Monday, 12 November 2007

Forgiveness, Part I

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness for the past few days for various reasons.
Whenever I think about forgiveness, I always think about those people in my life whom I have found most difficult to forgive. Like so many human beings from what we now call "dysfunctional families", my parents are at the top of the list.
This is a drawing I did of them from a photograph taken when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. At that time, I was still a long way from even being able to admit how destructive our relationships were. Only years later when I began to face the truth, could I start learning how to let go of the past and forgive.
Another recent event that started me thinking a bit more deeply about forgiveness was reading the testimony of a woman by the name of Anna. Her feelings and attitudes sound remarkably similar to mine although obviously the events in our lives would differ. Anna is a Roman Catholic as I am and she found her way to the beginnings of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (more commonly known as Confession). I would like to quote that part of her story for you.
"Finally after years of struggling, years of being told that my lack of forgiveness was perfectly understandable, I decided to see if returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation would help. As I confessed my anger to the priest, I think I expected to hear him tell me as others had that it was understandable and even justifiable, but instead, he said to me very quietly, “you have to forgive.” Forgive! I thought to myself forget that nonsense.

Then the priest went on to say, you not only have to forgive, you have to pray for your parents. I was stunned. I mean, I knew what Christ Jesus said about loving our enemies and praying for those who mistreat you, but surely he did not mean parents who had abused me in every way imaginable, without respite, for all those years of my life. Parents who had left me so wounded that I was incapable of feeling love or making a normal commitment in adulthood.

The priest, however, said “yes” that was exactly what he meant and then he began to talk with me about how I would never know peace until I could forgive and love those I considered my enemies. He said he wasn’t talking about feeling love, but that love was a decision. I had to decide to do things God’s way no matter how I felt. And that since my parents were both dead, I could show that love by praying for them every day and having Mass offered for them each year.

I was so desperate that I made the decision right then to try to do things God’s way and as I told the priest this, I was flooded by the grace of God and was given the beginnings of that peace which passes all human understanding. The words of absolution had never sounded so beautiful. My penance was to pray an Our Father for my mother and one for my father and to really pay attention when I reached the part that says “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The years since have not been easy especially on days when I remember vividly some particularly horrible instance of abuse from my past, but I have continued to pray for my parents every day. God has blessed my feeble attempts to follow his will by putting me in situations where I am able to share my story with others who are hurting, showing them that forgiveness is possible. I realize that I am becoming a channel of God’s peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Our Lord said, “for they shall be called the children of God.”

To be continued....


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