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Word Magazine May 1999 Page 5-6
FAMILY INSIGHTS – FORGIVENESS
By Fr. Jason DelVitto
“No one must despair over his failings, for forgiveness has sprung up from the grave. . .”
(The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom)
The capacity to receive and offer forgiveness has been given to us through the grace of God. In and through our Lord Jesus Christ, the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation is available to all of us through the sacramental life of the Church. The mystery of forgiveness remains one of the most powerful and profound realities of life lived in the Risen Christ. We all know, to some extent, the liberating experience of the power of forgiveness and the depth of healing that can take place within ourselves when we are confronted with the mercy of God. The joy experienced when, for example, family members have been reconciled after long periods of estrangement is sometimes beyond words. The Paschal theme of forgiveness, echoed in the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, calls all of us to celebrate and offer thanks to God for his life-giving acts of redemption. “No one must despair over his failings …” is the assurance to the human race by God that, in Him, life has triumphed over death and that hope, experienced as forgiveness, reigns. Yet, as “fallen human beings,” it remains difficult at times for us to receive gifts from God and even more difficult to appropriate and share those gifts with others. Ultimately, our ability to receive and offer anything lies in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, all is possible in and only through Jesus.
Within the family community, the dynamics of forgiveness offer each of its members a continuous source of strength and renewal. All relationships, even those aspiring to the highest expressions of love, are confronted with life’s difficulties and personal injuries, both intentional and unintentional, which can wound the family system. The practice of forgiveness among family members allows the family to maintain itself as a community of love and mutual respect within which each of its members can grow with a deep sense of responsibility and belonging. When the possibility of forgiveness by fellow members of the family community is communicated by word and deed, the family is only strengthened and continues to see itself as a life-giving community. This paradigm is most profoundly expressed within the life of the Church, specifically through the sacraments of confession and penance. Our Lord, the Giver of Life, heals our infirmities and is our reconciliation with God and among each other.
Practicing forgiveness remains difficult for all of us, yet it is certainly possible. We may consider the following ideas as we posture ourselves to be forgiving people. First of all, we must realize that all true forgiveness is made possible only by God. In order to forgive, we must pray to God to allow us to see our own faults, to give us the strength and grace to repent of our ways, and to look mercifully on the faults of others and on our and their past sinful words and deeds. Indeed, one of the most difficult feats in the Christian struggle is to allow ourselves to believe firmly in the mercy and forgiveness of God and to believe that He has, can and will forgive our sins. He wants us to be healed! Through God’s merciful forgiveness, He does consign our past sins to oblivion, not remembering them, and allows us the freedom to reach forward to life in Him. God holds no grudges. And we all know very well how holding on to our past sins and those of our fellow family members can suffocate true growth in love. An atmosphere of openness and mutual trust goes a long way in the process of forgiveness. In his text, Family Communication, Sven Wahlroos, Ph.D., makes the point that if true and intimate relationships are to continue and grow, forgiving and forgetting the past sins of family members is crucial to healthy family life if true and intimate relationships are to continue and grow. This is not to imply that we are not responsible to God and others for what we have done, but rather, that through and within the forgiving community, we take responsibility for our misdeeds, acknowledging them and continuing to repent of our ways in faith and love. It takes a forgiving community to allow this to happen.
Secondly, forgiveness takes practice. God gives us the capacity to forgive in Christ, and we can truly accomplish this. By practicing forgiveness in ways which we choose, it will be good for us to remember that we are human beings in process. Each one of us has arrived at our present moment in life through a multitude of circumstances and conditions. Our Lord surely knows this as He sees and judges our lives in the way only He can — as the One who truly knows the depths of our hearts. Forgiving families know that they themselves are in process and that, as part of that process, practicing the gift of forgiveness takes time, patience and work, bearing each other’s weaknesses.
Finally, forgiving communities or families allow God to work through the power of His Holy Spirit. When we do forgive, it is ultimately and only by the grace of God that we are able to appropriate that power of forgiveness which, once again, is a gift of God. Offering to God our inadequacies and our notions of powerlessness to forgive from the heart can be the first step in our journey as receivers and communicators of God’s love for each of us.