There is a bumper sticker that blithely states “Cry yourself a river, build a bridge, and get over it!” Perhaps there is a kernel of truth contained in this pithy adage. But sadly, “getting over it” is not quite as easy as the saying suggests.
All of us carry wounds of varying degrees and consequences in our hearts.
Family life can be full of hurts. The workplace is notorious for bad behavior. Parish life is not immune from injurious words and actions. The school room and school yard can cause bruises that last a lifetime.
There are those who have experienced the deep and disruptive wounds of marital infidelity, childhood sexual abuse or domestic violence. Others among us have fallen prey to violent crime or other traumas that leave years of depression, anger, rage and resentment.
Why is it that some people can move forward, able to cope with the damage caused by others, while some remain frozen in time?
Psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, in his work entitled Helping Clients Forgive, recommends that clients consider a definition of forgiveness that includes “the abandonment of resentment (to which they have a right) and adopting friendlier attitudes (to which the offender may not have a right).”
For the believing Christian, forgiveness is much more than deliberate acts of beneficence and friendlier attitudes. Forgiveness is at the very heart of gospel living.
Father Robert Barron in his work entitled The Strangest Way writes these difficult and challenging words. “The forgiveness even of enemies is insisted upon at the Sermon on the Mount, and the pardon of those who trespass against us is at the heart of the prayer that Jesus taught His Church.”
Barron goes on to suggest that in the full New Testament sense of the term, forgiveness “is an act and not an attitude. (Forgiveness) is active and embodies repairing of a broken relationship, even in the face of opposition, violence, or indifference.”
Few people understood the power of forgiveness more than the late Pope John Paul II.
In one of his least known, but most powerful encyclicals entitled Rich in Mercy, Pope John Paul II contemplated the interrelated themes of mercy and forgiveness.
He insisted that “the Church must consider it one of its principle duties to forgive, to proclaim and introduce this mystery of mercy revealed in Jesus Christ.”
Pope John Paul II stated emphatically that “Christ teaches us to forgive always.” When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his neighbor, Jesus answered “seventy times seven,” meaning everyone every time (Matthew 18:22).
(But surely you don’t mean me, Lord.)
All of us, with injuries both great and small, must ultimately rely on God’s amazing grace to help us “let go and let God.”
An encounter with the Divine Physician in the Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us a wellspring of grace to effect the healing process. Those who suffer from the trauma of serious abuse or violence may also need the help of a professional therapist and spiritual director to help them re-gain equilibrium and peace in their lives.
Dr. Fitzgibbons outlines the psychological and emotional benefits that come to those who make a deliberate decision to forgive. Many experience freedom from the emotional pain of the past, greater stability of mood, decreased anxiety and improved loving relationships, to name just a few. To his list I would add that the spiritual benefits are out of this world.
Those who embrace the “radical practice” of forgiveness encounter the Lord Himself, who is the very embodiment of mercy and forgiveness.
William Shakespeare offered a powerful insight to those who practice the qualities of mercy and forgiveness in their lives. He suggests that, “the quality of mercy is twice blessed, blessing both the one who gives and the one who receives.”
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 23, No. 6, June 15, 2007.