by Fr. Charles Willingham, O.Praem.
The difficulty in forgiving is that we don’t know what that is supposed to look like; or what it is supposed to feel like. So I am going to give you the five steps in forgiving, which I think will make this much more easy for you.
The first step is to realize that forgiveness is completely supernatural — it is a God power. We have no more ability to forgive another than we do to raise another from the dead. It is totally beyond us. Therefore, the first step is to pray to God for the grace to forgive your enemy: “Jesus, help me to forgive!” “Mother Mary, help me to forgive!”
The second step is to ask yourself: What part did I have to play in this? Did I do anything wrong? Was I at fault in any way? Many times there is nothing we did wrong. Sometimes people are just plain ol’ mean, selfish, or wicked. But if there is any fault on our part, we present this to the Lord and ask forgiveness.
The third step is to realize that forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice. So we don’t have to have warm fuzzies for the people we forgive. We don’t have to be sitting down to tea with them and laughing with them. We don’t have to like them. Jesus never said that we had to like anyone. We don’t have to like our parents; we don’t have to like our kids; we don’t have to like our spouse; we don’t even have to like God. But we have to love everyone — especially God. And love is the desire (not a feeling but a choice) for another’s good and even the means to bring about that good. After we have forgiven, we may still continue to feel the hurt, to feel the betrayal, to experience the pain.
The fourth step is: Well, if forgiveness is a choice, what is the choice? The choice is simply to write off the debt. When someone offends you, they have a debt to pay — to you and to God. When you forgive, you are choosing to write off that debt, to tear up the contract, and to set them free. So that, when they go before God at judgment, and God says to them: “You know, you really treated so and so very badly; and for that you are going to spend a 1,000 years in Purgatory!” They can stop God and say: “Oh, no, no, no, so and so already wrote off that debt.” You see, we are actually exercising a Divine power.
The fifth step is the hardest, and the one to which hardly anyone ever comes to — hence the reason why so many people never feel at peace when they have forgiven others. Remember I said that the basis of our faith is that God is all powerful and all loving (all good). He can do anything; He can stop anything; He can change anything. Nothing at all can happen, unless He lets it happen. And if He lets something happen, it has to be for our good somehow, even if we can not see it, because He loves us and He is all good. That being the case, what should be our response to God when He has allowed some evil to befall us at the hands of another, knowing that He permitted it for our greater good? Our response must be one of praise, of gratitude. And that, I say, hardly anyone ever arrives at. We must also realize that when we say that God permits evil only to bring about a greater good, this applies also to evil which we have done . Thus the good that God brings out of that, can be our good — even though we do not perceive it in this lifetime. So, even in forgiving ourselves, so to speak, we can thank and praise God for the evil He permitted us to commit. Again, this praise and gratitude is not some emotional experience. It is a simple act of trust in God — that we admit that He is in control and that He loves us.
So what does this amount to? We simply throw away the video we keep watching over and over again. We delete the sound bite we keep listening to over and over again. And we set that other person free; and we set ourselves free; and we go on with our lives.
Maybe before you go to bed tonight you can start back at your earliest memory of hurts that you have suffered at the hands of others, and picture yourself tearing up the contracts and writing off the debts, one after another, through your whole life up to the present day. Then imagine our Lord Jesus doing the same thing for all your sins — real or imagined.
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