October 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 3
This month I would like to share a few thoughts and a few ideas with you on one word. It is the word forgiveness.
The psychiatrists with whom I worked over the years have no doubt that if real forgiveness were present in many marriages that ended in divorce, many more marriages could have been saved. But real forgiveness is a lesson taught by Christ that has to be implemented according to the norms of Christ.
If you go back into the life of Christ and see all the times that he has spoken about forgiveness, it is for a definite reason. When he said in the Lord's Prayer, "let us forgive those who trespass against us", he was giving us another reminder of what Christ-like forgiveness should be in our relationship with others. When you recall the dialogue that Peter, the apostle, had with Christ and Peter said to Christ, "Master, do you know that the old law says we must be willing to forgive seven times a day?" Christ answered and said, "but Peter the new law I am going to give you demands that you forgive 70 times 7 times a day."
Then he went one step further and said, "look if you are angry with your brother and have not forgiven him, before you come to the altar of God, go back to your brother and have a reconciliation". Then the last words Christ spoke on the cross were on behalf of those who heard his last testimony of forgiveness when he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do".
These are the norms of forgiveness taught by Christ that we have to experience and that we must offer to others. When I say we have experienced this forgiveness, just recall over the years how many times you went to confession, you received absolution and forgiveness and had a reconciliation with God. God throughout the course of our lives, with all the sins we have committed and all the offenses we have perpetrated, he has forgiven us and forgiven us and forgiven us.
There is no other way a Catholic can be a solid Catholic if he harbors hatred or carries a grudge. What we have forgotten about forgiveness is that when someone hurts us, yes we offer them forgiveness and try to effect a reconciliation, but forgiveness is not just for the person who have hurt us. Forgiveness is also for the person who has been hurt. Mother Teresa used to have the saying, "let go and let God in". She was referring to forgiveness. She was saying, anyone who has been hurt, anyone who has been the victim of a malicious tongue or the victim of a malicious act, can easily fall into the trap of thinking about it morning, noon and night. As long as it is in our psyche or mentality, it is a corrosive quality. It is a negative quality. It is a quality that prevents us from getting on rightly with the rest of our lives. It is always holding us back. That is why it is necessary not only to forgive the other based on the teachings of Christ, but also to let go of that hurt the other has caused. Holding onto a hurt, holding onto a grievance, harboring a hatred only sets you back. It does not hurt the person who originally hurt you.
That is why when you analyze the theology of forgiveness taught by Jesus Christ, it is a reminder that true forgiveness is more than just saying your apology is accepted. True forgiveness means you have let go of the hurt and are moving on with the rest of your life.
Oftentimes in marriage when you see a husband and wife argue and the argument goes on for what seems an interminable period of time, how much better their marriages would be if they knew the theology of forgiveness as taught by Christ.
You know in marriage counseling we are always taught to teach the couples to learn how to agree to disagree without being disagreeable to each other. That is a wonderful point. Another point that should be kept in mind is that when a person is wrong the hardest words for that person to say is "I was wrong" or "it was my fault".
Forgiveness as taught by Christ incorporates all of those points. Not too long ago at Sloan Kettering I anointed a married man who had three sons. And all three sons were there. After the anointing and giving him Communion, one son came out of the room at Sloan Kettering and said, "Father Mark, you knew the background of my father". And I said, "yes, I did". He said, "Father Mark, you knew my father was totally gay and this caused tremendous problems in their marriage". And I said, "yes, I did". And he said, "what right did you have to give him the last rites of the Catholic Church?" I simply said, "I was merely echoing to him the words Christ spoke before He died, "Father forgive him for he knows not what he does". I have to say, about a year later that same son came in and apologized.
This theology of forgiveness is a great healer in the relationship we call marriage. This theology of forgiveness is a great teacher in helping us to learn how to forgive ourselves. For example, when you look at the Holy Land today, the Hezbollah group, the Lebanese groups, the Jewish groups, all killing each other over a piece of land. You often wonder if centuries ago they had incorporated in their way of life the theology of forgiveness taught by Christ would that land have more peace than it has today? Christ had simply said, "with Me you can do everything, without Me you can nothing". That is what is happening in the Holy Land. They are devoid of Christ.
So all of us know there is no magic bullet for relationship, the relations of husband to wife, people with the government or governments with each other, but all of us should realize from the great teachers of the past, from Socrates, Plato, we have great words of wisdom that have been implemented in the lives of thousands ever since those men spoke those words. We have the same words of wisdom spoken to us by Christ when he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".
Forgiveness is not a luxury. Forgiveness is a necessity if we are going to bring peace to ourselves and peace to others.
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