By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
There were such excellent responses to the previous issue on forgiveness that this month’s newsletter is a continuation of last month’s. We will consider the next section of the Lord’s Prayer, “and lead us not into temptation,” in February. That will be a more appropriate time for this theme as Lent will be upon us.
AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE…
“This is a very good reflection. To be honest, it is a concept that has troubled me for a long time. In general, I am in agreement with your interpretation but I am wondering if there are no circumstances which go beyond the limit of what might be reasonably expected. For example, if someone cheats you in a business transaction would you both forgive and forget that person? Does forgiveness involve dealing with that person again? What happens if their cheating jeopardizes your own family’s well-being? Secondly, what happens if more than money is involved in the situation, like when you are the victim of violence or an assault? What then should be expected of thinking people?” Mike – Chairman, investment firm
In my response to Mike I recommended an excellent book that helped get me through a difficult interpersonal situation which resulted in my being able to forgive someone who had tried his best to do me harm. The book is called, “Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” and is by Lewis Smedes. One of the points the author makes early on in the book is that forgiving does not always mean forgetting; if the other has an abusive personality, for example, it would be wise to protect yourself from such a person in the future. Needless to say I did not seek the company of the man mentioned above after our encounter but I have learned to pray for his well-being.
“I value your first-hand account of dealing with forgiveness by applying Jesus’ words to his disciples to ‘wash’ each other’s feet to seeking reconciliation with one of your brother Jesuits. I teach a men’s bible study group and we were recently discussing reconciliation with God through the atoning sacrifice of his Son on the Cross. Suddenly, one of the men blurted out, “I don’t know how I can ever be reconciled to God when I can’t even reconcile with my own son!” I asked if he prayed the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday at Mass. He acknowledged that he did. I showed him Matthew 6:9-13 where Jesus teaches his disciples the Our Father and then the following two verses which read, “If you forgive people for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you….” And I suggested that God’s forgiveness is ‘underneath’ ours and creates and supports it. Author Thomas Watson, in answer to the question: When do we forgive others?, responds – “When we strive against all thoughts of revenge, when we will not do our enemies mischief but wish them well, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them…” (“Body of Divinity,” page 581) – Chuck, recently retired operations manager for an insurance company
“An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. ‘Could it be,’ asked one of the tudents, ‘when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?’ ‘No,” answered the rabbi. Another asked, ‘Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?’ ‘No,” answered the rabbi. ‘Then when is it?’ the pupils demanded. ‘It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.’ – Tales of the Hasidim
“Thanks for this reflection on ‘washing’ another’s feet. In doing the suggested ‘homework’ of asking whose feet need washing in my life, I found that I am currently holding grudges against several service-providing institutions. Since it is virtually impossible to ‘wash’ the feet of any one person in these institutions or reconcile with a particular person in them, I have decided instead to stop throwing more dirt around by my usual response of bad-mouthing the offending organizations.” – Scott, Accountant
“The most meaningful experience I have had regarding forgiving another was with my former husband. Initially, I was very upset with his behavior and wanted him to understand how I felt and what I was going through emotionally. Thanks to prayer and my faith, I came to the realization that he could never know exactly how I felt or the impact that his leaving had on me. But I also came to the realization that I would never be able to fully understand his feelings either. God blessed me through all my subsequent struggles with a strong faith and the ability to overcome all of the difficulties that came with being left with two children to raise and no financial support from my former husband. Now, many years later, if I become upset with someone I recall my past experience and realize again that we are each unique and we can’t know fully why someone else does something hurtful. This knowledge has made it easier for me to forgive others.” – Margaret, Financial manager for a small business
“Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask God for what we need without saying ‘please’ and when we receive what we prayed for we often forget to say ‘thank you.’ The good Lord is a forgiving father indeed. No wonder the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, ‘Forgive our sins.’ – Jim, retired family doctor
“For the love of a tree, she went out on a limb…For the love of community, she mended fences…For the love of family, she reconciled differences…For the love of creativity, she entertained new possibilities…For the love of enemies, she suspended judgment…For the love of herself, she acknowledged her worth…And the world was richer for her.” --Charlotte Tall Mountain (From Kateri NW Ministry Insititute, Spokane, Washington)
A SUGGESTED RESOURCE: “Praying as Jesus Taught Us: Meditations on the Our Father,” by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J. (Sheed and Ward Publishers, 2001).
(January 2008 Newsletter)