FORGIVENESS IS NOT… FORGIVENESS IS…

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time   

            St. Augustine said, “Resentment is like drinking poison, hoping that the other person dies.” Resentment or bitterness is having the same angry feelings over and over again. And they keep eating us away. Resentment and unforgiveness can keep us prisoners of the past, alienate our family and friends, remind us and everyone around us of our status as a victim, and block our potential for healing and growth.

            Jesus, in today’s gospel, is giving us the antidote to resentment. What is it? FORGIVENESS. To forgive is the remedy for the resentment that drains our energy and spoils our well-being; the remedy is not to get even.

            What exactly does forgiveness mean? It might be easier to understand the concept of forgiveness if we first put to rest some misconceptions. Let us talk first of what forgiveness is not.

            Let me borrow the points of Jean Maalouf on this in his book The Healing Power of Forgiveness…Forgiveness is not denial. It does not ignore the facts or the reality of the pain. To pretend that we were not hurt by what the other did to us, or that the pain did not really matter is not part of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Although we advise each other to “forgive and forget,” this admonition is often not possible. Maybe we can talk about forgetting only when we recognize that the pain that once controlled our actions no longer does, although the memory may stay with us as long as we live. Forgiveness does not mean condoning. It does not say that what happened was okay. It does not condone: it corrects our approaches and visions. Forgiveness is not a form of absolution. Absolution frees the perpetrator of any accountability toward oneself, toward others and toward God. Forgiveness is not like that. It does not ignore the responsibility of the perpetrator Forgiveness is not platitudes and indifference. It is expressed in such a way that it is felt, touched and tasted. It is a positive and energizing action. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” True strength comes from freedom and love.

            If forgiveness is none of what we have just mentioned, then what is it?

            Forgiveness is a form of truth and realism. With forgiveness we express total truth and acceptance of ourselves, others, and the situations we are involved in. We look squarely at our painful condition without ignoring or minimizing anything. We decide not to waste our energy in dealing with unproductive resentment, and we move on.

            Forgiveness is a complete letting go of pain, resentment, anger and hatred. Letting go of these emotions allows us to gain a better understanding of others and especially of ourselves. Any thoughts of what we may have about revenge or getting even in order to assuage our suffering would prove futile if acted upon, and constitute an obstacle to our own maturity and growth.

            Forgiveness is a process not just a decision and act of the will. Forgiveness is a living, changing, developing, growing process. It takes time to forgive; it takes time to heal old wounds.

            Forgiveness is freedom. It releases us from getting stuck in the past, in our pain, and in living as victims of what has happened to us. When we forgive, we are free to be our true selves and become who we are meant to be.

            Forgiveness is a sign and cause of internal harmony and self-esteem. Only a secure person, someone who recognizes the value and worth of the self, can forgive. Forgiveness allows us to love ourselves with the kind of love that is so enriching that it cannot be but shared with others.

            Forgiveness is power. It empowers us to freely decide our destiny. Going the extra mile and turning the other cheek do not suggest a masochistic attitude but a power of self-confidence and self-security. In this sense, the more powerful we are, the more forgiving we are. Likewise, the more forgiving, the more powerful.

            God has forgiven each of us for every bad thought, selfish act and evil deed of which we are capable. We have been forgiven by God. We are sinners saved by grace. We have been forgiven an enormous debt. If we can see that, it can be a powerful antidote to our feelings of resentment over a wrongdoing someone has done to us. When we remember just how much God has forgiven us we are enabled to forgive – to forgive from the heart.

            We forgive others not because we want to be forgiven by God, but because he has forgiven us first. Forgiving our sisters and brothers from the heart is an expression of our profound gratitude to God.

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