Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Forgiveness

Father John J. Lombardi 

"Science tells us that the burden of a hard heart is very detrimental to us physically. Another reason to be quick to forgive is to free ourselves from bitterness and the ill effects of it, both spiritually and physically." -D Walsh Do you remember that famous image - of the Pope sitting in a jail cell, with his assailant-would-be killer, Ali Agha, both men's clasped together? Agha confesses and the Pope forgives. Would you?

In today's sometimes-snarling dog-eat-dog world, do you know the Three Most Difficult Words in the World? I Am sorry, and: Please forgive me. Those phrases don't fit well in our machismo, materialistic culture. But: Christ is sometimes counter-cultural.

I recently heard a retreat talk by Bishop Gordon Bennett, of Jamaica (formerly of Baltimore), on forgiveness and re-learned the ever-needed lessons of Life: how much I, we all, need to forgive and reconcile; how much it's at the Heart of the Gospel; and how much Jesus forgave, forgives, us.

Why is this so important? Jesus and the St Paul incessantly emphasize the need for forgiveness, reconciliation- hallmarks of being a Faithful Christian: "Be reconciled to your brother" (Mt. 5:24), Jesus says. St Paul encourages a "Ministry of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:18), and exhorts: "We entreat you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (II Cor.5:20). Forgiveness is not a "spiritual additive" in Christianity -it's part of the life-blood. Jesus teaches the Our Father prayer this way: "Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive others" (Mt. 6: 12 ). "As"- one small syllable, yet one gigantic challenge.

Inspired by the bishop I researched the following: Reconciliation comes from Latin, concilium, meeting. So, reconciliation is a "re-meeting" of two persons previously at enmity. Reconciliation is the result of forgiving-love-in-action. Following are some questions I asked some sinners-hoping to-be saints (some practicing Catholics!). The ellipsis (…) separates their various responses:

"What is Forgiveness (in family, world, work)?

"Releasing a person from a wrongdoing. According to the dictionary 'a : to give up resentment of, or claim to, requital - <forgive an insult> b : to grant relief from payment of <forgive a debt> 2 : to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) : PARDON <forgive one's enemies>' "… "Forgiveness is a gift from God that allows one to ignore one's pride, accept the reality of injury or hardship, and cling to that inner peace that allows one to love"… "At work it has got to be one of the toughest. The hurt can go deep, and the cold shoulders run deeper. They may not necessarily want to talk to you or talk it out, which is a good way to go about it. If that doesn't work then you pray for them, it takes all the bitterness away. Do kind acts, be caring and try to look at them as a child of Jesus. Jesus is everything in every situation. Forgiveness comes through Jesus"… "What first comes to mind is the Christian premise to 'not take offense'. I've learned there is much less to forgive if you don't bother to take offense to begin with. Often the things we're offended by are unintentional to begin with. It seems our litigious society is always trying to place blame and to assign ill motives to people/actions. So being forgiving is first a disposition to be developed (with God's grace)."

Do you forgive when someone does not ask for forgiveness? How do you RECONCILE with people? "Forgive the person in your heart."…I add them to my prayer list, it takes away the bitterness and eventually through the praying for them daily, you come to love and care for them" … "Yes, forgiving someone who does not ask is essential to avoid being devoured by ones own hurt pride. The only way out is to give them the benefit of the doubt, the confusion, or possibly illness, that actually can allow one to peel off pride, thus getting closer to the humble heart, 'which the Lord will not spurn'- Ps51."… "In the case of deliberate and intentional harm, I think the only place to put that kind of egregious harm as far as forgiveness, is to ask for the grace to imitate the Lord. From the cross He said, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' Our Lord did not wait for the criminals/sinners to come asking for forgiveness before He asked the Father to pardon their offense. As with all His teaching and examples, it was for our instruction and benefit."… "Discuss the argument/offence and offer peace"… "I reconcile with them by talking to them about it. So many times it is a misunderstanding and we let the evil one take control. By resolving the problem you put the evil one in his place. That is what happens when you DON'T forgive. The devil takes hold and causes those fractures, especially in marriages and families. If they don't want to talk about it, then leave it in God's Hands and Pray!!! Be Nice and caring whenever you run into this person and eventually kindness wins and forgiveness starts."… "Reconciliation occurs when I acknowledge to them (the perceived villains), that I have forgiven them. I have been met with renewed defenses, at which I admit that it doesn't matter who is right or wrong, or who did or said what. But, if I think it went down a certain way, I HAVE TO FORGIVE!"… "A very wise Catholic once told me regarding a difficult person: 'Remember, Jesus loves her as much as He loves you.' It Hit me like a brick wall. I started praying for her and eventually all the hate went away and we now have very pleasant conversations." … "Another thing to remember, people carry scars from the time they are born, and they don't understand why they act like they do, that is why it is good to go through your life and find out where you were hurt, and understand we may have been in the wrong, if not forgive and pray for that person. It is unnecessary weight we carry in our souls, which should be filled with all the graces God wants to bestow on us through Forgiveness."

