The Art Of Forgiveness
Pentecost is not simply a feast. It is an
event. THE event in the life of the Church.
Unfortunately few Christians really celebrate
it. Few Christians see its relevance to their
everyday life. Here are some insights on
this feast which I have gathered from various
Two Irishmen, neighbors, had a lifelong quarrel.
One of them was seriously sick, his
called the priest and explained to
Pat has been fighting with Mike Murphy
years. Pat is going to die. Can't you
and patch up their quarrel?" After
persuasion, the priest induced the
Pat to call in Mike for a reconciliation.
In a few minutes, Mike was at the bedside.
He suggests. "Let's make up, Pat.
bygones be bygones." Pat agreed
reluctantly. Mike prepared to leave.
approached the door, Pat raised himself
one elbow in bed and shaking his other
at Murphy, he shouted, 'Remember Mike,
counts only in case I die.'
Forgiveness is beautiful if it is real.
is it beautiful? Because it is so like
There is no Gospel without forgiveness.
is no relationship with God without
There is no relationship with others
forgiveness. It is what makes relationships
move. Imagine having a fantastic Lexus,
all the new fads and luxury - CD player,
eleven speakers, powerful engine, latest
style, on board computer ... and then
you ignite the engine and press the
the engine just sputters and dies out.
problem? You have no gas in the tank.
Ridiculous, no? This is exactly the
in many marriages, in many Churches,
community lifestyles. We have all the
all the contraptions but we lack the
The fuel that drives any relationship
forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi was right
he said that if we practice an eye
eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the
world will be blind and toothless.
justice alone cannot keep us going.
The experience of the Pope
When on December 23, 1983, the Pope
in a bare white-walled prison cell
and sat knee-to-knee in front of his
be assassin, the Pope made a step forward
in his life. He went beyond the hurt
the pain of that terrible shot and
man who was suffering. This is what
is. He did not just forget or pretend
the assassination attempt never happened.
No, he simply looked into the eyes
unshaven, blue jeans convicted man,
forward and took the man's hand in
hands and they spoke. We do no know
was said. Nor can we imagine. He went
the hurt and tried to understand.
Forgiveness is not saying that 'everything
is OK', 'it doesn't matter', 'no big
Forgiving does not negate what was
condone what has been done. Forgiveness
beyond the injury and sees the person.
This is what God does. He does not
in the sense that He obliterates things
his memory. He can not do that because
is omniscient and knows all things.
He does is He doesn't hold our sins
mental grasp to use at a later time.
chooses not to remember it against
bring it up to us again in order to
or punish us.
Forgiveness is an act of release-and-let-go.
When we forgive, we are saying, "What
you did was not fair. It hurt me deeply.
But I will no longer hold it against
in our relationship. I will not carry
grudge or harbor resentment. I will
the pain, and release you. I choose
go. I shall try to understand. After
I realize that I am not faultless.
A catechism class teacher once asked
students to write a one-sentence definition
of forgiveness. One answer has stuck
her. "Forgiveness is like meeting
for the first time." She asked
lad what he meant. He replied, "Well,
if you meet someone for the first time,
is nothing he could have done or not
to make you mad. So forgiveness is
someone for the first time." Cool,
Do not constantly wear the dark glasses
the past hurts when you view the person.
How do we go about forgiving someone who
has hurt us? That's a million dollar question.
I can only give hints because every situation
is different, every hurt is different. Sometimes
the hurts are so deep that you may even need
an outside help - a priest, a counselor,
Hint 1 : We have to remember that forgiveness is
a process. It will take time. You have to
be patient with yourself and with the other.
There will panic. Emotions are what they
are, neutral. If someone pinches me even
if I am in front of the Pope, I shall cry
ouch! It is what I do with these emotions
Hint 2 : Ask God to help you NOT to take a superior
stand. Ask God to open your eyes to your
own sin and His forgiveness to you. Many
times the real problem with unforgiveness
is that of self-righteousness. We think,
"How could he or she have ever done
this to me?" forgetting that we also
have sinned against the other many times.
We can't see the plank in our own eye which
definitely distorts the view of our husband's
or wife's sin.
Jesus said, "First, remove the
from you own eye, and then you will
to remove the speck out of your brother's
eye" (Matthew. 7:5).
We are no better than anyone. If you
never committed adultery, it is not
you are better than those who committed
If you never committed murder, it is
because you are better than those who
Really, the quickest way to become
who forgives easily is to ask God to
to you your own sin as well as the
of His forgiveness towards you. Once
have seen the plank in your own eye,
attitude toward your mate will change
No one is faultless. This is how Jesus
Peter to forgive seventy times seven.
told him the story of a man who was
by his lord to repay an impossible
He asked his lord if he would have
so that he could repay everything.
lord, instead, was moved with compassion
and chose to release him by forgiving
entire debt. This servant who had been
then went out and refused to forgive
man a very small debt. His lord returned
and asked him, "Should you not
have had compassion on your fellow
just as I had pity on you?" (Matthew.
