Saturday, 3 May 2014

Forgiveness YES Reconciliation NO

“Father … I have a problem with forgiving” said Sonia as she folded the last of the vestments and put them away in their cupboard in the Sacristy.

Father Ignatius was checking some paper work at a small desk in the corner of the large room. There was a tray there and parishioners were invited to place their messages, notices and sundry bits and pieces of information intended for the weekly Church Newsletter. The priest was reading through them in preparation for printing the Newsletter that evening. He stopped what he was doing and asked:

“What do you mean? A problem with forgiving …”

Sonia hesitated.

“I know you’ve always said we should forgive with all our heart … unreservedly … if we want God to forgive us our sins. I understand that … and I try as best I can to forgive wholeheartedly …”

“I can foretell a ‘but’ coming up …” smiled the priest, “but in this case …”

She smiled back.

“But in this case it is different …” she continued.

“There’s this woman at work who has hurt me really bad. She lied about me Father. And as a result I was severely reprimanded by our manager and I was made to lose a day’s pay … which I cannot afford.

“We used to be friends and all … but she lied to cover up her mistake and I got unfairly punished. This happened about two weeks ago.”

“This is terrible,” said Father Ignatius frowning at the unfairness of what he’d just heard. “Is there not some sort of appeal procedure at your workplace? Someone to talk to about it perhaps."

“No … that’s not the problem Father.” Sonia said.

“The thing is, this woman came to see me yesterday and apologized profusely for what she had done. She cried her heart out and said she could not have been found out to have made yet another mistake. She was on her last warning and another mistake would mean losing her job. That’s why she lied and put the blame on me. She begged me to forgive her … which I did straightaway Father. I told her to think no more about it and that all was now OK.”

“That’s very generous and loving of you … so what is the problem?” asked the priest.

“She wants us to be friends again, as before. We used to visit each other at our homes … and we’d shop together, or pick up each others’ children from school and so on … she wants everything to be as before.

“I find that very difficult … I just can’t trust her anymore and I want us to keep our distance. I forgive her as I said; but I can’t go back as before. My husband agrees and says I should no longer speak to her. I think I can speak and be nice to her at work but that’s as far as it goes; I can’t be friends again.

“Is my forgiveness worthless?”

“No … it is not worthless,” replied Father Ignatius gently, “when we forgive someone else, we touch their very soul with the merciful love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

“You’ve been hurt Sonia … hurt and punished unfairly and undeservedly.

“When we forgive people it means that we no longer hold their wrongdoings to account. We no longer bear them any malice or ill-feelings or ill-will.

“We acknowledge that we forgive them and we let them go their own way free from any fear of punishment or retribution on our part.

“This doesn’t mean however that we forget the pain caused to us. How can we? The hurt is imprinted in our memory and try as we might the chances are that we’ll remember it time and again. It’s only natural … it’s human nature. You forgave her and told her so …”

Sonia nodded; holding back her tears.

“And that’s all that is expected of you …” continued the priest gently, noticing that she was very upset at the mere thought of the event.

“We all have a right … a duty even … to protect ourselves and to protect our loved ones …

“If we feel uncomfortable about a particular situation or relationship, we have every right to distance ourselves from it.

“For very understandable reasons you feel uncomfortable at being friendly with this person as you were before; visiting each other and picking each others’ children from school and so on.

“There’s nothing wrong with that … tell her politely that you’ve forgiven her and that you feel both of you should leave it at that. An amicable relationship from a distance …”

“But …” Sonia interrupted, “how can that be forgiveness? By keeping my distance implies that I’m still holding something against her. She knows that … you and I know that … and God knows that …”

Father Ignatius smiled.

“Oh yes … God knows that all right … and He knows the reason behind it too …” he said.

“Let me tell you a story …

“Jesus once taught His disciples and His followers about Himself.

“He said, ‘whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him’

“A number of His followers found this difficult to understand. What does He mean … eat His flesh and drink His blood … Many today, find this very concept difficult to understand; so you can imagine how it was in those times.

“So a number of Christ’s followers decided to leave and no longer follow Him.

“What did Jesus do?

“He didn’t call them back. He didn’t say, ‘Wait, let me explain … this is what I meant to say …’ He didn’t compromise His position in any way …

“He just let them go … and He even asked His twelve disciples, ‘How about you … do you want to go as well?’

“You see Sonia … Jesus forgave them and let them go … He didn’t curse them and send plagues and pestilence on them and their families for generations …”

She smiled again feeling a little calmer.

“He just forgave them and let them go …

“Which is what you should also do …” said Father Ignatius serenely.


Often we tend to confuse the real meaning of forgiveness.

Let us remember that we are humans. We can't help it ... that's the way we are, the way God made us, with a multitude of various emotions, fears, hopes and ways of interpreting many situations in our lives. We're complex creatures. He had His reasons to create us this way.

Being human, one of our first instincts is to protect ourselves and the ones we love. Another feature of our humanity is the ability to remember ... the good times, but more specifically the bad times.

The worse the bad times, the more terrible they've been, the more they are imprinted in our memories.

Anything can and will trigger these memories again ... visiting a place, seeing a photo, hearing a particular song ... anything ... and the bad memories come flooding back again. That's the price we pay for being human.

Christ said: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who hurt us."

Thank God that He does not hold us to the strict letter of this particular contract; otherwise we'd all be taking the fastest elevator going down!

Yet ... He does hold us to the intent of that particular contract we recite in the Lord's Prayer.

He asks us to forgive ... that's the important thing. Not just seven times but seventy times seven … and many times more than that as well.

Forgiving someone means that we no longer hold a grudge, or any ill-will or ill-feelings towards them or the hurt they have caused us. We let them go in peace free of fear of any revenge or retribution on our part.

This applies whether we tell them that they are forgiven, or whether they have moved away, or perhaps never asked or sought our forgiveness, and perhaps they don’t even care about our feelings.

What matters is that in our hearts we have truly forgiven them; and, here’s the difficult bit, … we can prove it to God should He ask us to.

Of course the memories will come back … we can’t help that. But let’s use them positively by forgiving once again. Let’ us use them as a reminder to pray for the ones who hurt us. Let us say to God : “Please look after that person. Enlighten them and lead them to find your love as I have found it too.”

Would it not be wonderful if as a result of our hurt … and our prayers … someone finds God, perhaps for the first time.

Christ has His memories too when He sees the scars in His hands, feet and side. I believe He uses these memories to forgive us yet again.

I doubt very much that the Virgin Mary has forgotten the Crucifiction. But she forgives again and again.

Having truly forgiven, it is our right and duty to keep our distance from that person if we feel they create a threat to us or our loved ones. Keeping our distance is NOT a sin, and it does not mean that we haven’t forgiven or that our forgiveness is worthless.

Being human we can only forgive as humans. We cannot possibly forgive as He has forgiven, no matter how hard we try.

He was human, but He was/is God too … and that’s a level of forgiveness we can never achieve.

We can only hope to live by the intent of that particular contract in the Lord’s Prayer.

God bless.


  1. Hi Victor! What a wonderful study on forgiveness. I do feel sometimes that I have to 'become friends' with someone I've forgiven...even if that doesn't make much sense. I LOVE the example of Jesus, not running after those who have rejected him. Just constant forgiveness.
    It's like forgiveness is a muscle. If I don't keep using it, it's going to fail me. But I can forgive and then decide if that person needs to be in my life, or not.
    You have a wonderful theology on this. Thank you for sharing it!

    1. Thank you Ceil for your kind words.

      A lot of people believe that forgiveness means no more pain, no more bad memories, and things should go back as before. This is not always so. Sometimes you cannot be friends with the one who hurt you.

      God bless you and yours.

  2. Excellent story, Victor! I liked your added reflections at the end as well. So many people think that a relationship must stay exactly as it was before for forgiveness to "count" and this isn't always possible nor is it wise depending on the offense.

    God bless!

    1. I know from experience, Mary, that sometimes it is just not possible to go back as before.

      Thank you for your kindness.

      God bless you and your afmily.

  3. Most inspiring Victor and on the personal level, reassuring! I think we all need to be reminded of His understanding and the extent of His love again and again!
    Sending a warm hello from the Pacific NW coast (and feeling as if it will never be warm again! What happened to Spring?)