We should be grateful for these inspiring, spiritual insights from these holy souls. Now, here are some other lessons of Forgiveness:


Lifestyle Choice: St Paul says we are to be 'Ambassadors of Reconciliation" (II Cor. 5: 18). I.e., You don't have to dress up as, or become a priest-minister of forgiveness. Just do it. Minister reconciliation to others (i.e. be a spiritual conduit)-ask and bestow forgiveness: you've received Mercy, now channel it to others-consciously and continuously. Make it a holy habit, a lifestyle. It should be your way of life.

"Flexible Forgiveness": Jesus prepares us for merciful ways(Lk. 17:4)- "If the same person sins against you seven times a day…how many times must I forgive?…Seven times? No! Seventy-times seven times." This = infinity; and that's what God is: Infinite Mercy. This parable means: a) people will hurt you repetitiously in life-your spouse, children, friends--be not surprised; b) you must be flexible, bending, patient with sinners. Just like the Lord is with you.

Love is Ultimate: St Paul says he is showing us and the Corinthians a "a more excellent Way" of Being-which is, of course, love (I Cor 12:31ff). No coincidence-"God is Love"-I Jn 4:16). What is love? Love is Jesus Christ: Love Eternal and Visible. Compassionate and challenging; God-and-Man, All in One to make us divine-like and one in God. Love is unremitting imitation of Him-to become like God (cf. II Pt.1:4)-participating in His Divine Nature to heal our crazy human nature. Love is loving another so much you want to forgive them even though you can't understand it (the heart wins out over the head). Love is sacrificial: our most precious possession-self-should die into selflessness. Love is befriending your family member or offended friend. Love is a going-out, a reaching-forth (just as the Blessed. Trinity is to us). Love is releasing hatred by asking God's help to love others. Love isn't anything until it hurts, it costs. Love is conforming to the Lover-of-All-Lord Who hung upon a Cross while still loving us all. Love is patient: "Over all these put on love" ( Col. 3:13).

Dealing with Difficult People: You have to love your family-they're family! You also called to love all people. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to like them or be best buddies. No, Love means, then, that regarding difficult people--enemies, even evil people (i.e, suicide bombers rapists)-these Three Spiritual S's of Forgiveness: supplication (we love them enough to pray for their salvific conversion: recall and participate in this fact-God wants all to be saved-II Tim. 2:4). See their suffering (their invisible enchantments to past hurts which may control them wrongly). Seeing others as sinners-cultivate spiritual insight and love to penetrate and see the "why" of their enslavements to sins, and the havoc it produces-even upon yourself. This radical stance is neither condoning sin or sinners, (cf. Jn 8:11-Jesus says after forgiving-"Go and sin no more"); neither is it condemning them(cf. Jn. 3:17). Rather, this profound Christian Way of Being is Solidarity with the Savior Who came to convert sinners by compassion and challenge-both of these attributes in holy balance. So, remember now (esp. in the Mass) these Three descriptors of how He loved all sinners to the end: Blood- Sacrifice-Love.

Purification of self: "Remove the beam from your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the splinter form your brother's eye" (Mt. 7:5).ie, remove your own judgment and then help others.

Conflict Resolution: Jesus says, simply-"If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault between you and him alone" (Mt. 18:15).Notice: get the "junk' out of the way; do it with the one who counts, not others. Reasonably and lovingly reconcile with the "other". (cf. Eph. 4:15= truth and love should balance ea. other-in lifestyle as well as in speech.) Perhaps some conflict needs time for healing. Okay, give "the other" space to heal and think. Don't harbor resentments-curb the inclination of hatred and "stewing on things" and resolve. Maximize Mercy by loving truth-telling.

Know your Nature: understand your temperament (hot or cold, short-tempered or lax), and realize it's pitfalls and benefits. Some are more "natural forgivers," while some are more resistant. A more choleric person may need to work at forgiveness-reconciliation more than a sanguine person. The Mystical Body is made up of many diverse creatures-learn form all parts and internalize, harmonize lessons from others into your own soul-temperament

Try to Work it Out-If you can't forgive right away, sleep on it, pray about it, pray for grace to forgive. Don't cut yourself off . Constantly re-approach.

Forgive from the Heart (Mt. 23:27 ): means not just with your lips, but, deep down within: really. Ask Christ to help you forgive, release, surrender. Be with Him on the Cross in a kind of "spiritual synergy" and say the words with the Merciful One: "Father, forgive them…" Remember, practice this mystical Oneness. You may not be able to forgive alone or from the heart. So: "Let this Mind be in you which was in Jesus Christ" (Phil 2:5).

Forgiveness and Growth Not Opposite: A parent must forgive his child in many varied situations (broken windows, lies, etc). The parents must always be forgiving. But the parents must also know the child must also learn a lesson each time and that contrition and forgiveness should not be manipulated. The Heavenly Father does the same thing with us, His children! Thus: parents and others in analogous situations need holy wisdom to balance forgiveness and spiritual teaching for holy, holistic growth.

