Tag Archives: forgiveness

Why do we not forgive?

forgiveness1If forgiveness is so important, both to receive for the wrongs we have done as well as to give to others who have injured us, we must ask this question:  “Why do we not forgive?” Here are some reasons that may hinder us from forgiving:


If we are ultra-sensitive to things that people may say about us or do to us, we can easily “exaggerate” the hurts that we feel that we suffer.  For example, a slight injury may be blown out of proportion and become a great offense. Or some injury that is more imagined than real can turn us with a hard heart against someone. Sometimes extreme sensitiveness can make us deal with hurts in very bizarre ways.

A story was told about a woman who was apparently very sensitive. She wrote a number of letters that she called her “after letters.”  In these letters she wrote to people she felt had hurt her by their words or deeds or thoughtlessness. She was going to put it in her will that after she died these letters would be mailed out to all the people she felt had offended her. In this way they would feel upset that they hurt this poor lady and now that she was gone there was no opportunity to express their apologies or seek reconciliation. If we want to find mercy, one of the best things to do is to throwaway all our “after letters” and deal with things that we find offensive as soon as possible.This way they will not be exaggerated in our minds and hearts.


Somewhat like the previous case of extreme sensitiveness are people who “brood” over past hurts.  In this way they keep those hurts very fresh and alive in their minds and hearts. When they speak about hurts that occurred 25 years ago, they make it sound as if they happened 25 minutes ago! People who always bring up the past in their arguments need to stop living in the past.  How can we do that?  First of all, make an effort to resolve past injuries by forgiving from the heart. Let these things go. How many families have brothers and sisters, or parents and children, who have remained divided for years and years because of things that happened when they were young children.  Walls of silence were built up because they couldn’t let go of the past!

Another thing we need to do is not to replay the “old tapes” in our minds by reviewing over and over again all the injustices and the hurts that others have done to us. That is a formula for bitterness and unhappiness. We all need to make our peace with the past, and forgiveness is a very important part of that process. Once we have made peace, accepting what has happened or forgiving those who have actually injured us, then we can let go of the past and live the present and the future with joy and happiness. The last thing we want to happen in our lives is to grow old being bitter over so many negative experiences in the past.


Many people refuse to forgive because of a false sense of pride. They feel that their “honor” has been offended and so they refuse to let go of the injury that was done to them. In the past, people would even resort to a duel to the death as a way of dealing with the injury done to their honor. The Church has always condemned duels because it results in both a homicide and a suicide. No one has the right to take the life of another nor do they have the right to expose their own life to an untimely death. The Christian way to resolve these differences is to grant forgiveness.


Vengeance, or the desire to get back at someone who has offended us, often follows from a false sense of pride. This desire to inflict hurt on someone who has hurt us easily arises spontaneously in a heart that is filled with bitterness.  One needs to learn to let go. Saint Paul gives this very important teaching to the ancient Romans in his letter to them: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for God’s wrath;  for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ Rather, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink … ‘ Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-21)


Mercy can transform a person’s life.  Letting go of hurts, especially those that are long-standing, will set theheart free to receive God’s grace and peace. This applies not only to the one who forgives but even to the one who is forgiven. St Augustine said that it was St Stephen’s prayer to forgive those who were stoning him to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) that won the grace of conversion for Saul of Tarsus to become the great Apostle St Paul. It was also the prayer of the dying St Maria Goretti, “Lord, forgive Alexander” that ultimately won the grace of conversion for Alexander Serenelli from a life of sin to a life of sanctity.

Our Lord shows the beauty of the effects of mercy in His teachings in the parables of mercy (ef. Luke 15:1-32)  of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son.   Similarly, as there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine sinners who did not need to repent; the same can be said of those who forgive that there is more joy in Heaven over one who forgives his brother or sister from his heart than over ninety-nine who did not need to forgive. – Fr Andrew Apostoli cfr @ papalencyclical.net

Forgive all injuries – Meditating on the sixth Spiritual Work of Mercy

forgivenessOf all the things about which I preach, very few (if any) provoke as strong (and usually negative) a reaction as the call to forgive. I get more angry pushback after a Mass at which I preach on forgiveness than when I speak about chastity, greed, or any other challenging moral topic.

It would seem that the anger is rooted in two things: first, that the call to forgive implies some dishonouring or diminishing of the pain or injustice someone has experienced, and second, that it seems to imply that there is a requirement to stay in or resume relationships that are poisonous or dysfunctional. But forgiveness need not imply either of these.

Forgiveness is a concept that is often misunderstood. Many people interpret it to mean that they must stop having negative feelings about something that happened to them, or toward someone who hurt them. Many also think of forgiveness as a work they must do out of their own power, rather than as a gift to be received from God. No! Forgiveness is a work of God within us, whereby He acts to free us from the poisonous effects of bitterness and grief that often accompany the harm that was inflicted upon us.

Forgiveness is letting go of the need to change the past. Obviously, we cannot change the past; we cannot change what has happened. But we too easily think that ruminating over past hurts will somehow change what happened or even “get back at” the other person. It will not. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Clinging to our hurt and anger, understandable though it may be, only harms us.

Thus forgiveness is first for us, more so than for the other. In calling us to forgive, God is offering us the gift to be free of a great deal of poison and of a costly emotional state that robs us of joy and strength. Carrying anger and hurt is like lugging around bowling balls all day long. What a relief it is to just be free of that weight! And this is what God offers when He gives us the grace to forgive, to let go of the need to change the past, to let go of the desire for others to suffer because of what they have done to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that we are able or even should resume relationships with people who have done us great harm. At times we are able to do so, but it is not always advisable. Sometimes relationships are poisonous for both parties involved. Sometimes, because the other person has not or cannot repent (perhaps because of addictions or deep-seated drives), it is too dangerous to be close to him or her. Thus Scripture says, If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom 12:18).

Receiving the gift of forgiveness requires a growing relationship with God and a trust that He sees and knows all things. As my relationship with God grows, it increasingly becomes enough for me to know that if someone who has harmed me does not repent (and I pray that he does), he is going to have to answer to God one day. God sees all things, understands all things, and will deal with things in the best way. Increasingly, I am content to leave most things to Him.

How is the forgiving of injuries a spiritual work of mercy? First of all, as we have seen, it is a work of mercy toward our very self. Anger, hurt, and nursing grudges all sap us of strength, stress us, and vex us. Receiving the gift to forgive is a mercy for us since we are relieved of these burdens. Our strength and energy can be directed to other, better things. We even sleep better!

And because our strength is directed to good and profitable things, we are now better able to love and be available to others. This, too, is a great mercy.

It is not always the case that the harm to us is so great that we cannot be restored to a relationship with those who have harmed us. Thus, forgiving injuries is also a work of mercy to the one who has harmed us; it can restore to them a relationship with us that is important to them. It is a very great gift to offer mercy and pardon to one who has harmed us and seeks our forgiveness.

In the family and in the wider community as well, forgiving injuries is a work of mercy, since it breaks the cycle of anger and retribution that often tears families, communities, and nations apart. It is a restorative work that knits together ties that have frayed.

This is a great work of mercy indeed. In moments of grave harm it may be difficult to access, but always pray for this gift. Almost nothing is more poisonous, both to us and others, than festering anger and resentment. Thus, to forgive injuries is a great, healing gift to receive from God and share with others. Ah, the beauty of mercy! – Msgr Charles Pope @ blog.adw.org


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