Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and “Letting go”

Yesterday, in reflecting on some particular aspects of my life over the past few years, I found myself meditating on the difference between Reconciliation and Forgiveness.

Fr Rohr’s daily meditation is timely:

“The religious word for this letting go is forgiveness. You see the imperfect moment for what it is, and you hand it over to God. You refuse to let any negative storyline or self-serving agenda define your life.”

To let go isn’t always easy, especially when there is the need for forgiveness without the possibility of reconciliation. Reconciliation with another means both must be involved; both must actively be seeking to mend that which has been injured or broken. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is something I can (and often must) do on my own. When we find ourselves in situations where, for whatever reasons, the cooperative work of reconciliation isn’t possible, we must still work to find the ability to forgive, lest we allow some past hurt or injury to keep us from being who we are called to be.

And, as Fr. Rohr points out, letting go of something doesn’t mean simply ignoring it, denying it, or tossing it away with the morning trash. It means handing it over to God, trusting that God will do with it whatever is best to bring about full healing in ways we can’t even imagine.

TFTD: Forgiveness and Reclaiming our Human Dignity

Almost by definition, forgiveness is a mutual act. There is both the one who forgives, and the one who is forgiven. Forgiveness is one piece of the more full and all-encompassing act of reconciliation, by which not only is a wound healed, but a broken relationship is restored.

In my own experience, there are two lessons about forgiveness that have been hard for me to learn.  The first is that giving forgiveness — at least forgiveness that’s worth giving — is not a singular act. No, it is something that must happen over and over until my own heart is healed and the need to forgive no longer exists. This is the lesson of the so-called Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in the Gospel of Matthew (18:21-22):

Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

The second lesson about forgiveness may be even more of a challenge.  It’s the challenge to forgive even when the other person does want, request, or even acknowledge the need to be forgiven. In some sense, this is almost like a second injury. It’s one thing to be hurt deeply by another person; it’s another thing to have that injury ignored, minimized, or otherwise unseen and unacknowledged. And yet … even in such situations as this, forgive we must. As Henri Nouwen writes,

But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts and to reclaim our human dignity...The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts. (Bread for the Journey, January 27, emphasis added)

Forgiveness is first and foremost something we do for ourselves, and we do so because failing to forgive means we are carrying around a weight and burden we don’t need. Failure to forgive is an act of self-injury.

Is there someone I need to forgive today, whether or not he/she knows it? Let today be the dawn of a new day — the day I take one step along the path of forgiveness, a path that leads me to reclaim the fullness of my human dignity and healing my injured heart.

All images © 2012 Timothy MacGeorge

Thank you, Cardinal George

Most of us are pretty good at calling someone out when they say mean, untruthful, or outrageous things.  Thus, it was no surprise that recent remarks made by Chicago’s Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, comparing the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan were met with justified outcry and condemnation.

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago

The Chicago Tribune is reporting today that His Eminence has publicly apologized, stating that he is “…truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused.”

Just as quickly as we stand up against that which is wrong, we must also stand up quickly in support of that which is right.

Cardinal George deserves to be thanked for recognizing the real impact of his words and the potential harm they could have done, had they been left as is. He should also be thanked for providing the example of what any Christian should do whenever he recognizes he has made a mistake. The simple word “sin” has many variations in our Hebrew and Greek patrimony. Among these various terms are words that mean “missing the mark” or suggest that a relationship has been harmed or broken. Cardinal George’s apology publicly recognizes that whatever point he was trying to make, his comparison to the KKK was way off the mark. He also recognizes that words are powerful — they can both build up and tear down. While they can never be unspoken, they can and must be corrected whenever we realize that something we have said has done harm to others. This, Cardinal George has done. And for that, he should be thanked.

My prayer this Saturday morning is that the Cardinal’s apology will be welcomed and met with forgiveness. Perhaps this will be the dawn of a new day in the Church, and I pray that a spirit of reconciliation will help create an atmosphere of openness and dialogue between Church authorities and those of us who seek a deeper and richer theology of sexuality in light of the lived experience of God’s LGBT children.