The Healing Aspect of Forgiveness
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Forgiveness. Sometimes its so hard to forgive someone who has deeply hurt us. Maybe we feel betrayed or attacked or deeply disappointed. Many times our pride or ego have been stepped on and we hold on to our anger and become stubborn. Think of a time when you have been seriously hurt and how you felt. Forgiving a person who has deeply hurt us surely isn’t easy and if those who hurt us are unrepentant, forgiveness seems all the more impossible and unnecessary.
Yet forgiving the one who hurt us is the only way that we ourselves can get beyond our hurt and pain. Forgiving another not only releases the other from whatever wrong or evil they have done but it just as much releases us from the darkness of our painful memory.
In today’s Gospel story, we get a glimpse of Peter wrestling with this topic of forgiveness. “How many times,” he asks Jesus, “do I have to forgive another? Seven times?”
Yet our Lord clearly lays out the place of forgiveness and mercy at the center of our lives. “Not seven but 70x7!” We forgive an unlimited amount. Mercy and grace know no limits or boundaries. Simply put, we forgive continuously because God forgives us! That is a summary of the Gospel story of the unforgiving servant. A servant owed an insurmountable debt to the king and the king willingly forgave the entire debt only to have the servant act unforgiving to his fellow servant. This is unacceptable to God because when we don’t forgive others, we close off our own capacity to receive God’s mercy. In other words, we hurt ourselves by not forgiving others!
I have read numerous stories of unbelievable acts of horror followed by equally unbelievable examples of forgiveness. I remember a story about Rebecca DeMauro, whose 12 year old daughter, Andi, was kidnapped, raped and killed in Arkansas on May 15, 1999. Of course, this tragedy devastated the parents and family and all those who knew Andi. The mother Rebecca shared that for a long period of time she couldn’t function or go forward in her life because she was filled with such anger, rage, and hatred toward the murderer. She only wanted vengeance. It didn’t matter that the murderer received the death penalty. She hated him and she “wanted to blow out his brains. She wanted him to suffer long and slow. She didn’t think this man was human.”
One morning she was watching a Good Morning America story on Gary Ridgway, the most prolific serial killer in US history. This murderer killed 48 women. She watched with great interest as the victims’ families were each allotted ten minutes to give a victim impact statement. She heard expressions of deep pain and extreme hatred as the victims’ families repeated in various ways ‘I hope you rot in hell. You are a monster. You deserve to suffer and die many deaths.” The serial killer sat stoic and hard, his eyes narrowed, seemingly full of hate.
None of these comments touched Rebecca DeMauro until Bob Rule, father of 16-year-old Linda Rule, looked straight at the murderer and said:‘Mr. Ridgway, there are people here who hate you. I’m not one of them. I forgive you for what you’ve done. You’ve made it difficult for me to live up to my faith but I know what God teaches and expects of me and I forgive you. Jesus doesn’t say to forgive just certain people, he tells us to forgive all. And He has given me the strength and ability to forgive you. So, you are forgiven.’
Ridgway’s face softened and his lips began to tremble. Then he began to cry. At that precise moment, Rebecca DeMauro realized that the only way she would be able to go on living was to stop hating. “I had to do what Bob Rule did,” she confessed “and let go of my hatred and my pain. The only way I could let my daughter rest in peace and I myself find peace was to forgive.”
She revealed how she was so consumed with hate for the man who had murdered her daughter that her heart and soul had became black. “It nearly killed me,” she admitted “and almost destroyed my family, too. What Bob Rule did that day saved my life. It taught me that I can choose to forgive. God can give me the strength to forgive. This revelation was life-giving for me.”
Forgiving the other, including the one who has hurt us, opens us up to life, to a new life. Forgiveness opens us up to receiving God’s mercy and grace, and thus allows us to live in peace.
Reflect on a few of these beautiful thoughts on the power of forgiveness:
"Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and to realize that prisoner is you!" (Theologian Lewis Smedes)
“When you forgive you can’t change the past but you do open up a new future – for yourself and for the one you forgive.”
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” (Ghandi)
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. The one who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” (Martin Luther King)
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.” (C. S. Lewis)
“Holding on to a grudge doesn’t make you strong, it makes you bitter. Forgiving doesn’t make you weak, it sets you free.”
“Forgiveness doesn’t excuse inappropriate behavior. Forgiveness prevents this inexcusable behavior to keep a hold on you and to destroy your heart.”
“You will know that forgiveness has truly taken root in you when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
“Thinking about forgiveness is not enough. You must come to a moment when you say, ‘With God’s help I now forgive.” (Norman Vincent Peale)
“Who is a God like you, who pardons our sins and forgives the transgressions of the remnant of his inheritance. You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us. You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depth of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)
“Forgive one another as God has forgiven you.” (Saint Paul)
Forgiving one who has deeply hurt you is extremely difficult. Sometimes seemingly impossible. Yet Christ reveals to us that it is the only path forward in life, it is the only path toward finding healing and grace and a life of peace.