Whenever Scripture speaks of forgiveness I am brought back to the events of a warm June evening in Moncton three years ago, when the city was faced with something a small city of this size would never expect to encounter. As I write this, these feelings are re-enforced because of news I received on a warm September evening just days ago, which is, in my mind, intrinsically connected to those events of three years ago.
Forgiveness is a fundamental principle and core teaching of our Christian faith. And it is profoundly difficult. Yet forgiveness and reconciliation is so important to our relationship with God that it is one of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church.
Sometimes, for me at least, I even need to forgive God, and while that notion was something I would never have considered when I was younger, it is one I now believe God is big enough to handle. Even though I know that God is not responsible for actions that hurt us – that sickness, death, mental illness, global issues, environmental disasters are not punishments from God but a result of the human condition, when there is no one else to blame, I tend to turn my anger to God and ask “why?”
When others hurt us, or those we love, it is difficult to respond in loving and forgiving ways. However, the reading from Sirach is clear: ‘Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord?’ The Lord’s Prayer also says it quite succinctly: ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’ – if we don’t forgive, how can we seek forgiveness?
Last year, during a session on reconciliation and forgiveness with our children in catechism we talked about this concept, and shared certain points with the children and their parents which might be helpful for us all to remember: forgiveness does not have to be immediate; forgiveness does not excuse another person’s behavior; forgiveness does not require forgetting the offense or feeling kindly; forgiveness is not for wimps – it is a sacred and holy activity. Think of Rev. Dale Lang, of Taber, AB who, in 1999 forgave his son’s killer; think of Nelson Mandela, who when leaving prison said: “as I walked out the door to the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. It is about the individual who has been hurt letting go and freeing themselves from the pain. It is not necessarily about the other person. And that last piece is, for me, a critical one: forgiveness is as much about me as it is about the one who has hurt me. “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” I read somewhere once. Forgiveness does not excuse wrong doing or require us to forget what happened; forgiveness is about our own hearts and health. Hopefully it is a step toward reconciliation, but regardless it is a step toward healing.
Peter asks Jesus, “how often do I forgive … as many as seven times?” “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Now, again, I need to remember those words.
~Ellen Bennett, Archdiocese of Moncton Office of Faith Development