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Keys to Forgiveness
By: Father Paul Boudreau
Forgiveness is hard. The pain of a broken heart, hurt feelings, abuse or betrayal hangs on. Each day we remember that someone we cared about did us wrong.
Or maybe it was nobody we cared about. Maybe it was just some nameless, faceless stranger who made a bad decision or a choice for evil that left us to carry a lifelong load of hurt.
Then we pray those chilling words: “…as we forgive those who trespass against us….”
O.K., we know we’re supposed to forgive. But where do we start? How can I forgive somebody who tore my heart out, who cut me so deeply that years later I still feel the pain as if it happened yesterday?
Key #1: Pray
Theresa came to me some years ago with a problem. Monica, a woman with whom she worked, didn’t like her and was saying terrible things about her to her co-workers. Every day, Theresa would go to work, see Monica and know that she was saying these nasty things. Theresa wasn’t in a position to talk to her boss about this, and Monica wouldn’t give her the time of day. She felt helpless and didn’t know what to do.
The Gospel reading for that day was from the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). It’s the same part of the Gospel where Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and live by the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (6:31).
So I suggested that Theresa give Monica a blessing whenever she sees her at work or recalls the hurt Monica has inflicted on her. “But how can I?” Theresa protested. “She’s being so mean.”
“It’s easy,” I said. “Just whisper these words silently to yourself: ‘God, bless Monica.’ It’s as easy as saying ‘God, damn Monica.’ You just change one word!”
It made a big difference. Theresa began saying that simple little prayer dozens of times each day, and things started to improve at work. It seemed as if Monica had lost interest in putting her down.
What happened is that the prayer began to heal Theresa’s own heart. The more she blessed her tormentor, the more she was really able to mean it. Not only did it heal her own heart, it began to heal the distance between her and Monica. Who knows? Maybe in a thousand years they might become friends!
Key #2: Be forgiven
St. Paul wrote: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, NAB). Real communion with Christ is a participation, an immersion into the living experience of the presence of the Lord in our lives. There’s no better way to do that than through the sacraments.
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So if you really want to participate in forgiveness, start by being forgiven. A quick run to church for Reconciliation on a Saturday afternoon, before Mass or whenever the sacrament is celebrated in your parish will do wonders for your soul. It doesn’t have to be much: “Father, I am carrying bitterness in my heart toward someone who has hurt me. I need to be forgiven.”
When we consider all that God has forgiven in our lives, it adds up. The deeper we search into the darkness of our own sinful souls, the deeper goes the forgiveness. I look at my life, my history, and I realize that I’ve been forgiven so much. This ocean of forgiveness in me begins to overflow into the lives of the people around me who need my forgiveness.
Forgiveness, like the Sunday liturgy, is an experience in which we are called to participate fully, actively and consciously. When asking for forgiveness becomes a living, organic reality in my life, something that’s happening to me all the time—Lord, I did it again!—I’m on my way to experiencing the healing that forgiving others can bring.
Key #3: Profess forgiveness
Miguel’s father was an abusive man. Growing up, Miguel endured a daily onslaught of ridicule and humiliation. Once he was out of school and free from his father, he tried to live a normal life, but he carried a heavy load of hurt. His father’s words were never very far from his thoughts.
Miguel’s wife, Lucy, told him that he had to forgive his father. “But how?” Miguel complained. He just didn’t have it in his heart to forgive.
“It’s not just about feelings,” Lucy told him. “It’s about what’s right and good to do. It’s about what will help you to be at peace.” Lucy gave Miguel a pad of Post-it™ notes. On each note she wrote, “I forgive you,” and stuck them all over their house, even in the garage and in Miguel’s pickup truck. Miguel took some to work and put them up around his work area.
A thousand times a day, prompted by Lucy’s Post-it™ notes, Miguel said simply, “I forgive you.” Slowly, over the course of many months, the difficult feelings Miguel harbored for his father began to subside. He never said it directly to his father; the man would not have received it. But Miguel’s daily expression of forgiveness progressed from a pretense to an actuality. In time, he really felt that he was forgiving his abusive father.
