The subject of forgiveness has come up in my life a lot lately. Especially on the anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, it is important to remember that forgiveness is the only way through the anger, frustration and pain the comes with the horrific acts that were committed that day. It also applies to us, personally, to the hurts inflicted upon us by family members, friends...anyone during our entire lifetime.
There have been times when people have almost gone postal on me when I say I forgive bin Laden for what he did on 9/11. I do. I forgive him. I also love him.
I can say these things because, as a Catholic Christian, I am called to love everyone, not just the people who are easy to love. But what is love? Love is wanting only good for the person, not bad. It doesn't mean they are a nice person; it doesn't mean their actions are acceptable...it just means you no longer wish evil on them.
After the events of 9/11, which did not affect me personally, but did affect several family members and acquaintances of mine, I began to ponder this...whether to forgive...how to forgive. Forgiveness is not an easy thing, but, ultimately it is a decision and not a feeling. It is a decision to say to the person who hurt you, "I break the bond that anger, resentment, frustration and pain have forged between you and me. I am no longer connected to you." It is releasing them from your life so they no longer have any power over you.
Think about this: someone murders a man's wife. He spends all his time cursing the murderer and harboring anger and resentment toward him. The anger stresses the man and he starts to become ill because of it. In effect, this man is allowing the murderer to kill him as well. He is giving the murderer power over his life. If this man makes the decision to forgive, he releases the murderer from his life forever and can go on living a relatively normal life. His pain will still be there, his loss is still there, and the murderer has not, himself, changed or been affected in any way. Yet this man's life is no longer consumed with anger and he may be able to then experience joy. What better way to honor his wife's memory than to go on and live a productive, peaceful life?
Shouldn't we all be able to do this? Catholic Christians are called to forgive. How can we not forgive, when God is there, waiting for us in the confessional; just waiting to forgive us our sins at any moment? How can we not forgive when Jesus forgave the men who were hammering the nails into his hands, even as they were doing it?
The anger of unforgiveness is destructive. The ironic thing about it is, it only destroys the person who won't forgive. St. Maximillian Kolbe said, "Love alone creates." Loving--hoping only for the good of the person--is healing. The ability to love and forgive are graces from God that are both healing and freeing.
In those times in my life when I was unable to forgive, I simply prayed for the desire to forgive. In those moments when I was so wounded and in pain, I prayed the words of Psalm 51:
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew in me a steadfast spirit...
Restore my joy in your salvation;
sustain in me a willing spirit...
My sacrifice is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.
(Ps 51: 12, 14, 19)
Forgiveness is far from easy. Sometimes, in our woundedness, we need divine assistance. But the act of asking, of opening our hearts to the possibility of forgiveness can result in a healing and the freedom that comes with it.