Of all the things about which I preach, very few (if any) provoke as strong (and usually negative) a reaction as the call to forgive. I get more angry pushback after a Mass at which I preach on forgiveness than when I speak about chastity, greed, or any other challenging moral topic.
It would seem that the anger is rooted in two things: first, that the call to forgive implies some dishonoring or diminishing of the pain or injustice someone has experienced, and second, that it seems to imply that there is a requirement to stay in or resume relationships that are poisonous or dysfunctional. But forgiveness need not imply either of these.
Forgiveness is a concept that is often misunderstood. Many people interpret it to mean that they must stop having negative feelings about something that happened to them, or toward someone who hurt them. Many also think of forgiveness as a work they must do out of their own power, rather than as a gift to be received from God. No! Forgiveness is a work of God within us, whereby He acts to free us from the poisonous effects of bitterness and grief that often accompany the harm that was inflicted upon us.
Forgiveness is letting go of the need to change the past. Obviously, we cannot change the past; we cannot change what has happened. But we too easily think that ruminating over past hurts will somehow change what happened or even “get back at” the other person. It will not. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Clinging to our hurt and anger, understandable though it may be, only harms us.
Thus forgiveness is first for us, more so than for the other. In calling us to forgive, God is offering us the gift to be free of a great deal of poison and of a costly emotional state that robs us of joy and strength. Carrying anger and hurt is like lugging around bowling balls all day long. What a relief it is to just be free of that weight! And this is what God offers when He gives us the grace to forgive, to let go of the need to change the past, to let go of the desire for others to suffer because of what they have done to us.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that we are able or even should resume relationships with people who have done us great harm. At times we are able to do so, but it is not always advisable. Sometimes relationships are poisonous for both parties involved. Sometimes, because the other person has not or cannot repent (perhaps because of addictions or deep-seated drives), it is too dangerous to be close to him or her. Thus Scripture says, If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom 12:18).
Receiving the gift of forgiveness requires a growing relationship with God and a trust that He sees and knows all things. As my relationship with God grows, it increasingly becomes enough for me to know that if someone who has harmed me does not repent (and I pray that he does), he is going to have to answer to God one day. God sees all things, understands all things, and will deal with things in the best way. Increasingly, I am content to leave most things to Him.
How is the forgiving of injuries a spiritual work of mercy? First of all, as we have seen, it is a work of mercy toward our very self. Anger, hurt, and nursing grudges all sap us of strength, stress us, and vex us. Receiving the gift to forgive is a mercy for us since we are relieved of these burdens. Our strength and energy can be directed to other, better things. We even sleep better!
And because our strength is directed to good and profitable things, we are now better able to love and be available to others. This, too, is a great mercy.
It is not always the case that the harm to us is so great that we cannot be restored to a relationship with those who have harmed us. Thus, forgiving injuries is also a work of mercy to the one who has harmed us; it can restore to them a relationship with us that is important to them. It is a very great gift to offer mercy and pardon to one who has harmed us and seeks our forgiveness.
In the family and in the wider community as well, forgiving injuries is a work of mercy, since it breaks the cycle of anger and retribution that often tears families, communities, and nations apart. It is a restorative work that knits together ties that have frayed.
This is a great work of mercy indeed. In moments of grave harm it may be difficult to access, but always pray for this gift. Almost nothing is more poisonous, both to us and others, than festering anger and resentment. Thus, to forgive injuries is a great, healing gift to receive from God and share with others. Ah, the beauty of mercy!
13 Replies to “Forgive All Injuries – A Meditation on the Sixth Spiritual Work of Mercy”
I liken forgiveness to trying to get a berry stain out of a white shirt. The best thing is to get the worst of it out immediately, before it “sets.” Then, it may take a lot of patience and multiple washings, but if you stick with it, you can eventually get it out, or most of it out. But sometimes, with some fabrics, some of the stain remains, and we just have to accept that.
So, in the analogy to forgiveness, if at all possible, it’s best to try not to let the hurt sink in too deeply right after it is caused. Going over it in our minds, ruminating on it, dwelling on the injury can just make it set deeper. Then over time, forgiving by an act of the will, even if my feelings don’t follow, lessens the hurt, and it affects me less and less. Sometimes, depending on the hurt, the scar will never go away, but the pain of it does, and the bitterness leaves too. Finally, I’m aware God acts in us when we will to forgive, to fill us with a certain grace, so that what is not possible for the human heart occurs by virtue of the Holy Spirit.
