True Forgiveness & Penance

In this talk, Father Mike Wilson offers thoughts on true forgiveness and penance.

  • INTRODUCTION   What does “Forgiveness” mean? Answers include: a new start, a conscious choice to let go, beginning of healing, making peace, and to set free.  Why is it so hard to forgive? Reasons include pride, hurt, separation we feel from the other person, immaturity, self-protection.
  • SALVATION— By nature, we are defensive for ourselves or someone we love.  Yet, forgiveness is essential for salvation.  It is not just about absolution, but opening of the gates of heaven. Also, we have to seek and accept forgiveness.  Because God opened the gates of heaven for everyone willing to accept forgiveness, then He has a legitimate expectation for us to share this gift of forgiveness.  Remember, If I cannot forgive I cannot be free. If I cannot be free, I cannot love.  If I cannot love, I don’t have eternal life.
  • UNITY WITH GOD — If we are not wiling to forgive, we can’t be one with God.  Perhaps we are not ready or willing. But, we need to get to that point.  If we do not forgive, we become a slave.  Forgiveness is a requirement for eternal life.  We must be contrite and humble to forgive. 
  • LETTING GO — No one wants to be used or abused.  We have to let go of the negative to make room for the positive. If we want to identify with Christ, we need to forgive. Yet, we need to remember that while He forgave, Jesus did sin and He did not hold onto the anger.  He was not trying to hurt them, but help them.  We must learn how to let go and not let others control us.
  • SCRIPTURE — God loves us no matter what we do and He never stops loving us.  Scripture tells us that we are to forgive 70 times 7 times — meaning infinitely.  We must tell them the truth, but then not hold onto the anger.  It is easier if we change our expectations of people. Jesus on the cross said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.  In the Our Father, recall the line “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  
  • QUESTIONS
    • If someone offends you, but never asks for forgiveness, must we forgive them?  They need God’s grace in their life.  While we know they did wrong, we need to pray for them and let go of the answer.  That is what love demands of us. 
    • Given the discussion on forgiveness, could you provide some insight if a spouse is in an abusive situation.  God does not want anyone to be abused or to be in an abusive situation.  That spouse probably needs to get out of that situation if will likely not get better. 
    • How do you know if you have really forgiven someone?  If you continue to thing about it and are still frustrated, you have not forgiven. Women will hurt longer than men.  The intensity will reduce over time so be patient.  
    • We often find it hardest to forgive ourself.  Could you give some advice?  The person may want to talk to a spiritual director and/or counselor.  Remember that God loves us unconditionally.  Growth takes effort.  Consider a) what is the issue, b) what do I think about it, c) how does it make me feel, d) what can be done about it, and e) what will I do.  
    • What about forgiveness in a sexual abuse situation.  All of us want to protect ourself and we should.  We don’t have to like the sexual abuser.  We don’t need to be in situations with them.  We have right not to like them.  We just don’t have the right to wish them ill.  Don’t let your feelings dictate or harm them.  It is natural to have these sorts of feelings.  Remember, even if we cannot forgive, we can try.  That pleases God.  He did not say that we have to forgive or be perfect by tomorrow.  We just must choose to try to forgive.  That said, we must protect ourselves.  

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