(The Nationalist, 25 May 2001)
It’s not uncommon to meet someone who says, ‘I want to forgive… but I can’t.’ The person has been hurt, angered, humiliated or betrayed, and, of course, their feelings show it. We all know the experience. We want to put the matter behind us, but, every time we remember the incident, we find ourselves getting carried away by our feelings.
We feel guilty about not being able to forgive. We have heard so often that we should forgive and forget. It is so easy that and so difficult to do. If we are Christians we feel guilty about not forgiving because the life and teaching of Jesus remind us that we should. Even if we are not believers we still may feel that this anger or resentment is a burden which is weighing us down, the chips on the shoulder are becoming a log too heavy to go on carrying. We want to let go, to live in the present and for the future, without the unfinished agenda of the past dragging us back.
We may find it especially hard to forgive if the injury was done to someone we love. Then, somehow, it seems like betraying them even to consider forgiveness. It seems not only like letting the guilty one off the hook but letting down the one we love.
I don’t agree with the idea of ‘Forgive and forget‘. I believe the forgetting part is a mistake. We are human beings, not animals. An animal may (or may not) be able to forget – I don’t know – but a human being cannot forget. We cannot click a Delete button in our head and just wipe out the memory – though we can stop nursing the grievance.
We can forgive. It is possible. I believe that anyone who ito forgive has, in fact, before God, already forgiven. Forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion, even though the emotional baggage may remain for a time.
How can we know if we have forgiven? There is a test: if the offender asked you for help, would you give it? If they needed a blood transfusion, for example, would you give it? Or would you revel in the opportunity of refusing? An even better test is this: if you needed help, would you ask them for it? If the answer to that question is yes, then you most certainly have forgiven.
Forgiveness is a grace as well as an effort. We sometimes need a bit of a boost to be able to do it. I have a suggestion on this. When you go to the altar and receive Communion, pray for the offender at that time, by name if possible. Ask God to bless him (her), to help and heal them, to build them up, to make them whole. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, not just between God and us, but among us human beings also. It is not only a sign but also a source of unity. It brings about what it signifies. I have tried this, not by way of experiment or putting God to the test, but as a prayer in time of need, and it works.