Whoa, what happened to the website? Where’s the old familiar adw blog? 😐
(Not to mention the comments on this article – there were quite a few earlier today…)
So are some things unforgiveable? Please elaborate. Sympathy for the devil?
I only know one unforgiveable sin Robertlifelongcatholic. Matthew 12:31&32 “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Also in Mark 3:29&30 and Luke 12:10.
Pope John Paul II explained what that meant. You can look it up. It means that what you do not have forgiven in Confession is NOT forgiven. It does not literally mean that if you blaspheme the Holy Ghost that’s it for you. Of course, don’t even THINK of doing it anyway! If anyone can disprove me, go right ahead.
I hold with Marie’s comment, at least about the missing comment. I had one and I don’t think it was controversial, or the like.
Thanks for this post, Monsignor…
Many of your comments on forgiveness are similar to those I’ve said to my children, some who are still estranged after 5-1/2 yrs of living with divorce:
“Clinging to our hurt and anger, understandable though it may be, only harms us.”
“Carrying anger and hurt is like lugging around bowling balls all day long. What a relief it is to just be free of that weight…”
“..forgiving injuries is also a work of mercy to the one who has harmed us; it can restore to them a relationship with us that is important to them. It is a very great gift to offer mercy and pardon to one who has harmed us and seeks our forgiveness…”
“…it breaks the cycle of anger and retribution that often tears families, communities, and nations apart. It is a restorative work that knits together ties that have frayed.”
Divorce is no friend to anyone, for it causes too much harm to children. And when the rules are not followed, it oftentimes leads them to reject the forgiveness everyone needs. It is certainly a no-win scenario for all concerned.
I wrote on forgiveness and divorce last year: http://hector1088.blogspot.com/2014/06/divorce-october-baby-and-choosing.html
Peter I don’t think the comments were omitted. I think they got lost in transition. With Gods grace they will be restored.
Thanks for this post. I will probably never forget the child abuse all those years but what a relief to get rid of the anger that was hurting me and not them. I pray that they are in heaven. The physical and psychological damage will last the rest of my life which is sometimes difficult to cope with but I am glad to be rid of the extra luggage. My last task is to forgive myself which I know is pride but I’m praying for it. Thanks so much!
I have been finding it so hard to forgive my father in law. I think I have made peace with him in my mind and with all the discussions that I had with my husband but the very thought of visiting my father in law makes me behave weird – I grow angry and defensive and my mind begins to plan about what I will do or how I should behave so that I create minimal talk and keep him at bay. I do not feel like visiting him ever again.
It also says in Mathew that if someone has sinned against you, go and show them their fault in private, if they refuse to listen, then bring a witness, and then take it to the church. If they refuse to honestly acknowledge their offense, then cut them off like you would a pagan. That is pretty clear. It’s called boundaries. Be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. If the dove doesn’t have boundaries, the serpent will eat the dove.
Sometimes the only way to show mercy is to pray for the offender and have very strong boundaries. It seems that bullies do not respond well to kindness, at least that is what I have experienced, they seem to only respond well to strength. It is strength and wisdom to have strong boundaries with evil.
Thank you for this article. I wish our parish Priests would make a program of all the virtues and all the Commandments of God and Holy Mother Church and give sermons on these. I bet most of us would benefit from being reminded of the things we learned years ago. Many of us have forgotten the most important things in life.
I found some years ago that to forgive gave me great confidence in God’s forgiveness for my offenses. You see, God will never be outdone in generosity. If I, a mere servant can find the courage to forgive offenses against me, it would be arrogant to think God would be less generous when it comes to His Majesty forgiving my own transgressions against Him or my fellow creature. This is a great tool to defeat the satan who causes all these vexations between us. Try it, it really works.
And I have found, when we forgive offenses, God moves in with the healing process. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all in God’s Holy Hands. Thank God.
Recall in Luke 18:1-8 God allows the widow the justice she asks for when she kept coming to the judge and saying, ‘Give me justice!’ Likewise, yes, we are to forgive others, but we are allowed to seek justice and reparation for the sins that they committed against us. Finally, then, when justice is administered, we show mercy.
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