UNFORGIVENESS IS THE CAUSE
by Father Al Lauer
"Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you." --Colossians 3:13
When I was first ordained a priest, I believed that over 50 percent of
all problems were due to unforgiveness. After ten years in ministry,
I revised my estimate and maintained 75 to 80 percent of all health,
marital, family, and financial problems came from unforgiveness. Now,
after almost twenty years in ministry, I have concluded that over 90
percent of all problems are rooted in unforgiveness.
THE NECESSITY OF FORGIVENESS
If most problems come from unforgiveness, we can understand why Jesus
emphasizes forgiveness to an extreme degree. When Peter suggested to
Jesus that we should forgive seven times, he was correct. (Mt 18:21)
Seven in the Bible stands for an indefinite number of times, so Peter
was saying we should forgive indefinitely. This is the correct answer
but not the correct emphasis. Jesus proclaims we should forgive "seventy
times seven," indefinitely times indefinitely. (Mt 18:22) Jesus further
emphasizes forgiveness by saying God's kingdom is a matter of forgiveness
and those who do not forgive are handed over to torturers. (Mt 18:23, 34)
And when the disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, Jesus told
them to pray they be forgiven as they forgive. (Mt 6:12) This means prayer
will hurt rather than help us if we do not forgive. This is the only point
in the Lord's prayer on which Jesus commented. He reiterated: "If you
forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours.
If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you." (Mt
6:14-15) Jesus insists on forgiveness. We must pass on the forgiveness
He has given us by the shedding of His blood on Calvary.
THE POISON AND TORTURE OF UNFORGIVENESS
Why do we refuse to forgive? Are we punishing the other person and
protecting ourselves from further harm? Not really. Our enemies suffer
minimally from our unforgiveness compared with the damage we do to
ourselves. The verdict we pass on others is passed on us. (Mt 7:2)
Unforgiveness is a fatal poison which cuts us off from forgiveness
(Mk 11:24-25), and worship. (Mt 5:23-24)
Then, when we are separated from the graces, we are handed over to
the torturers. (Mt 18:34) These torturers are not people, but worse.
They are such experiences as fear, depression, frustration, anxiety,
self-hatred and loneliness. As these and other torturers work over
us, we deteriorate to a level of existence which is characterized by
fruitless, compulsive, escapist activities.
THE MIRACLE AND MIRAGE OF FORGIVENESS
We must forgive others and ourselves or destroy ourselves. Yet it is
humanly impossible to forgive. "To err is human, to forgive is divine."
Only God can forgive. To forgive another is more miraculous than healing
someone in the most advanced stages of cancer. But God will do this
miracle for us.
However, many times we do not ask for the miracle of forgiveness be-
cause we are deceived by the devil into thinking we have already
forgiven another. Many people help deceive themselves by re-defining
forgiveness to be the control of hostile feelings instead of a merciful
expression of love. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision to let
go of hurt due to an offense and to express this by extending loving
mercy to those who have hurt us. The Lord calls us to forgive affection-
ately, generously, and mercifully, as the father of the prodigal son did.
(Lk 15:20ff) The following diagnostic questions can help us know if
we've deceived ourselves about forgiving others.
1) Am I conscious that God gave me the grace to forgive and that
I did not do it myself? If you are not aware that God did it,
He may not have.
2) Have I forgiven but not forgotten? If God is working, He will
give you the grace both to forgive and forget.
3) Can I picture myself embracing the other person? (see Lk 15:20)
4) Do I appreciate Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and
celebrate it frequently? If we are forgiving graciously and
lovingly, we are being forgiven in this way in the sacrament.
This would attract us to Confession.
A "No" answer to on of these questions doesn't mean we've not forgiven
but it's a bad sign.
FORGIVENESS AND MERCY
The essence of forgiveness by God's standards is the giving of mercy.
Mercy means to treat others better than they deserve. When we extend
mercy to those who have offended us, we kiss prodigal sons, give presents
to offenders, and have special celebrations in honor of our enemies.