Sure, it’s hard to forgive. But it’s harder not to. The toxin of bitterness poisons the heart, and the burden of resentment weighs heavy on the soul. At the same time, forgiveness is the ointment that heals the hurt. From the suffering of the cross, Jesus forgave his crucifiers. And it worked for him.
So use these three keys and unlock for yourself the healing way of forgiveness.
Permission to Publish received for this article, “Keys to Forgiveness,” by Rev. Paul Boudreau, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati,
Father Paul Boudreau
is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut, currently serving the Diocese of Stockton, California, as the parochial administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Mammoth Lakes. He
is co-author with Alice Camille of The Forgiveness Book (ACTA Publications).
By: Frank Frost
“How do we forgive our fathers?” Thus begins the concluding monologue of Smoke Signals, a marvelous film that tells the story of a young Coeur d’Alene Indian, Victor (Adam Beach). In the course of traveling from an Idaho reservation to Phoenix and back, Victor comes to terms with his rage against his father, who had abandoned him a decade before and has recently died. The reconciliation Victor seeks—and resists—extends metaphorically to his acceptance of his friend, fellow traveler and storyteller, Thomas (Evan Adams), whom he has mocked since they were small boys.
■ What hurts have been most challenging to forgive? Why? When has it been difficult for you to ask for or accept forgiveness? Why?
■ How does withholding forgiveness lock you in the pain of the wrong done to you?
■ What will you do to work toward forgiving someone who has hurt you?
Thomas makes Victor’s trip possible with money he has saved in a glass jar, and the price Victor must pay is to take Thomas along. In a series of flashbacks, we learn the story of their intertwining lives. Victor’s father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), was an alcoholic who had saved Thomas’s life as an infant, but who had abandoned Victor and his mother a decade later. On the journey to Phoenix, where Arnold died, the flashbacks detail the reasons Victor lives with rage.
In Phoenix, a young woman named Suzy Song, who had befriended Arnold, tells stories about Arnold that open up the possibility for Victor to understand him, to accept his weakness and his love, and perhaps to forgive him.
But this quirky, funny movie is about more than forgiveness. It’s also a multilayered commentary on the relationship of indigenous Americans to their reservation status and to white culture. (Think another level of forgiveness here.) It’s a parable about the value of story and myth in coming to terms with our moral universe. It’s a movie worth seeing more than once.
Next time you watch Smoke Signals, ASK YOURSELF:
By: Joan McKamey
■ Which relationships are brought to closure by forgiveness? How?
■ Thomas asks, “Shall we forgive [our fathers] for their excesses of warmth? Or coldness? For pushin’ or leanin’? For shuttin’ doors? Or speakin’ through walls? Or never speakin’? Or never bein’ silent?” What’s the significance of Thomas posing these questions? Why did he accompany Victor on his journey?
“I sat in church all my life and heard that I should forgive. But until the experience in the hospital, I didn’t really know what was involved,” says Mary Hallinan. Her “experience in the hospital” occurred nearly 30 years ago as her sister Anne lay dying after being hit by a drunk driver. Mary continues, “That was transformative. The seeds of my current ministry—community, grace, compassion—were in that experience. It totally changed my relationship with God and my sense of self.
“We were prayed through those 10 days by the parish and others. We got fortified by the community to return to the hospital and be present to Anne.”
There were moments of grace during this difficult time. At the time of her sister’s accident and death in Toledo, Mary was practicing law in Chicago. “When I learned of the accident, my firm told me to stay as long as I needed.” Anne could hear, so the family had the chance to say good-bye. “I realized I had a choice of how to deal with this. I could carry the anger, loss and sorrow around forever. It was up to me,” she says.
The drunk driver phoned as thefamily was leaving for the funeral home. Mary answered the call. She says, “I heard the sorrow in his voice. That helped me develop compassion.”
