If 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.
LIVING IN THE PAST
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 BRINGS THE BEAUTY OF NEW LIFE
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