Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Top Ten Most Important Things about Forgiveness

Father John J. Lombardi 

St. Ignatius walked a hundred miles to forgive and even help someone who stole his money. St Maria Goretti forgave her assaulting perpetrator and mystically visited him thru a dream. He later repented and became saint-like himself. St Edmond Campion was once betrayed, arrested and sentenced to death, but Edmond later helped him convert and escape a bloody England by writing a letter for safe passage…

How did these folks Maximize Mercy?

Following are Notes from a Retreat given at MSM this past weekend-"Union with God, Re-Union with Other, Forgiveness, Healing and Holiness in Today's World" …

1. Consider the Source-Divine Mercy Comes From Above-Never forget it. Put bluntly: "We were reconciled to God thru the death of His Son" (Rm. 5:10). So appreciate The Source of all Mercy and Reconciliation-God-in-Christ-and remember: "Every good gift comes form above" (Jn. 3:27) Receive this Mercy and then extend it to others.

2. Release Resentment-the Meaning of Forgiveness: According to the American Heritage Dictionary, forgiveness means 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) . Forgiving means relinquishing a punishment--and even resentment. Deny yourself (Lk. 9:23) so that there's less in you to offend or get stuck on.

3. Distinguish between Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Forgiveness means mercy towards a person (whether they ask mercy or not--see above) and may lead to Reconciliation-which means a re-union with them--but not always. One can and should always forgive, but it is not always possible to reconcile (see below)…

4. No Union without Communion: I cannot commune with God (fully) when I have resentments, bitterness and past hurts and hardships unresolved: "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, and your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go and first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5:23). This is the theme of our Retreat--No Communion while you have disunion with others.

5. Sacraments Strengthen Souls: We need Grace, gifting liberation from Above to forgive and reconcile. We cannot do it alone. We need help especially Confession and Eucharist, the rituals of release and purification.

6.Pracitice Practices of Forgiveness-like forgiving people or yielding to them while driving on the highway , meditating upon a Crucifix; or imaging, within, the Glorified Body of Jesus streaming-forth to give you Grace to release form your body all its hurts, sins and tightness (believe it or not: He didn't design us this way). Think: If you don't prepare (rehearse) you won't be able to share (forgiveness).

7. Read about and Imitate the Saints: think of St Rita in her rough marriage constantly forgiving her husband. The saints were real people with real problems and real solutions, God, Mercy, perseverance, heroic virtue. You need their examples. Remember-the saints were good at becoming selfless-so "Deny yourself" (Lk. 9:23).

8. Healthy Hearts Forgive: Hearts-in-imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus don't endlessly hold on to hurts; rather, they become more open, healed and holy. Remember to receive the Divine Life and Blood of Jesus and become holy, which means, set apart, different, precisely because you are made Whole in His New Life.

9. Just Re-Do it: You must practice forgiving: A Lot. Jesus is asked: "How many times must I forgive?" and answers: "Seventy times seventy seven" (Mt. 18:21) which implies perfection of an unforgiving attitude and heart…

10.Avoid Extremes of being a "Doormat" and "Don't Tread on me" I.e., are you pushover or pushing people over? A Doormat is codependency, allowing or promoting sin, sinful behaviors, being a walkover without questioning the perpetrator. Christianity and Christ don't call for that. Oppositely, a "Don't Tread on Me" person implies a machismo, no- forgiveness-attitude.

Now for Some Comments on the Points above…

1. God is The Source of all Forgiveness and Mercy and you need tap into, align with, share His powers. St Paul says, bluntly: "Forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32). Another Image of Mercy-which-is-God: Mercy means the victim of an offense can metaphorically prosecute, sentence and persecute someone, in justice-like sending them to the proverbial "hang-man" for execution -but decides not to. Instead, lets them go free-without debt or punishment. Now Jesus did not only forgive but He actually took our place in justice-prosecution and died for us to save us the sentence of punishment. And you're not ready to forgive? .Imagine if God did not really, totally forgive us, or shed His Mercy from the Cross upon all sinners as if He was a loving but impotent God, ever-so-slightly-holding back His Freeing Love, and wouldn't or couldn't overcome the effects of the world's sins. No, God is not like that, and, subsequently, neither should we be. Perhaps it was Gandhi who said Christianity is different because disciples are commanded to love their enemies. Christians are different because God forgave us and we are commanded to forgive others.

