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is interior, taking place in the heart of the one who forgives. Reconciliation, the ultimate goal toward which forgiveness tends, is a two-way street. Entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), we are called to reconcile with those willing to be reconciled with us. However, if the offender is unrepentant, God requires only that we forgive him or her interiorly. I believe that is why Jesus, who bestowed forgiveness directly upon repentant sinners (such as the “woman of the city” in Luke 7:48), forgave his murderers only indirectly. Instead of saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” he said, “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34). When the one who abused us continues to behave abusively, this intercessory prayer of Jesus—an outward expression of his interior forgiveness—becomes our model for fulfilling his commandment to forgive.

Forgiveness means letting go of resentment. We have seen that God permits evil only so that he may bring about a greater good (CCC 412). The greatest good possible is that we grow in grace. When we hold onto resentment toward the person who hurt us, we impede grace. Instead of being like Jesus’ disciples, who gave up everything to follow him heavenward, we become like the rich young man of Matthew 19. He could have been another St. John, “the disciple Jesus loved,” for Jesus looked upon him and “loved him.” Instead, the young man “went away sorrowing” because he was unable to let go of the things that tied him to the earth.

Forgiveness does not mean forgoing the demands of justice. It means wanting God’s best for that person. Where there is a crime, God’s best can mean, in the words of Mark Shea, “releasing the evildoer into the hands of God’s mercy even as you finger him to the cops.” St. Maria Goretti, as she lay dying, both forgave her attacker and answered the police’s questions so he could be prosecuted. Both actions sprang from the same desire for her attacker’s good and the good of others. God’s best also means not letting the offender continue to offend. If another is abusive, we fulfill God’s commandments by only having such contact with him or her as is safe.

Forgiveness means praying for the offender. This falls under the commandment to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44). When the mere thought of an abuser stirs up painful memories, it can be a particularly difficult commandment to follow. A Sister of Life gave me some helpful advice: Ask Mary to place the offender within her Immaculate Heart; then, pray often for Mary’s intentions. Prayer is vital to forgiveness because it connects you with the “circulatory system” of the Mystical Body of Christ—the graces that flow from its Head to its members. The more you pray for your abuser, the more healing you will receive. This leads to the most important point:

Forgiveness is not within our own power. It is in God’s power. Alexander Pope had it right: to err is human; to forgive, divine. In the Mass, when the bread and wine become, through transubstantiation, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it is not by the priest’s own power, but by the power of Christ acting through him. So too, when we pray for those who have offended us, we transform the detritus of evil into a seedbed of goodness—not by our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The Catechism says that the effect of praying for our offender is so spiritually potent that it purifies our memory: “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2842, 2843).

All this is not to say that forgiveness is without pain. Union with Christ demands interior martyrdom (2 Cor 4:11). But we’re in good company. The Catechism says our acts of forgiveness connect us with all the saints who gave their lives for the faith: “Forgiveness . . . bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus” (CCC 2844).”

-Eden, Dawn (2012-05-12). My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (p. 92-94). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Leave a Reply