These people don't deserve this, but we have mercy on them anyway. We
don't deserve the redemptive death of God's Son, the shedding of His
blood, and the promise of eternal happiness. But He has given them to
us anyway because of His mercy.
The Lord expects us to pass on to others the merciful forgiveness we
have received from Him. We are reluctant to do this because of the
high cost of extending mercy. Although Jesus has paid the price for
mercy by His death on Calvary, He lets us share in His sufferings.
(see Col 1:24) For example, if someone hits your car, you can have
mercy on them and pay for it yourself. That mercy may cost you $800.00.
That is some of the cheapest mercy you'll ever give. What if your
husband told you he had committed adultery but that he would never do it
again? He wanted you to take him back and help put your marriage back
together. If you have mercy on him, you will take a tremendous emotional,
psychological, and spiritual loss. Even if you don't have mercy, you
will suffer. But you feel like making your husband pay for his adultery
as much as possible because you don't have to pay for it as much if you
take it out on him.
Mercy is so expensive that we don't want to think of it. Pope John Paul
II taught: "The present day mentality, more perhaps than that of people
in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude
from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The
word and the concept of 'mercy' seems to cause uneasiness in man." (_Rich
In Mercy_, 2) In a world of gross injustices, we feel embarrassed to talk
of mercy to victims of violence, rape, abuse, and racism. But when we
have mercy, we are not condoning sin but loving sinners. In fact, the
more we love sinners, the more we hate the sin that degrades them. We
must follow the example of Jesus, the most victimized Person Who has ever
lived. He said" "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are
doing." (Lk 23:34) Then He extended His mercy by promising the good thief
that he would be in paradise that very day. (Lk 23:43) Even as Jesus died,
He poured forth the abundant stream of mercy.
In the Old Testament, the gold plate over the ark of the covenant was
called the "propitiatory," or "mercy-seat." Here Yahweh sat in all His
mercy. The New Testament fulfillment of the mercy-seat is the tabernacle.
Come before the tabernacle, into the presence of the eucharistic Jesus.
Ask for mercy to come to you and through you. You may even put out your
hand and touch the tabernacle, the new mercy-seat. With that touch, you
can receive what the hemorrhaging woman experienced when she touched the
hem of Jesus' robe. (see Lk 8:46) You will experience God's power and
the miracle of mercy.
THE PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS
If we see that we have not forgiven by extending God's mercy, we should
repent and simply ask the Lord to do the miracle of forgiveness. Our
prayerful decision to forgive and God's grace is all that's necessary.
Our prayer will be answered immediately.
But sometimes our prayer does not seem to work because we are only mouthing
the words and deep down don't want to forgive. We are like the unforgiving
brother of the prodigal son (Lk 15:28) or like Jonah in his hatred of the
Ninevites. (Jon 3:10--4:1) In this case, we should back our prayer up a
step and pray not from where we should be but from where we are. Before
we pray to forgive, we should pray to be willing to forgive. Otherwise,
our hearts will contradict our words. God will give us the willingness
and then the forgiveness. We should then celebrate this forgiveness in
the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
THE EMBRACE OF FORGIVENESS
The sign of forgiveness is outstretched arms. The forgiving father threw
his arms around the neck of the prodigal son and kissed him. (Lk 15:20)
Jesus received the embrace and kiss of Judas, and forgave him. (Mk 14:45)
Finally, Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross and would have embraced
us all if we had not nailed His arms to the cross. Right now, imagine
embracing someone you need to forgive. By God's grace and in God's mercy,
say to this person: "I forgive you."
Now go, embrace these people. If this is impossible, call or write them
without delay. If they are aware of problems in their relationship with
you, apologize to them and ask them to forgive you for not forgiving
them. Then give them a gift. (see Lk 15:22ff) Show the mercy of our
forgiving Father. If those you need to forgive have died or are not able
to be contacted, ask Jesus to contact them and pass on your forgiveness.
Don't lose any time. (Mt 5:25) Receive the miracle of forgiveness now.
Printed with ecclesiastical permission, Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Reproduced with permission.