They say unforgiveness is the poison that poisons you instead of the person you are not forgiving. Forgiveness is so important for Christians that it was commanded by Jesus himself (Matthew 6:14) as well as appearing numerous times in the different books of the Bible. The Jewish people have a system of retributive justice that is aimed at never having people take part in religious ceremonies while holding a grudge, and a whole high feast is dedicated to atoning our sins to God. These customs and rituals have remained in the Church, which after all was first made of Jews: we repent of our sins by wearing sackcloth (maybe) and ashes while fasting on Ash Wednesday, the first day of a 40-day period of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter, and our Mass has always had the sharing of the peace, albeit in different forms, so that no one who had a grudge against a brother or sister would approach the Banquet of the Lamb with such unforgiveness.
To be a Christian could be summed up as to be forgiving even when our nature and our society would say to hold on to the resentment in our righteousness.
No matter how frequently we go to Confession, or whatever alternative other churches have, if we don’t forgive others we don’t truly get the forgiveness from God that we sought. Still, I begin to see more and more the need for frequent confession than I used to see. I tend to go at least twice a year, the one in Lent that is pretty much an obligation since Catholics are obliged to receive communion at least once a year in the Easter season (as per Canon 920), and then in Walsingham. I also go if I happen to make it to things like Nightfever, as I find it difficult to make a time in the local church or go to the central ones which have almost around the clock availability in daytime. I don’t always have to confess big things like abandoning my aunt to her own wits in central London after one too many insults, but I’m growing more and more conscious of the impact of smaller things. They accumulate easily. It’s like having a car: mortal sin is like a bird choosing to relieve themselves right over it, and many birds leave many stains. Venial sin is more like the rain and dirt of the atmosphere, it’s not quite as visible or as dirty, but it accumulates and without regular cleaning it’ll become something easy to notice.
You might think that nobody notices your inner state as much as they notice if you didn’t shower for a week, but people who know you well can tell that you are snappy, and cranky and easily frustrated by small things instead of patient and understanding. You may even be less kind. It’s a subtle, cumulative change that starts a snowball effect of more anger and more resentment on all sides involved, until it’s a full on fight for no particular reason, and then there is more to forgive than the little things like not doing the dishes when you said you would. A thorough examination of conscience is a great way to be reminded that we are as flawed, if not more, than the other person, and that we need to be more forgiving because there surely are things for which we need to be forgiven ourselves. Acknowledging that to another person (namely the priest) as well as God (who is the actual recipient of the confession) is a humbling experience, as well as giving you the grace of the sacrament so you can do better.
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt, though, is that forgiving ourselves is as important as forgiving others. If we don’t forgive ourselves, we reject the forgiveness that is given to us by others, whether Jesus or another person, and are incapable of moving on. We sort of make an idol of our own inadequacy, which is another facet of the sin of pride. Healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise, require a healthy view of ourselves and others: people who have good and bad in them, sometimes hurt others through being inconsiderate or malicious, but more often than not have good intentions and are trying their best to keep a happy balance with the other person. We need to be able to move on when things go wrong, although it doesn’t mean snapping out of it. Feelings are more complex than that.
One of the things that has made forgiving really hard for me in the past was the inherent expectation that I have to bring back a person in my life to forgive, that somewhat keeping the person at bay and letting go of the resentment was not possible. One wise priest told me that it’s not the case, that sometimes people become a near occasion of sin because of the feelings they cause us to have with their presence. It’s normally something that we associate with sexual attraction, but the reality is that envy and anger are equally dangerous feelings for the soul. So it is possible to forgive while keeping a person out of our life: all it takes is to let go of the resentment, the need to be proven right, the need to receive an apology and whatever emotional link there is with that person. As a Christian, I once did a very powerful healing exercise at a retreat which consisted of writing the thing I needed to let go, and lay it at the foot of the cross, where a small fire reduced it to ashes. Sometimes I can’t physically do it, but I still like the imagery of the fire of the Holy Spirit healing whatever need I give to Jesus by laying it at the foot of the cross, and so I relive the experience as a mental image. Whatever you do, there are few gifts as precious as forgiving, whether you are the giver or the recipient.
This post is part of the LoveBlog Challenge on the topic of Forgiveness.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash