A helpful message on forgiveness from Father John Crossin, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Forgiveness is a consistent theme in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus forgives his executioners. We pray ‘forgive us our trespasses’. Yet often we feel that we don’t need forgiveness.
We should never underestimate the power of denial. We say to ourselves: ‘Aunt Theresa is not dying’ when everyone else knows she is. Or we say ‘those extra drinks didn’t hurt anyone’ after the minor accident. Sometimes denial can give us a pause to come to grips with a difficult situation such as the death of a beloved Aunt. At other times denial can perpetuate a destructive or self-destructive way of life. We often need to acknowledge the truth of our situation before we realize our need for forgiveness.
Sometimes denial can be communal. It is enshrined in history books and taught in schools. We have seen this in the Balkans and other troubled spots—and even close to home. ‘Our nation, our people, our clan, our family was mistreated, abused, or defeated by this other nation, people or group.’ We will never forget. We have a right to revenge. All the while we can deny in whole or in part—with social support—the obvious evil that our people inflicted on others.
The denial of reality, both by individuals and communities, perpetuates hostility and opposes forgiveness.
When we decide to seek the whole truth, or more precisely to seek the truth with the help of others, then forgiveness and healing can ensue. We have seen this reality in the contemporary search for Christian unity in the ecumenical movement. In seeking the truth together about our past divisions, we are freed to admit our faults and sins and move toward mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
In our personal lives as well, we can move toward the truth with the help of others. A good friend can gently point out our blind spots and denials. If we can accept that truth we can begin to accept forgiveness from God and share forgiveness with others.
We should never forget how emotional we are. If we have been hurt by others, we may have great difficulty in forgiving. Even when we know the truth of a situation, emotional healing can take time. Forgiveness is a process and it can be hard work.
I think that we need to pray for God’s healing grace every day. We are always in need.
Yet no matter how bad the past-- forgiveness and healing are possible. Jesus love on the cross can heal the deepest fissures between us as individuals and among us as groups.
The call here is to deeper spiritual maturity. We need both humility and modesty—to see ourselves clearly with our need for forgiveness and also with the gifts given us by God. Coming to spiritual maturity involves letting go of resentments, past hurts and previous ways of thinking and acting. This maturity involves embracing something new—a new attitude, a new relationship or a new ministry.
Accepting Jesus’ forgiveness free us to move into a more joyful and positive future.