Forgiveness was a theme that came up in various ways at our recent Confirmation retreat. It is clearly central to the Christian life. But, it is never an easy or simple teaching to live, though Jesus gave us clear direction: forgive as we have been forgiven.
One of our parishioners, a friend and hero of mine, gave a talk to our youth at the retreat about a tragedy in his family. It would be fair to describe this tragedy that befell someone he loved dearly as a transgression that was “unforgiveable.” My friend shares the story of being at Mass, shortly after this happened. As he was about to say the Lord’s Prayer he pondered, “How do I say, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?’” He thought, “I will have to forgive this person or I am lying when I say this prayer.” And so, he did. He found a way to forgive the person who hurt his loved one. In fact, at the sentencing of the perpetrator, instead of expressing understandable sadness and anger, he used the time to give the man a Bible and expressed his hope for him. I am in awe every time I think about this.
Forgiveness is a decision. Sometimes it is as swift and as clear as it was for my friend. It has been said that forgiveness is not saying what happened is OK, but that you have accepted the reality of what happened and are ready to move on.
Sometimes it is a process that we need to work through, in our mind and heart. Sometimes forgiveness takes time. Sometimes it requires we let go of a persistent hope that we can change the past.
The author Khaled Hosseini, in the novel The Kite Runner, describes a transitional moment in the life of the main character, Amir. Amir ponders what forgiveness is as he experienced it at a moment in the troubled relationship with his adopted son, Sohrab. Amir, after picking up and looking at a photo, says, “I slipped the picture back where I had found it. Then I realized something: That last thought had brought no sting with it. Closing Sohrab’s door, I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with the pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
Sometimes, forgiveness is the grace of having worked through an issue for so long in so many ways we realize the sting is gone and in its place is forgiveness.
As my friend knew, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t so much call us to do something, as to be something — a person who accepts forgiveness from our God, our Father, and extends to others the same generosity. Forgiveness is a moral commandment, a recipe for happiness, an expression of the best in humanity and a gift from God.