A wise person knows what it means to forgive –he was bullied by his supervisor for many years at work until he finally left his employer for another job. He offered three somewhat earthy bits of practical advice that are worth sharing. He said, "I'm not very good at spiritual discipline, but after being called by a friend to practice what I preach, I sat alone in my study and made believe I was a priest in the confessional. I said out loud, 'Boss, in the name of God, I forgive you.' I felt kind of foolish at this creative hypocrisy, but it did get the juices of forgiveness going. I felt the caricature I had made of the boss change. Oh, a year later when that same boss drove past my house I had to go through the whole forgiveness process again. Forgiveness by fallible creatures is repetitious." That's real wisdom. For us weak creatures forgiveness indeed turns out to be a repetitious affair.
The second bit of wisdom he offers is this: "Don't forgive too fast." By that he doesn't mean to harbor lingering revenge. He means that we have to allow time for the hurt to surface, for the hatred to be visible and recognized and acknowledged to the point when perhaps we can say out loud, "I hate you." It is only when the hurt, the enemy, is out there and regurgitated that we can feel its full impact and come to terms with forgiveness. That's what our friend means by saying "Don't forgive too fast." Otherwise our forgiveness is too shallow. It hasn't grabbed sufficiently hold of the evil.
And finally he gives this delightful advice: "It's good to remember that when you pray for your enemies it doesn't automatically make them your friends. They are still your enemy. They're still out to get you. They still hate your guts." And he adds for emphasis: "They are still your enemies and you'd better guard against them because they might wallop you when you're down on your knees." But that's their problem.
And yet, despite our Lord's example and his command to forgive, there are people who cannot bring themselves to offer forgiveness. And there are people who cannot bring themselves to accept it. Some people get so caught up in their own guilt that they cannot accept forgiveness, even from God. They feel there is no hope for themselves either in this world or the next. They spend their time hugging their guilt to themselves, thereby blocking out the forgiveness of the Christ who is on record for forgiving others.
There was a mother whose daughter had not talked to her in ten years. It seems that the mother’s son-in-law was a real pompous jackass. She remembered attending her grand-daughter’s high school graduation and this son-in-law asked to see the girl’s diploma. When he looked at it, he said to the graduate, you’re too stupid to graduate from any school. Crude and rude, this mother had no love for this man’s illusion that he was better than God.
Then on Holy Thursday she gets a call from another daughter to call her estranged daughter. She was aware that her daughter had a serious operation, a stroke and multiple medical complications. She called and only got the answering machine and left a message to call back. To her surprise and delight, this daughter called back and they had a pleasant conversation for 45 minutes. It was like they had been always been friends. She learned that her daughter survived a life-threatening surgery and had a cadaver vein transplanted that saved her life. They promised to stay in touch. When I asked this mother how did she felt after ten years. She was grateful she had forgiven her daughter for not wanting to talk to her for ten years.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that we allow the grace of God’s mercy to reach inside our souls to surrender the shame and forgive ourselves and one another. Fr. Matt