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  Our Ambivalence About Forgiveness

  Most of us realize that we don't always do the right thing and we offend God and one another. 

We know we need to seek forgiveness and strengthen our relationships. It would be wonderful if we actively sought such forgiveness and reconciliation, but sad experience shows us how often we don't.

Sometimes we're also afraid to forgive others too readily, lest that forgiveness somehow demean the degree of hurt we have felt or the harm that was done to us. We nourish our anger as though it will produce a reparation that continues to accrue, like interest owed on an unpaid debt. The grudge can become a part of us, something too precious to renounce. We may ask ourselves, Why shouldn't "they" beg my forgiveness first? Why must I take the first step? Each thinks precisely the same thing; each waits for the other to make the first move. Pride encourages procrastination, and reconciliation never happens.

Forgiving the one who wronged us may force us to confront our own wrongdoing. It is hard to acknowledge our faults; we have a powerful drive to justify and excuse ourselves. We have all seen efforts at reconciliation fall when each party must admit a share in the responsibility.

Even our sincerest desire for reconciliation can drown in a flood of excuses. It's not the right time, not the right place. We don't have the right words. We don't know how our apology will be received. All this agonizing to avoid the simple acknowledgment: "I'm sorry." Can we realize that forgiveness does not minimize the hurt or wrong but helps us overcome it? One way to become better at reconciliation is to look to people whose lives attest to the power of forgiveness. The Scriptures and our tradition are filled with shining examples of lives marked by reconciling actions.

The ambivalence we sometimes see in ourselves can be found in families as well. We can pay lip service to family unity and still find one part of a family defined by the fact that it avoids the other, and all because thirty years ago someone was not invited to a wedding. The old grudge assumes the value of a family heirloom, a legacy handed down from one generation to the next. The story is told and retold in full and savory detail, and the family remains divided.

Jesus Christ's call to reconciliation also has a communal or corporate dimension. Our personal sins "give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness" (CCC, no. 1869), causing violence, poverty, injustice, and discrimination. Individuals, families, communities, churches, political parties, races, and nations-all are called to reconciliation., but so many have "good" reasons to resist the forgiveness and reconciliation they so desperately need. Conflicts that consume the world are rooted in unresolved wrongs-imagined or real, deliberate or involuntary-that retain their power to provoke discord and even violence.

Our ambivalence in seeking forgiveness from our fellow human beings can also characterize our relationship with God. We make excuses: it's been a long time since we examined our consciences; we're still attached to our old habits of sin; we didn't really hurt anyone anyway; the confessional is uninviting; the confessor may not understand; the ritual is so arcane. What is really holding us back is the shame we feel when we confront our own sinfulness.

Our God is one who forgives. The Scriptures and tradition are filled with wonderful examples of God's forgiving love. His desire to forgive us should move us to conversion and to seek the forgiveness and reconciliation we so desperately need.

Condensed from Jubilee 2000, A Year of the Lord’s Favor . 1998, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

  Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the September 1999 edition of the San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.