2 A pilgrim once wrote: "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"…Forgiveness is an act of the will-not always a feeling, something we want to do; it is not always a good feeling. But, rather, we must choose to forgive, and, hopefully, the feelings will follow later. "Don't' get stuck on it" means that everyone's obsessive compulsive disorders engage in difficult times, and, to some extent-repeating past, harmful thoughts and events will ensnare us with further thoughts like: "It is just to feel and hold onto these hatred feelings," or "He deserves my wrath and bitterness," and : "An eye for an eye…". All these thoughts and feelings are somewhat natural. But Catholics are called to be super-natural: Selfless, charitable, Christ-like, regenerated, supernaturalized by the Indwelling Spirit and Christ Mind (cf. esp. Phil 2:5 on emptying the trash and putting on Christ Mind). This surpernatualization means: negating any so-called substantial self and affirming your soul (God's immortal creation and gift to you) liberated by Christ's Precious Blood and merits. Study this sacred sentence where Paul counsels: "Put away the old self with its former way of life and be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self created in God's way." (Eph 4:22). That's it. Forgiving means to "put away" not only the past hurts from others, but the one who held on to them, who became captive to them-your so called self". Denying (self) means affirming (Soul). Negating self also means melting away self-righteousness (interior pride like: "I deserve to be vengeful"); warding off self-enclosure (obsessively getting stuck on past hurts), freeing from self-pity (mental implosion caused by fixation on negative-self-energies). On the Cross Jesus freed us not only from sins, but also sinful inclinations IF we channel, fuse-into and accept His powers.

3. Reconciliation, from the Latin, which means re-meeting. This is sometimes possible, sometimes not. Obviously axe-murderers are not legally allowed around their victims' families. Suppose you have a "Benedict-Arnold-traitor" around. Yes, forgive, but be wise and shrewd re. this offending person, around work, family or home. Likewise, child abusers should be forgiven, too, but not allowed to be around children. However, we should normally discern times when it is desirous and necessary to reconcile, and times when it is imprudent. Ergo, we need Prudence, Wisdom and Shrewdness "to know when". Jesus counsels: "So be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Mt. 10:16).

4. The point of our retreat, and the title is, remember-"Union with God, re-Union with Others-Forgiveness, Healing and Holiness in Today's World" (a mouthful-yes!). Point, you can't have total union with the Lord when you're holding onto all kinds of things in your mind and heart.

5. Sacrmaents give us grace, healing, re-strengthening, and we certainly need that for forgiving others. Receive these Sacraments more and you will be more empowered to Forgive and Reconcile.

6. Practice Practices: Like any athlete practicing disciplines for his/her sport, so must you practice healing-liberating-forgiveness. The time you practice mercy will affect the time you need to heal.

7. Saintly Meditation: You find time to read the newspaper and sports pages or glamour magazines, so what about a steady diet of spirituality? Garbage in, garbage out. Holiness in, auras and saintliness out. Spiritual reading can be one of the best things for your soul. Read about Pope John Paul II forgiving his assassin, or Thomas Moore's funny attitude on the way to the chopping block. The saints inspire us, offer us alternative realties and ways of thinking.

8. Your physical heart will constrict when hatred and resentments build up. Oppositely your blood will flow better, and mind be more peaceful, when you are merciful. Mercy and reconciliation are a "spiritual flossing" of the metaphysical Heart. Want to keep toxic, deleterious feelings and energies inside?-hug and harbor your anger. Want to get rid of them? Be with Jesus on the Cross and forgive. And the more you do it the more you can do it. Your choice. Be an open, radiant channel or light, peace and forgiveness or a clogged artery of bitterness and darkness.

9. Sacred Repetition: We should all be prepared-to forgive and forgive again and again…Your temperament especially if you are more warm blooded, hot tempered, choleric or phlegmatic may need help by the balance of compassion and syrupy love. Know your weakness and repeat the need to forgive until you get it more perfect until it becomes second nature. Jesus' Counsel forgiving 70 times 77 (Mt. 18:21) implies perfection which obviously doesn't' come easily-but we are all called to it. "Be perfect as your Father is perfect" (Mt5:48).

10. Being a "Doormat" regarding forgiveness may imply a kind of a subtle allowing or promoting of sin or sinful behaviors; or being a "walkover" without questioning or challenging the perpetrator. Christianity and Christ don't command that. Oppositely, the "Don't Tread on Me" person implies a tough, machismo, no-forgiveness attitude. They are either bitter or batterers. These two types are extremes but we all may go thru stages of them, or we may be able to help others going thru them to correct them. Avoid the extremes with Wisdom (which corrects codependency) and with Mercy (which tinges machismo-ness).

On Mercy? Think of the "Prodigal Son which is really a story of the Prodigal (-i.e., the word means Rich!) Father of Mercy (LK. ) …And Then, there's the Famous Woman of Lk 7 who filled the Lord Jesus and House with perfumed prayer and tears: she received much (mercy) because she loved much!

Maximize Mercy!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi