St Therese: Forgiveness – the key to healing and happiness

Fr Des Corrigan SMA shared on the need for forgiveness if we seek healing and happiness. He spoke on the 6th night of the 2015 Novena in honour of St Therese, celebrated in Dromantine.

Readings; 1 Cor. 13; 1 – 8.     Gospel;   Matt. 5; 38 – 48

1          I think most of us – if not all of us – find this Gospel very difficult and very challenging.  It is difficult because it calls us to a deep level of forgiveness and we don’t find forgiveness easy. But the good news is that it is possible.

This Gospel is one of the most demanding, most challenging and most radical teachings of Jesus. Christ has taken the OT teaching of hating your enemy and turned it on its head.  

In the Old Testament, relationships with others were governed by the command to “love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Christ reminds us what it says in the Old Testament: “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

No more eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. He now calls on his followers to actually love not only their neighbour and those who do good to them but to forgive and love their enemy and those who do evil to them. Not only does Jesus give us this teaching of loving those who harm us but He models that it in His own life. We see that particularly in His passion. From the cross he prays for those who have crucified him, “forgive them, Father for they know not what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

God forgives us our sins and failings. But that raises the bar for us to forgive others – including those who have harmed or hurt us. When we have been forgiven we must in turn forgive others. Christ tells us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36.

2          Last week Pope Francis was in New York and had prayer service at ground zero to remember victims of 9/11. On the day after the 9/11 attacks in USA there was a live TV broadcast from near ground zero and a panel was discussing the moral ramifications of the terrorist attacks. There was a priest, Mgr. Jim Lisante on the panel.  A previous speaker had cited the Old Testament text calling for “an eye for an eye.” That was the tone of the discussion. Hit back in kind. When asked what the Catholic teaching was, the priest looked right into the camera and said, “Forgiveness”   In the climate of rage, anger and fear that prevailed at that time this was a statement of great courage. But it was also the simple truth.

Jim Lisante was right. Forgiveness is the answer. Forgiveness is the key to peace in our hearts and peace in our world.

3          Jesus returns again and again to the necessity of forgiveness. People were shocked by the extent and the inclusiveness of his forgiveness. Remember Peter asking how many times must we forgive? He thought he was being very magnanimous and generous when he suggested seven times. But Christ told him there is no limit. Seventy times seven. There is no limit to how God forgives us so we cannot put any limit of how much or how often we forgive others. 

4          A prayer we pray very often is the one Jesus taught us – the Our Father. In it we make a dangerous request when we pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches us to ask for the same level of forgiveness for ourselves as we offer to others. As we pray the Our Father several times a day it is a reminder and challenge to us to reach out in forgiveness to others – especially those who have hurt us. I talked to a woman who is a very regular church goer but said “I will not pray the Our Father.” She could not bring herself to forgive a person who had hurt her. Aware of that she would not say the Our Father. The Our Father should carry a warning “Beware of what you are about to say.”

Our Lord’s command to forgive is strong and very clear. But Christ is always calling us beyond where we are and offering us help to get there. In Our Father we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” The journey to forgiveness can be long, slow, winding and difficult but Jesus has travelled that road and left some signposts for us.   He has left some lights along what can be a dark road. If we make the decision to forgive we will, with God’s help, eventually get there.

5          Forgiveness is not only a moral teaching coming from Christ. Forgiveness is a gift to ourselves because it sets us free and gives us peace. I saw a poster recently which said, “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves and for our own wellbeing. It really is the key to our peace and happiness.

As we move on in life forgiveness becomes even more necessary for us. During life we all have our ups and downs, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, disappointments and hurts.

By mid-life everybody is carrying disappointments and hurts. I believe nobody escapes the disappointments and hurts which life throws at us.

If we are to grow older with peace and contentment in our hearts we must learn to forgive, let go of the hurts, disappointments and resentments.  

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser is a Canadian Oblate priest and a very good writer – you may have seen his articles in the Irish Catholic. He said, “The foremost spiritual task of the second half of life is to forgive – others, ourselves, life, God.” He goes on to say, “We all arrive at mid-life wounded and not having exactly the life we dreamed. There is a disappointment and anger inside every one of us and, unless we find it in ourselves to forgive, we will be bitter and unready for the heavenly banquet.” So true.

We have all met elderly people who, despite suffering and the ups and downs of life are happy, contented and at peace. And we have met elderly people who are bitter and cannot let go of life’s hurts. They will still play the record of how someone had hurt them, betrayed them or did them a grave injury, maybe 30, 40 or 50 years ago.      How they had been wronged or hurt. Often these are people who gave good service to their parish, their church, their society. But they have failed to forgive and instead of having peace and contentment in their hearts they have bitterness and resentment.

6          Some people seem to think that by withholding forgiveness they are harming the person who hurt them, but they are only harming themselves

Sr. Joan Chittister is an American Benedictine nun who has written several books in spirituality. Sr Joan says, “What I refuse to forgive continues to harm me. It consumes my heart, poisons my mind, drains my energies and cements my soul. The anger, the hurt, the bitterness we carry from the past does little or nothing to harm the one who harmed us. It harms only us. It is acid poured on our souls, eating away at the peace in us.”

The offended person is eating the poison of resentment while hoping that the offender will get sick. It is like someone eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die.

So we all have a choice. There is one box of rat poison of resentment, bitterness and holding on to life hurts. And there is another box marked “Forgiveness” which holds the key to peace and healing. My prayer for each of you is that you will find that key and open the door to peace and healing in your heart.  That is much better and healthier than eating the rat poison of resentment and bitterness.

28 September 2015

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