Father Ignatius got an unexpected confession when sitting in his confessional on Saturday. The unknown voice on the other side of the small window of the wooden confessional said clearly “Father, I cannot forgive!”
The priest waited a second or two before asking “Have you tried to forgive?”
“Yes Father,” said the voice, “I’ve tried and tried and I cannot forgive. I don’t see the point of being here right now. Even if you absolve me, I just cannot forgive!”
Father Ignatius said a quick silent prayer, as he often did when he needed Divine help, and then said “Why don’t you wait in church for a while. After all confessions are over, perhaps we can have a chat and discuss this a bit more!”
When confessions had finished the priest got out of his confessional to find a well-dressed man in a pin-striped suit sitting alone at the front of the church, just by the statue of the Virgin Mary. The very place where Father Ignatius often sits to recite the Rosary.
The priest approached him and asked “Are you waiting to see me?”
Moments later the two men were sitting in the sacristy. The man started “Father, you don’t know me. I don’t come to this church …”
“There is no need to know you …” interrupted Father Ignatius, “feel free to tell me what’s on your mind!”
The man smiled and continued “I’ve had a health scare … the doctors aren’t happy with my condition.
“I’ve come here to make my peace with God, but I just can’t. It got to the point where I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer because of that bit about forgiving others’ sins.”
The priest nodded encouragingly and said nothing.
“Some years ago we had a family dispute,” said the man, “As disputes go this was really a big one … and as you can imagine we were all at fault. Everyone took entrenched positions and every one was of course in the right … as we all thought at the time.
“The result of this is that one individual hurt someone close to me very badly … so badly that it is still affecting their life even now. That individual has now moved on and we no longer communicate. But I cannot forgive the hurt done to my close relative.
“I was hurt too … and somehow I think I can forgive that. I was just as guilty as anyone else I suppose. But I just cannot forgive the hurt that was done, and is still being done, to my close relative who was innocent and not involved in the dispute!”
The man stopped talking. His clenched fists on either side of his body betrayed long-held pent-up anger and frustration.
Once again the priest asked for Divine inspiration in a silent prayer for this stranger and his family.
“Look at that painting on the wall …” he said eventually, “It depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her Son just as He has been brought down from the Cross.
“Moments earlier He was hanging up there in agony as He breathed His last at the hands of His enemies.
“Moments earlier he had asked His Father to forgive His enemies. I don’t know how He did it. I would probably not have forgiven them had all this happened to me. But He did forgive them. That’s very important.
“Now look at Mary’s face. Look at the pain still in her heart, having witnessed this most cruel of deaths to her innocent Son. She gave birth to Him and raised Him from a baby to the Divine man He became. And now here He is, dead in her arms. Can you imagine the agony of this mother at this particular moment in her life?
“Do you think she forgave the people who did all this? The Pharisees and Sadducees, the Romans and all the enemies of Christ?
“I suppose at the time this painting depicts she probably did not forgive them. We have no way of knowing of course. I’m only guessing. How can a loving mother forgive what has been done to her Son when emotions are still raw and the pain at its most intense?
“But I’m sure that with time she did forgive them. Especially when she saw her Son rise again in Glory.”
The priest stopped for a while, as he often did, to accentuate what he had just said.
“You still hurt …” continued Father Ignatius, “not so much for yourself, but for your close relative who still suffers the wrong done to him or her.
“You know … this is good.
“It is good that you still hurt. It shows a generosity of spirit and a love towards your close relative that is Christ-like.
“I believe that when Jesus met the poor, the destitute, the lame, the blind, deaf, dumb and all those who were ill … even the dead and their grieving relatives. He suffered with them. He felt their pain and their agonies. He took pity on them and He made them better.
“Note that on every occasion … on every occasion … He approached the individual on a personal basis and spoke to them and helped them as individuals.
“He was all powerful. He could have clicked his fingers and all the sick people in the crowd would have been healed.
“But He did not do that. He stopped and approached the blind man shouting His name in the crowd. He talked to the woman who dared touch His gown to be healed.
“Your love for that close relative of yours is portrayed in the way you still carry their hurt. Even though you may not be aware of it!”
The man brought his hand to his eyes pretending to wipe some imaginary dust from his eye lid.
The priest continued “And now … what do we do with the situation regarding your lack of forgiveness towards the person who caused the hurt?”
The man sat straight in his chair.
“In difficult situations I always delegate upwards!” said the priest with a smile. “I ask God for help. I tell Him honestly how I feel and ask for His help and guidance.
“Tell God how you feel about the situation … just as you told me. Tell him that you find it difficult to forgive and ask Christ’s help, and Mother Mary’s too.
“And when you feel the resentment and anger towards that person who created all this hurt, why not pray for them?
“Just like Jesus, ask God to forgive them. Tell him you still feel the pain and you would ask Him to forgive them instead. Hold these people up to God.
“The hurt in your heart may never go away; but let it be an opportunity, every time it surfaces, to hand over these people to God and to ask for His forgiveness.”
The man brought his hand to his eye once again and said “It’s very dry in this room … it must be the air-conditioning!”
“I’m sure it is …” replied the priest, “now go in peace and consider yourself absolved.”