Confession and repeated Sins: keep going back. Not only try harder (not to sin) but also try different ways-avoiding sins, occasions.

Harmonic Convergence :Even creation is to be reconciled- to original Order- "In Him (Christ) God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself" (Col. 1:20) . Become part of this New Supernatural Order.

Having Trouble forgiving others? Meditate upon heroic forgivers like, Our Lord Himself on the Cross: "Father, forgive them they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34).If St Stephen forgave his killers in imitation of Jesus Christ-so can you forgive those who "killingly-gossip" against you (Acts 7:60). Maria Goretti forgave her killer-assailant, as she lie dying, stabbed 18 times, on her bed in blood. Her mother then forgave the man after he later converted and asked her forgiveness: remember: heroic  holiness. As Mohandas Gandhi forgave British colonizers of India and led others to

forgive, you can forgive repeated sins against you. When the Dali Lama of Tibet, who is still in exile by the Chinese government, with his people being extinguished, shows forgiving-compassion, you can too negate violent impulses and refuse resentments!

Paradox: Just as in Bible times when many persons were striving for holiness, you may also have disagreements with other seekers of spiritual perfection-and, subsequently, a lot of need for reconciliation and forgiveness (as well as good communication!).Recognize: you're trying to live consciously Christian lives, so it's almost natural more disputes will appear. Ergo: Avoid pride; cultivate patient-persistence of love and forgiveness; learn to let things roll of your back. Think of, and work for, the Common Good-the Lord and your community. Become selfless. Strive to become the least, and servant amongst all. Loving God helps Reconciliation with Others: just look at the Crucifix. Study it. Imitate it- however clumsily.

Human and heroic: Mother Teresa of Calcutta was both. These two attributes describe a faithful disciple. She laughed and sometimes joked, went to Confession regularly, got upset at times, experienced darkness in her spiritual and prayer life, and upsets with her daughter-sisters (disagreements). Above all, she was serious about loving Jesus and other souls: the "bridge" was heroic holiness, especially in reconciliation. Human means the person is not a robot, not a Pharisee, is accessible and "down to earth"; heroic means they are super loving and merciful! Be like that.

Holy Humility: Be the first to say those Three Most Difficult Words-I am sorry. The more you do it the more you will want to do it. After all, humiliation leads to spiritual exaltation (Mt. 23:12).

Forgive when the person doesn't ask: We're called to be supernatural, not just natural. And that's what Jesus was, and did from the Cross-a supernatural act of forgiveness-to show us to rise to that Level. Nature is resistant, self-interested-not selfless. Aided-by grace we can become more!

Become Trans-Sensitive Huh? In other words, if you have less self to get offended, then you will become more trans-personal, peaceful. Jesus says: "If your brother strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well" (Mt. 5: 39)-there is no "self" to offend. So, as He says: "deny yourself, pick up your cross daily" (Lk. 9:23), and affirm God and others.

Forgive when they ask: Never refuse to forgive. God forgives you. Don't be a miser of mercy. "And if there is repentance you must forgive" (Lk.17:3) Practice Meditation: for instance, on the sacred words of the Our Father-"Forgive us our trespass AS we forgive others". Say the words slowly, pray with heart, mean what you say. Impress the reality within, then: ex-press it outwards. Pray this Prayer with literally open palms/outstretched arms (called the Orans position), then release the resentments and thereby receive Divine Blessings. You have to work at this way of prayer. It works if you work it…A final quote: "I had a chance to witness to a client yesterday, that the only thing harder to do than stop smoking, is to forgive someone who is wrong and not repentant. A grace?" Yes: All is Grace. Here: "Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Lk. 6:37).

Noted Briefly

Behold the Lamb of God…This means to truly grasp that Jesus is the Christ, the savior of Israel and of the World! "Words that Crack"-was the title of a book by Fr David Power about the Holy Eucharist. When Jesus (and, by metaphysical extension, Christ's priest) says the words of Consecration at Mass, "This is My Body"-"the bread was changed into His body because he spoke these words. He did not conform his words to reality, but rather reality conformed to His words." (Jeremy Holmes). I.e., God's Word's Change Things. So, then, what does behold actually mean? Ecce agnus Dei means "Behold…" Behold Him within-may mean cultivating your soul's desire for grasping Divine Reality-Jesus-the-Eucharistic-Savior. So, how do you receive Him in Holy Communion? The Church esteems receiving on the tongue as the normative way of Holy Communion. The Church makes exceptions for receiving on the hand. If so, receive in dignified manner, holding out your palms like a beautiful nest to receive our Lord: don't grab, receive. Consume Holy Communion immediately-don't take our Lord anywhere with you, even with good intention. Everyone is called to bow as the person in front of you receives-be prepared to receive. Behold Him within-the Lord God, esp. thru prayerful love. Pray the "Anima Christi, ""Radiating Christ" (Card. Newman) or St Francis' "Peace Prayer".

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi