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 …”
“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 straight-away 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 any-more 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 Crucifixion. 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.
The world has seen many evil people over the years who have caused great hurt and pain to many. Whilst in our moments of prayers perhaps we can attempt to forgive them; this does not mean that we should leave them to freely continue with their actions. It is our duty as individuals, and as nations, to protect ourselves and our loved ones from those intent on doing us harm. Forgiveness does not mean accepting evil and allowing it to succeed.
In the story above, Jesus would have forgiven the woman and continued the friendship with her. But we are not Jesus. We are humans, and most of us would not be able to do that.
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.