    1. It's great to see you visiting again Noelle. Thank you.

      It is indeed reassuring that Our Lord understands and forgives our weaknesses.

      Here in the UK it is still quite chilly at night.

      God bless.

  4. So true that we Christians can only hope to live by the intent of that particular contract in the Lord’s Prayer and God often makes it easier through the Blessed Sacrament of Marriage by showing that on occasion our spouse can be our best Godly friend which can help make forgiveness a lot easier. Right?

    God Bless

    1. Indeed, our spouse can be our best friend, Victor. Thank you for visiting and writing in.

      God bless you and yours.

  5. Very thought provoking and encouraging post, Victor. It ties in with the sermon I heard today on forgiveness. The pastor quoted several verses about how God removes our sins (example, as far as the east is from the west, Psalm 103) and remembers them no more. He said something I hadn't thought of before: that God doesn't truly forget in the sense that he can't remember what we have done (or else he wouldn't remember a whole lot of our lives!). Instead, he chooses not to remember, not to dwell on our sins.

    This is encouraging as I have struggled to forget the hurts done to me. I really can't forget, but I can choose not to dwell on the hurts. Your suggestion to pray for the people who hurt me whenever I remember the pain is very helpful. Praying for them helps them AND me. Thank you, Victor.

    1. Thank you Sarah for your return visit and for your kind words.

      You're right in that God does not forget our sins, but chooses not to dewll on them We should also do the same about those who have hurt us. Life is full of hurts at times. Difficult as it may be, our duty is to forgive as much as our hearts can.

      Praying for you and yours. God bless.

  6. Excellent! You changed my whole perspective on forgiveness. I was like Sonia too.It's for insights like this (and your funny stories) that I keep coming here. :)

    1. What a kind thing to say. You're always welcome here Manny. I'm so glad you liked this story.

      I've certainly learnt a lot from visiting your blog.

      God bless you and your family.

  7. Great post on forgiveness. It was something I struggled with for a long time regarding my father. I was able to forgive but I was not able to reconcile. Every encounter hurt me too much. It took 2 priests and a Christian therapist to help me realize that Jesus doe not want me to subject myself to abuse over and over. It was time to let go and move on. It took a while but I am now at peace.
    Thanks Victor.

    1. Thank you so much Colleen for sharing this with us. At times, it is better for us to distance ourselves from those who hurt us. Forgiveness is easy, sometimes. But the memories of the pain and hurt linger on.

      May God bless you and be with you always.

  8. Thanks for your post on forgiveness Victor. My husband left suddenly when I was 5 months pregnant with our 5th little boy for a wealthy woman he reconnected with on Facebook. The effects were (are) devastating, and I struggle to forgive as he and his girlfriend make plans for their wedding, travel on expensive vacations, and buy their weekend home while our house went into foreclosure from lack of child support, I work 2 jobs, and struggle to survive.

    In many ways, societal marriage has been reduced to a contract in which the victimized party is further victimized by the courts and then forced to continue relations with the offender. This can make every day an opportunity to learn forgiveness - ahhh...but that is so hard to do some days, especially when the offenses continue long after the divorce is finalized.

    Every day I must forgive today's actions and not look at the whole or anticipate what injustice will occur tomorrow. So many lessons to be many difficulties in doing so.

    In the years since I started my Single Mom Smiling I've met so many other people in similar situations. Please pray for my boys and me and for those struggling in our situation and in their marriage as well. And everyone, please do whatever God asks to strengthen marriage because forgiveness in divorce is also asking you to reconcile in some way and that is hard to do.

    God Bless...

    1. Rest assured Strahlen that I am praying for you and your children right now. Yes, the breakdown of a marriage can mean that at times we cannot forgive especially when the suffering and the injustice go on day after day. We must try however, as much as we can possibly try, we must forgive. God knows that it is difficult, and that the hurt, our hurt as well as that of our children, continues daily. In His infinite mercy He will try to shield us from more hurt and pain. And He understands our limitations in forgiving,

      May God bless you and your children always.



God bless you.