I just recently heard in a homily that forgiveness is the acid test of discipleship. My lack of forgiveness is directly related to my willingness to love and serve others, the command given by Christ to be a disciples. To love and serve those that love us back is easy, but to love and serve those who have wronged us in deep ways, not so easy. Many of us have been harmed by people who were supposed to love and care for us. You may repeat those harms done to you over and over in your mind, blaming yourself, believing you are unlovable. To counteract this pain , you might desire harm to come to your attacker, setting in place the seed for anger, rage, and an unforgiving heart. Lack of forgiveness is like ingesting poison into the body where it slowly kills the willingness to love. Forgiveness acknowledges the pain and the wrong done, and it chooses to desire that person be shown love and mercy, and for no harm be done to them. I do wish to acknowledge that there are some people, depending on their circumstances of harm, may need to keep boundaries with their attacker, but this does not need to prevent forgiveness in their heart.
Jesus said one must forgive from their heart. Not easy. I think this is why Jesus said the path that leads to heaven is narrow and so few follow it. Steps four through ten done with a sponsor along with frequent confession, Mass attendance, and daily examination of conscience are critical for getting to this mindset of forgiveness. I purposely did not use place or destination because in my experience one never arrives completely at a perfect state of forgiveness. However with daily practice, one can experience the blessing of forgiveness more fully in their lives. I offer you this story of hope for practicing forgiveness in your life.
“Words cannot express the joy in my heart over my renewed relationship with Jesus and progressive victory in sobriety found through the support of Sexaholics Anonymous , the Saint Joseph Men of Integrity Group, and my Catholic Church community, but there was one more relationship that was in need of renewal. In Matthew 5:24 Christ said if you are angry with your brother “leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offering.” God had blessed me abundantly with the gift of joy in giving to my Church, my support group, and my community, but I knew God was tugging at my heart to be renewed with my family, especially my father. During my 20 years of living in sexual sin, I had grown apart from my family, and as my disease progressed along with my anger I began to avoid my family. God slowly began to call me to forgiveness and healing of my family of origin wounds through my daily reading of scripture, working steps 4-10 with my sponsor, weekly confession, and Mass attendance. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that to experience the full joy of God’s kingdom, not only meant repenting of my sexual sins, but repenting of my disobedience and hatred towards my parents and growing in compassion. This process of repentance and forgiveness began slowly with a conversation with my parents at the dining room table (I had moved back home to provide some stability for me in my recovery). I apologized to my parents for my behavior and for disappointing them for which my mother replied,”We love you and we will always support you”. My father did not reply, but I did ask my Dad for his support that I so much needed, and he said he would. Following that conversation, I still felt that my father did not love me and was disappointed in me. These feelings kept leading me into a place of anger and hatred towards my father, and I wanted him to be punished for his sins, but I knew these thoughts were in direct conflict with the message of the Gospel and how Jesus acted. Instead of going to addictive behaviors, I utilized the spiritual weapons available to me. I began to pray about these emotions during Mass and scripture reading, and the Holy Spirit answered by sending me to my sponsor to seek counsel. My sponsor, a practicing Christian who read scripture often and attended daily Mass, listened to my desire for my father to be punished for his treatment of me, and he asked me to reflect and pray on John 8:1-11. This is the passage with the women who was caught in adultery. As I prayed about this scripture passage, the words of Jesus towards those who wanted to stone the women stood out the most. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Who was I in this scripture passage?, I thoughtfully prayed about. I was certainly the one wanting to cast stones, but was I not also the women caught in adultery. The Spirit told me “to be like Jesus required that I have compassion and love the person that has persecuted me and set down the stones I so much wanted to throw at my father”. In my prayerful reading of that scripture passage, the Spirit taught me to have compassion for my father. The Spirit showed me my father had suffered similar wounds as I, abused by his father due to alcoholism, which meant we were united in the same suffering. The Spirit showed me the wounds he inflicted on me were worthy of the same forgiveness as I received from Christ for the wounds I inflicted on him and countless others. The spirit showed me compassion that comes from following Christ meant putting away the stones, and walking with my father united as sinners knowing WE are both loved by God. This practice of praying about scripture has helped me to grow to know and love Jesus, to know that he loves me and by experiencing the love of Jesus I want to be more like him in compassion and mercy. My experience of the Mass has also changed, and Jesus presence in the Eucharist continues to be revealed to me more fully through his Word, and to know the truth, to have my eyes opened wide, and see Him, I see myself through the eyes of Jesus.“ The truth I choose to believe today is that pornography and masturbation will not fulfill or satisfy me or make me happy. I will only experience true happiness and freedom from my addiction by staying connected to God, my support fellowship, and Jesus Christ as my guide for practicing daily forgiveness and mercy towards my enemies. In forgiving others, I am free to love and serve.”