Mary never expected to leave the practice of law, but she felt called to ministry work, which led to seeking a different type of justice. “I studied counseling and religious studies and then worked as a parish director of ministry. I ministered to many who were dealing with forgiveness issues.
“I left my parish position to develop a Ministry of Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Carol Bourne, my partner in ministry, and I have been working together for five years. We use peacemaking circles, a process we learned from Father Dave Kelly of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago. Circles create a safe place where people can share their deepest emotions and speak their truths. They become places for transformation.” Mary and Carol offer programs at the University of Dayton, in parish settings and at a county jail.
“Circles are a restorative-justice practice which aims to heal a harm versus punish a crime. In my mind, it’s what Jesus came to bring us. It’s what the social gospel is about. You don’t have to commit a crime to harm someone. To truly forgive in a transformative way, one needs to heal first.
“Our work involves creating a sense of community which leads to a sense of being loved. Nobody comes to these programs without deep hurts. Forgiving ourselves is a huge element. People who have difficulty forgiving others are also hard on themselves. This goes away when we embrace a God who adores us.
“Our ministry involves a lot of feeling work, not work done in the head. We can’t think ourselves to forgiveness.” To learn more about this ministry, contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Jeanne Hunt
Lilly and Lin were in love and pregnant, but they didn’t want the baby. So Lilly had a first-trimester abortion, and that was that. Or was it? Years later, Lilly is plagued by guilt, remorse and self-hatred. She now sees that she took the life of their innocent child. She thinks that she is a murderer and can never forgive herself. She believes that God cannot forgive her and that she’s headed straight to hell.
Lin and Lilly did eventually marry and have another child. It was at the birth of this child that Lilly began to suffer the emotional pain of the abortion. What was she thinking? Her first baby was a precious gift that her own selfishness had destroyed. Lin struggles with his own guilt and loss.
By: Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Many post-abortion women and men carry emotional scars that heal only when they learn to forgive themselves. Often a young couple succumbs to pressure to abort as a quick solution to an unwanted pregnancy.
The reality of what they’ve done sinks in later when the marks of faith and maturity enter their souls. They may believe that there’s no hope, no mercy and no clemency possible for them.
The Church realizes that offering forgiveness to these women and men is an important ministry. Strides have been made in opening the doors of compassion and healing. Project Rachel (www.hopeafterabortion.com) is a forerunner in this effort. It’s a network of healing offered by specially trained caregivers that can include priests, deacons, sisters, lay staff and volunteers, mental-health professionals, spiritual directors, mentors, chaplains and others, such as medical personnel. These teams provide direct care to women, men and adolescents who have been touched by an abortion loss, enabling them to grieve and find forgiveness.
The amazing witness of thousands who have come through this process attests to its success. In the end, the realization that God’s great desire is to forgive brings a wave of relief and peace that can restore spiritual whole-ness and mend the wounds of abortion and sin.
Lilly and Lin were desperate to find peace. Lilly’s co-worker Maria, who is involved in this ministry in their diocese, gave her the contact information for Project Rachel. With pamphlet in hand, Lilly hurried home after work to share it with Lin. She intends to sign up for the next women’s retreat and to encourage Lin to join a men’s support group. That was a giant first step toward God’s mercy, a step toward healing for which God has long waited.
Preparation: Place a purple cloth, a Bible and a crucifix on a prayer table.
“Jesus, Remember Me” (or similar hymn)
Forgiveness is an elusive grace. Merciful God, save me from all that keeps me from receiving and offering forgiveness. Your forgiveness is freely given, and yet I run from it. On this day, once and for all, lead me into your mercy. Amen.
“When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.”
Pass the crucifix around the circle of participants. Ask each person to hold it as long as he or she likes while the others present pray for that person. As the crucifix is passed, everyone sings “Jesus, Remember Me.”
May God cleanse us of our guilt, forgive our sins and lead us to ever-lasting life. Amen.