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Forgiveness and Reconciliation Differ
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

'My Daughter Cursed Me'
How Does 'Blessed' Differ From 'Venerable'?
Longing for Sunday Mass
Our Lady of Good Help? Perpetual Help?


Q: When my adult daughter was visiting me last summer, we got into an argument about, of all things, my potato salad. She has a hair-trigger temper, and something that I said set her off. Although I tried to defuse the situation by asking her to calm down, she cursed me and ran out of the room.

I was so shocked that I put on my walking shoes and went out to be alone. After a three-mile walk, I found a small park where I sat down and asked God what to do.

The answer came that I had to be bigger than she was, that I had to rise above what she had said and forgive her.

When I returned home, I found her in the kitchen. I hugged her and told her that I forgave her and that I still loved her. She did not say anything.

Before she returned to her home a few days later, I hugged her again and told her that I forgave her. Still she gave no response.

I have seen her several times since that incident, but she has never apologized for her outburst. When I call her, it's like talking to a stranger.

My confessor told me to pray for her, and I do, but the fact that she has never said she is sorry is like a wound in my soul. I would give anything if she would only say she is sorry. Then I could hug her and we could have a good cry together. The problem would almost take care of itself.

How can I handle this situation? Even though I've done all that I can do to remedy things, she remains distant and unrepentant. This breaks my heart.

A: I am sorry for your pain, which comes through loud and clear. It sounds as though you have already done everything that you need to do: You have forgiven her, yet you ache for a true reconciliation.

Although you have twice verbalized to your daughter your forgiveness, she has not responded either time. Those facts suggest that she does not feel she did anything that needs to be forgiven. Further offers of forgiveness may not be accepted.

Once spoken, words have a life of their own. We cannot take them back or give them a different meaning. The Bible affirms that controlling one's tongue is necessary for wisdom. According to the Book of Proverbs, "The tongue of the wise is healing" (12:18).

Although we sometimes speak of them as the same thing, forgiveness and reconciliation are, in fact, quite different. Forgiveness is risky precisely because it is one-sided; the other person may refuse to admit that he or she did anything that needs forgiveness.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, must be mutual in order to be genuine. We can no more imagine a one-sided reconciliation than we can imagine a one-sided piece of paper.

Consider the prodigal son's father in Jesus' parable (Luke 15:11-32). In verse 20 we read, "While [the younger son] was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him."

The father's forgiveness might have been instantaneous, but isn't it much more likely that he forgave his younger son long before that son returned? The parable does not tell us how long the prodigal son was away. It was probably long enough for the father to experience great heartache.

What we mostly love about this parable is the reconciliation. The father, however, almost certainly forgave without the assurance that his younger son would ever repent and seek forgiveness.

The unforgiving older brother may yet seek reconciliation, although, when the parable ends, he has focused so much on his brother's mistake that he ignores the later repentance.

Would the father's forgiveness have been wasted if his younger son had never returned? Not at all. The father, however, would have been denied the reconciliation and consolation that he sought.

You find yourself in that father's position. We can hope and pray that the reconciliation will occur, but it might not. Your aching for it may be relieved. Or it might not.

In 35 years of priestly ministry, I have often told people that they have indeed forgiven someone when they hope for that person what God most wants for that individual—a life worthy of someone made in God's image and likeness. Is that your deepest hope for your daughter?

Is repeating your forgiveness driving a deeper wedge between you—from your daughter's point of view?

Even though your daughter has not requested it, you have taken the risk of forgiving. I encourage you not to allow your life to be controlled by her unwillingness to seek reconciliation. She could be at the stage of the prodigal son before he came to his senses and repented. In any case, you cannot put your life "on hold" indefinitely.

I urge you to continue following your confessor's advice to pray for her. She too may ache for reconciliation and may yet apologize. You have already done the right thing. Please pray that she may do the same.

Q: In the process of canonizing someone, what is the difference between Blessed and Venerable? I am very fond of Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925), who achieved sobriety after years of battling alcoholism. Do you have any information about the status of his cause?

A: The progression of titles is Servant of God (cause has been completed on the diocesan level and accepted in Rome), Venerable (a person's life and writings have been investigated and found to reflect heroic virtue), Blessed (can be venerated liturgically in certain places or by certain groups of people) and Saint (can be venerated liturgically throughout the world).

A person moves from Venerable to Blessed in one of two ways: he or she is judged to have died because of "hatred for the faith" or he or she is judged to have been involved in the miraculous cure of an individual. A second miracle is needed to be declared a saint.

In our world of instant communication, the local-versus-worldwide distinction regarding veneration has become harder to maintain. Blessed Padre Pio (1887-1968) was venerated far beyond Italy and the Capuchin family before his canonization in 2002. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) inspires some people much more than many canonized saints. Both were widely admired before they were beatified.

Matt Talbot was declared Venerable in 1975. A miracle is needed before he can be beatified. A Venerable Matt Talbot Resource Center is available on the Internet.

Q: I am 87 years old and a lifelong Catholic. Two years ago, I became ill but have mostly recovered. I gave up my driver's license for the good of the people I could encounter while driving. I cannot walk as far as the nearest church and there is no public transportation that could get me there.

My generation built many churches, but now I feel abandoned. The weeks run one into the other without purpose.

A: Have you called the pastor of the nearest Catholic parish? He probably cannot transport you to Mass each weekend, but he may be willing to put in a bulletin announcement that an elderly woman in a certain neighborhood is seeking a regular ride to Mass on Saturday night or on Sunday.

Over the years, I have seen such requests in parish bulletins. There are probably already people at that parish giving rides on a regular basis to people who cannot get there any other way.

Eucharist means "to give thanks." Someone may be willing to help you give thanks with members of the parish nearest you.

Q: Is there any difference between Our Lady of Good Help and Our Lady of Perpetual Help? Do they have different feast days? Our church is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help, but there is confusion about the feast day.

A: These are different titles of Mary with separate feast days and meanings. In 1673, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys brought from France a statue of Our Lady of Good Help for Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, where it remains. Her feast is celebrated on March 5.

Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help goes back to an icon that has been in Rome since the late 15th century. For more than 100 years, it has been at the church of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Her feast is celebrated on June 27.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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