There are so many clichés when it comes to forgiving and forgiveness, probably because it is such a common experience and desired achievement. As flawed human beings, it is incredibly difficult to forgive and forget, and we certainly are not divine. So how do we get through this world unhurt, unscathed, and as forgiving people? How many times have we been hurt by others and either cannot or will not forgive? I have no solutions; every circumstance is different and poses its own unique dilemma.
We have heard time and time again that forgiveness is not about the offender, but about the victim, and the offender need not be contrite for us to forgive him or her. These two factors in forgiveness pose many problems for me. Why should I forgive someone who has hurt me so deeply and let him off the hook? That is not justice. If I don’t forgive her, maybe she will hurt just as much as I do—especially if she is not even sorry. That is justice. I realize the biggest flaw in my mentality here is that, when I think of Christ hanging on that cross and His words, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do,” I understand just how much I need to forgive. Jesus’ murderers weren’t sorry—at the time; Jesus certainly did not need them to be, nor did he need the peace, because He is Peace itself. This is the divinity of forgiveness. I need to forgive, because I need forgiveness myself. When my daughter was a toddler, she looked up at the crucifix and said, “Jejus has owies. MWAH! All better, Jejus?” How do we kiss His “owies” and make them “all better”? The only way is to forgive those who hurt us.
Since I myself am weak, I must accept others’ weaknesses. A friend recently (and wisely) reminded me that “When we are weak, He is strong.” I depend on this, just as I depend on God’s forgiveness. I recently experienced offense due to my own and others’ weaknesses. I find it almost impossible to forgive. I find myself rationalizing to justify my anger, hurt, and sense of righteousness. Can I forgive without allowing people who are destructive to me win? But, as Kurt Vonnegut said, I can’t allow “bitterness to take away my sweetness.”
I finally realized that I need to think of who my real enemy is. It is not the person who was disloyal; it is not the person who disagrees with me or criticizes me, but it is sin itself. I cannot risk becoming any less than what God has made me to be. I do not want to face God with grudges or anger in my heart; my salvation depends on my being forgiving. I do not have time to waste either. None of us knows when our time has come. Do I want to have to explain why I kept so much anger inside of me, not justified anger, but the kind of anger that made me wish ill towards others? My wounded pride is what causes me to hold on to the grudge; pride is usually the issue with most people– concerning myself too much with what others’ opinions of me are. It is only in putting aside my relationship with others and in putting aside my caring what others think about me that I can focus on my relationship with God and on what HE thinks about me. It is not about THEM and ME; it is about ME and HIM.
When Pope John Paul II forgave the man who almost killed him, we all lauded him and praised what all considered a difficult task. He did not do it for appearances, nor did he do it because he was divine; he did it because that is what God asked him to do, in order to achieve peace and in order to achieve salvation. As Catholics, we are so blessed with a means of ensuring God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We admit out loud what we have done; we express our contrition out loud, and we are absolved out loud. Our wrongdoings are real, but so is God’s forgiveness. God gives us all this; the least we can do is forgive each other, because in the end, it is not about you and them; it is about YOU and HIM. Forgiving in our hearts is what we desire, but when we can forgive out loud, it brings us a peace unlike any other, just like Reconciliation does.
“May we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges.” St. Gregory of Nyssa’s words resonate with me in my need to forgive. Let us all take an inventory of our grudge holding and decide to let it go during this most Holy of Weeks. God asks this of us and he gives it in return.
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Charla is a life-long Catholic, married since 1995. She has three children who attend Catholic school and university. Charla has been teaching high school English literature at the same Catholic high school she attended for over 15 years. She has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Latin American Studies, and Secondary Education, as well as a Masters degree in Education. Charla has served as a lector and Eucharistic minister at her parish and school. She enjoys reading, cooking, running, and all activities involving her children. Her special devotions are to the Blessed Mother, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and the Holy Rosary.