Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Forgiving is a Sign that We Have Been Graced

Forgiveness and reconciliation are popular topics for discussion because they are so difficult to  define and yet so necessary for living well.  A columnist on the opinion page of the Catholic Times revisits the discussion with his  reflections.

He begins with the experience of a mother with two sons, one year apart. The mother tried everything to get the two boys to stop fighting. On one occasion, after reprimanding them for fighting, she asked them how much they loved each other. The younger one said, " I will love my brother as much as he loves me and  forgives me." The older brother, angry and making a fist, said, "He is again making me the excuse for his behavior." Even though we expect brothers--and sisters--to naturally love each other, we know that sometimes the closer the relationship the more difficult it is to live in harmony.

And then there are the senseless killings of others with whom there is no personal relationship. The columnist gives the example of the horrible killing of a man's wife, mother and  son by a person who killed to revenge himself against society for not making it easier for him to get the things he felt he was entitled to. The father of the slain members of his family blamed himself for not taking better care of his family and tried on many occasions to kill himself. During this struggle, he met the godmother, a Religious Sister, who was attending to the needs of those on death row. To rid himself of the pain he was feeling, he turned to the Church and was baptized; the feelings of hatred and anger soon disappeared. He even wrote an appeal not to execute the killer.

All of us, the columnist says, inflict pain on others and are pained by others. Unknowingly, our words or acts can leave scars. If the discord and scars are not discussed openly, there can be no reconciliation. By forgiving, and persisting in the effort to forgive, as in the example of Joseph in the Genesis story who turned  his brothers away five times before he could  forgive, we regain peace.

The Dalai Lama explains forgiveness in this way. "If we remember that all existence wants to have happiness, and that  the one who has inflicted pain on us, no matter the reason, also wants happiness, then we can go the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. The one who is the victor in life is the one who has overcome his hate and anger."

In the words of Jesus: "If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours, If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you" (Matt.6:14-15).

The importance of forgiveness in our lives is often difficult to appreciate for it always includes questions of truth, goodness and beauty. We easily say, "hate the sin and love the sinner."  But many find this distinction difficult to make. Living a life of integrity and listening to our inner voice helps us to know what to do in these circumstances. We will then come to recognize that the whole question of forgiveness has more to do with the harm we do to ourselves than to others. When we fail to love and forgive, choosing hate, refusing to forgive, it distorts the way we see life. Moved by grace, all of us can forgive and love.  Our response should be gratitude.

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