Monday, December 30, 2013


Someone recently accused me of being unable to forgive, despite having known me for many years and having seen me forgive several people.  The authorities of my childhood parish also accused me of an inability to forgive.  Both parties are correct in one sense: they demanded immediate forgiveness on command, which I can not do.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing to define, it is more than simply saying "it's ok" when someone has caused harm.  It involves releasing resentment, moving on both as an individual and as a relationship from an incident, letting go of hurt.  One can forgive another without ever speaking to the transgressor: forgiving someone who's hurt you doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to resume a relationship.  It's also possible to forgive someone who's died!

Functioning as an individual and as a member of a community is eased through forgiveness.  The act, which is an almost entirely introverted event with fuzzy boundaries, ameliorates harmony both internally and communally.  Forgiveness has been such a prominent religious concept because religious communities involve so much intangible vulnerability between participants.  Both forgiveness and spirituality exist on the line between logic and emotion.

Time between the hurtful occurrence and forgiveness (whether of the self or of the transgressor) is immeasurable.  The idea of needing to forgive in order to harmonize the self and the community is very old, and many ancient ritualistic religions involved going through some kind of ceremony in order to bring about forgiveness.  Some of these traditions also argued that to die without having forgiven would cause disaster: ritual fixed this dangerous chance.  Catholicism makes the same point, but with intimidation rather than facilitation*.  The line of the Our Father "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" meaning, at least as it was posed to me, that if you don't forgive everyone right away then God has no reason to forgive you so you've doomed yourself to Hell if Jesus could forgive while on the Cross what's stopping you?!?

No matter who demands forgiveness on command, the forgiveness itself is insincere when done through intimidation or fear.  The fault of the insincerity is on the pressuring party, not the forgiver.  I was already in the process of forgiving the person mentioned at the beginning of this post and the accusation of my inability only hindered the process.  Thinking and writing about the nature of forgiveness is a step in resuming that process, which has an unknowable duration.

* It may seem logically inconsistent to many that I would return to the very Church that hurt me so much.  Seeking out a parish of compassion and re-establishing myself as a practicing (keyword: PRACTICING.  Practice, not doctrine.) Catholic are steps in my forgiving of the Church.  By attending Sunday Mass and studying Catholicism, I'm harmonizing myself both as a spiritual individual and as a very tentative, doubting member of a community.

1 comment:

  1. I completely understand your experience, and I think a real injustice was done, both to you and to Church doctrine, by presenting the idea that forgiveness is some kind of wave-a-magic-wand effort. In the Catholic catechism (2838) it does say "Now—and this is daunting—this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven"… admitting to how daunting a prospect both forgiveness and its lack can be. But there is no place in the section that says anything about immediacy nor does the actual doctrine of the Church imply intimidation of any kind - that in itself is a sin against charity, and I am so sorry if that is anyone's experience!… though of course holding that to not forgive does close us off to the community and the work of God in our hearts is right, yes?
    So I think it is being/has been taught wrongly.
    I love this reflection of yours - I have come to understand how deeply my own inability to forgive hurts me by blocking my heart and keeping me from being my own best and open self… May we all forgive more deeply, including ourselves, in 2014.