Thursday, March 12, 2015

Seventy Times Seven

I’m half Italian. Italians are of the damn stubborn sort. Once we decide to hold a grudge, we hold it to the grave. My grandmother’s godfather, alias Baby-Faced Palmisano, was gunned down and found in an abandoned car because someone wasn’t feeling particularly brotherly towards him.

But don’t worry—I don’t have my concealed carry permit. Yet.

There’s a scary part of the Lord’s Prayer that we say at every Mass: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When I was a kid I used to think that meant allowing people to walk across your lawn so you could walk across theirs, even if you both had “No Trespassing” signs posted everywhere. But of course, you know this means that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us. It’s not so much a question as He WILL NOT forgive us, He really CANNOT forgive us; it wouldn’t be just, nor would it even do us any good. We can’t accept God’s forgiveness if we can’t forgive others. 

Come on, now--don't get huffy!

 It’s a true test of faith to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply, especially if they know they have hurt you but don’t seem to care. People may say they are your friend and that they value you, and then act in the complete opposite way. I recently underwent this with someone I’ve known since Freshman year, who claims that my friendship is invaluable to them but then never texts me, initiates anything between us, or even acknowledges my existence when we’re in the same room. The pain and frustration I have sustained from this person is very real and very agonizing. I do not want to forgive them, and I do not know if they are even sorry for what they have done.

But, thank God, forgiveness is not dependent on feelings. It is an act of the will, a conscious decision from the heart that you must renew every day, sometimes several times a day, sometimes every time you see that person. It also has to be done well. It kind of defeats the purpose to forgive a person and then rub in their face how virtuous you are for cancelling their debts. They may never know, and they may continue to treat you badly. But we are commanded to leave the execution of justice to Jesus. He will make all things new, and He will reward us richly for trusting him, especially when it is so hard, so painful. 


I can tell you this: nothing pleases Jesus more, nothing softens His heart than to see a brave little soul struggling to love and forgive a person who has hurt them. I’m sure it was no lead pipe cinch for Jesus to forgive the sneering mob who crucified Him and mocked even His very words of forgiveness. He understands how our pride rears up, how our human nature rebels, how we might cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” when the pain of our broken relationships and circumstances becomes so excruciating, so terrible, so unbearable, and yet we choose to turn the other cheek. 

Jesus carried the ultimate cross so we would not have to. He knows how painful our crosses are, down to the last degree, and He will never permit them to crush us.

When I was on a retreat a few weekends ago, I wrote up a list of people I knew I needed to forgive. It was a long list, and as I looked at it, I felt myself growing angrier and angrier. “These people don’t deserve my forgiveness!” I thought. “They’re not even sorry! They should be asking for MY forgiveness!” Nearly boiling with fury, I went and talked to the pastor, who blew my mind with three simple words: “Forgive yourself first.”

"Damn, son! Never thought of THAT!"

 I sat down and made a new list: things I needed to forgive myself for. Eating too much. Not getting an A in that class. Not being as good of a pianist as I would like. Falling repeatedly into mortal sin. Then, without really realizing it, I started writing out some really horrible things that I believed about myself. I’m ugly. I’m never going to get married. I’m bad at school. I’m not good enough. My parents don’t love me. The list grew and grew until it filled several pages. I was crying by this point. I realized that I couldn’t forgive others because I didn’t think I deserved to be forgiven by God. I didn’t deserve mercy or compassion, especially from myself, because I wasn’t good enough.

Think about when a friend comes to you, crying or complaining about how they messed up over something. Do you ridicule them? Tell them they’re stupid? Take away their dessert as punishment? Of course not! (to quote St. Paul). You tell them chin up, it’s no big deal, you’re still a good person, you can always try again.

Why don’t we have this mentality when dealing with our own mistakes and shortcomings? Because we don’t believe we deserve it. We believe we are stupid, worthless, and don’t deserve that chocolate croissant. How could we do this? How could we possibly screw up again? Therein lies the problem. 

"..aaaaand....I'm out of positivity. Sorry, guys, let's just beat ourselves up for a while."

 Forgiveness is a threefold process. First, we need to believe that we are loved by God. Infinitely loved. This is the hardest part. We feel as though we do not deserve to be loved, and why the hell would the Lord of the Universe care about piddly little me, with my failings, my poor grades, my lack of friends, my cellulite, my addiction? We’ve been fed the lie that we are not good enough for far too long—we need to inundate ourselves with the truth: that we are lovable, that we are good, that we are beautiful. How do we do this? By prayer, especially reading the Bible, and by delving deeper into our faith than ever before. We need to replace the incessant chant of “I’m not good enough” with “I am loved; God sent His only Son to die for me.”

Secondly, we need to forgive ourselves. Give ourselves a break. Realize that we are not perfect, but that’s OK. Stop measuring yourself by the world’s standards. If you screw up, accept it, be at peace about it, learn from it, and move on. Brooding over it and stewing in our misery is really an expression of pride, because we can’t believe we could be so, well, human. Well, we are. Get the hell over it. 

Thirdly, only once we are secure in God’s love and comfortable with forgiving ourselves can we forgive others. This could involve writing them a letter and either burning it up or sending it to them if you feel comfortable about it. Remember, forgiveness isn’t for them—it’s for YOU. Your hating them isn’t going to hurt them any—it’s only going to make YOU miserable. So do yourself a favor and let it go (can anyone say that phrase without breaking into that song? Geez…)

Keep me in your prayers as I struggle to forgive, and I will keep you in mine.


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