Hint 3. Ask God for a willing heart. Many times
this is one of the simplest reasons why you
refuse to forgive. You just don't want to
forgive; you would rather nurse the resentment
and punish the other for his offense.
Once you see your own sin, you now
ask God for a willing heart to forgive.
will give it to you if you will just
Hint 4 : Remember that you will never know the
facts and circumstances that led the other
to act as he did. You will never know the
whole story. Never.
There is a very cool Persian fable
helps me. It may help you. There was
a wise king of Persia who had four
He sent his oldest son on a long journey
to see a mango tree. He dutifully journeyed
to the farthest reaches of the kingdom,
the tree, and returned. Some time later,
he sent his second son on the same
and so on until all four sons had seen
tree. He then called them together
for a careful description of the tree.
first thought that it was nothing more
an old stump. The second disagreed,
it as covered in light green leaves.
third declared that the tree was covered
with lovely flowers, while the fourth
it as full of fruit that looked like
Then the brothers decided that their
had sent them to see four different
But their father explained that they
merely seen the same tree in a different
It is the same in our relationships
others. When it comes to people, we
have seen the tree in all its seasons
the fable would remind us. If judgments
be made, let us take care to err on
of mercy, knowing that we have not
and can probably never know, the whole
about another. Let us take care to
that judgment as we would have it applied
to us. If we were in the same circumstances,
we may have done the same.
Hint 5. Pray for the one who has injured you. Jesus
Christ himself suggested it. "Pray for
those who persecute you, that you may be
sons of your Father in heaven." (Matthew
5,44) Pray good things for them - that their
family may blossom, that they may win the
lottery, that they may prosper materially
and spiritually. The amazing thing is that
when you pray for your enemies, the resentment
inside you melts down like ice in an oven.
Hint 6. Make the choice to forgive. Forgiveness
does not just happen! Jesus spoke about forgiveness
"from the heart" (Matthew 18:35).
Out of gratitude for the forgiveness you
have received from God and others, you may
now choose forgiveness. Before you ever come
to seek reconciliation with your mate, you
must first deal with it at the heart level.
Once you have chosen to forgive in your heart,
then you are ready to talk about the offense
with the other.
This choice within your heart does
upon whether you feel like forgiving.
fact, your choice to forgive will probably
be contrary to your feelings. If you
waiting for some overwhelming sense
before you actually make the choice
you will never do it. The feelings
normally come after you have made the
to forgive, not before.
We struggle with this concept of action-before-feeling
because our culture is so feeling-oriented.
People today only want to do what feels
However, Jesus taught that we should
the opposite when it comes to forgiveness.
Hint 7 : If possible, speak with the one who has
hurt you. "...If your brother sins against
you, go and tell him his fault between you
and him alone" (Matthew. 18:15). Verbalize
your forgiveness with the motivation of seeking
reconciliation. Jesus also said in another
place that once you have spoken to the person
who has offended you, "...if he repents,
forgive him" (Luke 17:7).
The other person may not respond. The
person may not change. Do not be upset.
not let the reaction of the other person
determine your actions. You forgive.
may follow and may not. At this point,
does not depend on you.
The Real Freedom
Once you have forgiven, stick to these
A. Promise yourself never to condemn
other again with his/her past faults;
not bring these issues up again unless
are boiling within you - in that case,
B. Promise yourself not to recount
his/her failures to anyone else; this
constitute gossip; "love covers
C. Stop brooding over these issues
own mind. If you dwell on these offenses,
anger and resentment will return. Stop
past events. We all have a tendency
continuous replays. No, leave the past
where it belongs - the past. Twice
a light bout with food poisoning and
time it came when I ate food which
the day before. The lesson? Never eat
The Apostle Paul associates tenderness
heart with forgiveness. He said, "Be
kind to one another, tender-hearted,
one another, just as God in Christ
you" (Eph. 4:32). This is how
forgiven us : completely and repeatedly.
And this forgiveness has made us new.
can make others new.
Forgiveness is so powerful it can transform
a person's life. Forgiveness is an
faith born out of our love for the
of others. In the book Les Miserables,
Hugo speaks of a man, Jean Valjean,
only crime was the theft of a loaf
to feed his sister's starving children.
served nineteen years for this crime
being turned out penniless on the streets.
Hardened and unable to find work as
convict, Valjean finally makes his
the home of a good old bishop, who
him supper and a bed for the night.
Valjean using his best silver platters
candlesticks, which Valjean recognizes
being highly valuable. Yielding to
Valjean steals the bishop's silver
and slips away from the bishop's home,
is soon caught and returned by the
police. When shown the silver plates,
bishop says to the apprehending policeman,
"Why?, I gave them to him."
then turning to the thief Valjean,
"And Jean, you forgot to take
A shocked and eternally grateful Valjean
accepts the candlesticks as more than
silver pieces, but as expressions of
beyond measure. The bishop's compassion
freedom back to Valjean. The real freedom.
One act of forgiveness can have a tremendous
impact not only on us but also on the life
of the person receiving it. It ignites the
divine in us. Let us never be afraid to risk...
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright