“Nothing makes us so like to God as a readiness to forgive.” — St. John Chrysostom
What a blessing Pope Francis gives us in proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Mercy. We live in a fallen world; we wound each other constantly in small ways and in large ones as well.
Without forgiveness, the world quickly becomes hell, but forgiveness does not come naturally to us. Indeed, it sometimes seems humanly impossible.
God, in his mercy, breaks into this hopeless situation through the death and resurrection of his son to wash away our sins and pour his grace into our hearts — grace that can enable us to forgive as Jesus did.
Here are some practical suggestions to help the faithful let go of the past and focus on emulating Christ’s mercy:
- Be careful about venting anger. Venting does not dissipate anger, but instead reinforces it. Anger in itself is not bad. Like fire, it is both useful and dangerous; it can spur us to act forcefully to redress an injustice and to protect ourselves and others from harm. This is especially important where an ongoing offense is damaging innocent people. We must focus on doing what can be done to right the situation. We cannot let anger be a motivation for revenge.
- Do not keep going over past transgressions, as it will only feed the holding of grudges. Reliving the wrongs done to us simply keeps us entangled in bitterness, which can warp us into becoming the sort of people from whom others flee. Brooding over wrongs opens the door to all sorts of bad things. As St. Paul says,
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil” (Eph 4:26-27).
At some point, we simply need to let it go. Ask God for a spirit of gratitude; this is a good antidote to brooding on wrongs.
- Don’t involve more people than necessary. It is OK to have a confidante, but we shouldn’t go around discussing grievances with anybody who is willing to listen. This just leads to the sin of gossip, which Pope Francis has warned the faithful against, saying, “The person who gossips is like a terrorist who throws a bomb and runs away, destroying. With their tongue, they are destroying and not making peace.”
- Ask forgiveness from others. When we have wronged someone, it is important to give them the opportunity to forgive and be free from the burden. Also, we should make some sort of restitution for a wrong to let the person who has been hurt know we are sincere in seeking their forgiveness.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. St. Thérèse of Lisieux makes this point eloquently in “Her Last Conversations,” saying,
“What we choose to fight is so tiny. When we win, it’s with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small.”
When we become embroiled in trying to argue, explain and justify ourselves, we lose our peace of soul. Better let the matter drop in silence. Thérèse was never afraid to speak the truth forcefully when duty required it, but she learned to choose her battles wisely.
- Act for the person’s good, even when we don’t feel like it. Don’t slam the door permanently. We must allow the person room to change while also acknowledging that ignoring bad behaviour does them little good. Keep praying for reconciliation.
- Make forgiveness a ritual at bedtime. Going to bed angry at the ones we love only weakens our relationships by allowing the bitterness and anger to fester overnight. We should make it a habit to resolve the disputes — with our families, especially — before the end of each day.
For more on Forgiveness from Celia Wolf-Devine, see the full article on Our Sunday Visitor.
Celia Wolf-Devine is a retired philosophy professor, author and lecturer. Her CTS publications include the New Companion to Prayer. For more information on her and her work see www.celiawolfdevine.com.