UNFORGIVENESS IS THE CAUSE by Father Al Lauer Presentation Ministries "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.