For­giv­ing 77 times

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - MANOLING V. FRAN­CISCO, S.J.

Our read­ings to­day in­vite us to be mer­ci­ful to­ward others as God is mer­ci­ful to­ward us. In­deed, to for­give is one of the most dif­fi­cult virtues to live out. Fr. Bill McGary once shared when we were young scholas­tics that the mark of a gen­uine Chris­tian com­mu­nity is not the ab­sence of con­flict, but the abil­ity of the mem­bers to for­give one another. Some re­flec­tions about the virtue of for­give­ness.

For­give­ness is not an emo­tion but a de­ci­sion. Some of us only con­sider for­giv­ing af­ter the hurt has dis­si­pated. How­ever, we can­not pro­gram our hearts what to feel or not feel. We can­not com­pel our hearts to no longer hurt. And the deeper the hurt the longer it lingers. Nonethe­less, while we can­not choose our emo­tions, we can choose how to deal with them. We can choose to tran­scend the hurt and for­give an of­fender, which alas does not nec­es­sar­ily re­sult in the dis­ap­pear­ance of the pain or anger. Nonethe­less, this man­i­fests the power of for­give­ness – the graced ca­pac­ity to treat my of­fender with re­spect and char­ity, not­with­stand­ing the lin­ger­ing hurt and mem­ory of the wrong­do­ing.

Sec­ond, for­give­ness, while a de­ci­sion made at a mo­ment in time, is of­ten a long-drawn process. We need to rec­og­nize where we are in this process of for­giv­ing. Ini­tially, be­cause of the in­tense hurt and anger, per­haps the most I can do to for­give an of­fender is to keep my dis­tance, know­ing that any con­fronta­tion may ex­ac­er­bate the sit­u­a­tion. As the hurt and anger abate per­haps I might be ca­pa­ble of en­gag­ing in con­ver­sa­tion, dis­cussing ev­ery­thing un­der the sun save the rea­son for our con­flict. Still later on, I might be will­ing to ini­ti­ate a di­a­logue about our con­flict and of­fer to rec­on­cile.

God does not co­erce us to for­give be­yond our readi­ness. And just as God does not force us be­yond our readi­ness, nei­ther can we force the other to rec­on­cile with us. To re­spect the other is to re­spect his or her de­ci­sion to re­ject my of­fer of re­newed friend­ship. And to re­spect my­self is to rec­og­nize where I am in this long process of for­give­ness and my readi­ness to for­give or rec­on­cile with the other.

Third, for­give­ness, while an of­fer to re­new friend­ship, does not ne­ces­si­tate restor­ing the orig­i­nal re­la­tion­ship. A woman, af­ter years of be­ing hurt by her hus­band’s phi­lan­der­ing, can de­cide to sep­a­rate from him defini­tively. Later on she can de­cide to for­give him with­out nec­es­sar­ily co­hab­it­ing with him again. Or one can de­cide to for­give a friend his debts yet de­ter­mine not to loan him again in the fu­ture. Nonethe­less, one can be friends with him again de­spite his un­paid debt and one’s de­ci­sion to de­sist from lend­ing him money in the fu­ture.

Fourth, for­give­ness, while an act of char­ity to­ward one’s of­fender, is also an act of char­ity to­ward one­self. For as long as I do not for­give an of­fender, I am bur­dened by the weight of anger and ha­tred. And as long as I choose not to for­give my of­fender para­dox­i­cally wields power to make my life mis­er­able. Hence, while for­giv­ing my of­fender is an act of char­ity to­ward him or her, it is at the same time an act of char­ity to­ward one­self. For in for­giv­ing the other, I free my­self from his or her in­flu­ence to make me mis­er­able. In for­giv­ing the other, I al­low my­self to move on. And oc­ca­sion­ally, when I fi­nally de­cide to for­give my of­fender, mys­te­ri­ously the hurt sud­denly dis­si­pates, re­sult­ing in a light­ness of be­ing.

Fi­nally, for­give­ness, while a free hu­man act, is ul­ti­mately a grace. For­give­ness is the grace of God work­ing within us. To for­give re­quires her­culean ef­forts to process the anger and hurt within, to tame the com­pul­sion to seek vengeance, to cur­tail the tongue from spew­ing toxic state­ments. Ul­ti­mately, I can only for­give another through grace op­er­at­ing within me. And many times though I may want to for­give I find my­self in­ca­pable of do­ing so. Then un­ex­pect­edly grace in­dwells me and I am filled with mag­na­nim­ity to for­give with­out count­ing the cost.

And so the Lord to­day in­vites us to for­give not seven times but sev­enty-seven times, which in Ara­maic nu­merol­ogy means an in­fi­nite num­ber of times. Just as the Lord does not tire for­giv­ing us, es­pe­cially when we come to him with a con­trite heart, so too are we in­vited to for­give our neigh­bors and em­body God’s ten­der mercy for the world.

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