What does it mean to forgive? What is my responsibility as a Catholic to forgive those who have hurt and abused me, when they have not asked or do not want my forgiveness?
My husband and I have been discussing this for some time. As a child in a Protestant church, (I converted at 21) I was raised to believe that when hurt/abused/victimized in any sense, feeling anger was a sin and it was necessary to “forgive” the offender as soon as possible as Christ forgives us.
Not wishing to go into great detail, I have had serious sin commited against me in different situations… and there are times when I still feel sad and angry. I don’t hold "hate’ for these people and have prayed for their conversion, but does that mean I have forgiven them? And should I?
I was told at a Catholic retreat by a discussion leader that just as God asks us to feel contrition for our wrongs and to ask Him for our forgiveness, we should expect those who have hurt us in such profound ways to feel remorse and ask for forgiveness of us. That my forgiveness is not, and should not be, a “free” gift. We ask God to “Forgive us our trepasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But don’t we have to feel sorrow, remorse… and ask?
I guess I really don’t understand what the Catholic teaching on forgiveness is… what “forgiveness” even means for us… when and how it should be offered, and if the hurt should vanish if we have “truly” forgiven. I just don’t know. Please help me to understand what forgiveness IS and what it would mean for me as a Catholic.
The feeling isn’t important, the choice to forgive is what matters. We choose to forgive whether others are sorry for their sin against us or not, just as Jesus did, “Father forive them they know not what they do.” Should He? They tortured Him and murdered Him very cruelly, and they cared nothing for His teachings or His sacrifice for them.
Feelings are not of themselves bad, as several priests have told me. It’s the choices that you make as result of them, uncharitable thoughts and actions consequent to the feelings of anger are wrong. A feeling of anger is not of itself a sin. It’s healthy to acknowledge that anger and accept, that yes you have a genuine cause for anger, and this makes healing of self more likely.
But instead of acting upon the anger, as Catholics we are required to choose to forgive even if the feelings aren’t there, and to pray for the person or persons. As Jesus said, “Pray for your ememies. Bless those who persecute you and say all manner of things against you.”
Forgiving doesn’t mean the anger or hurt will vanish. You’re human. The hurt is real, and may hit you again, but each time it does, ask God’s help, and make the choice again to forgive, even if simply by praying for them. Your prayer for those who sin against you is the most powerful form of forgiveness, aside from charitable acts.
Yes. If you need reassurance, MarieVeronica had a great answer to this question with a quote from St. Faustina’s diary in this post.
We do need to forgive even if the person never apologizes or has no remorse for what they’ve done.
When we say the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us the same way that we ourselves forgive others.
From the Catechism:
2838 This petition is astonishing. If it consisted only of the first phrase, “And forgive us our trespasses,” it might have been included, implicitly, in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, since Christ’s sacrifice is “that sins may be forgiven.” But, according to the second phrase, our petition will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement. Our petition looks to the future, but our response must come first, for the two parts are joined by the single word “as.”
2862 The fifth petition begs God’s mercy for our offences, mercy which can penetrate our hearts only if we have learned to forgive our enemies, with the example and help of Christ.
2840 Now - and this is daunting - this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.
2843 Thus the Lord’s words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end, become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord’s teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” It is there, in fact, “in the depths of the heart,” that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.
I would respectfully disagree with what you understood the retreat leader to say about forgiveness. It is helpful to us if the victimizers/abusers/etc. ask for forgiveness, however that is helpful to our feelings which are not the part of us that mainly needs to forgive others. Feelings are so unreliable, constantly changing with the weather (literally), when we last ate, etc. We need to use our will and decide to forgive - even when we don’t feel any forgiveness. We then pray to Our Father to give us the feeling (for our satisfaction). As much as we don’t forgive, He won’t forgive us. Period. Not only if we’re asked for forgiveness. Yes, when we pray for the other person we sometimes show forgiveness to them, however we can often (I have!) fool ourselves that we prayed due to forgiveness. I have found that I need to separately will forgiveness for the other person, then pray for them too so that you’re not being self-righteous in your prayer for them.
I find that it’s also important for me to take this to confession (I fool myself alot!).
This is hard for me, too. I understand what you have experienced and how deep the wounds are.
It may help you to remember that you are not forgiving for the benefit of the unrepetant person who has caused deep damage to your life. You are forgiving to benefit yourself, so that you may partake in Divine Mercy and be forgiven.
Even though you are forgiving to benefit yourself, you are still really forgiving, which is somewhat paradoxical. When you forgive, agree to live the life that has been altered by the others’ sin as it is. Let them out of their obligation to rectify your life from the consequences of their sin. (They can’t, anyway.) Offer up the suffering the alteration in your life has caused you, for God’s glory and the good of all mankind. Ask God to use the consequences of the other person’s sin for His glory.
I just thought of something that might be of help to you. In Story of a Soul St. Therese describes the verbal abuses she received from the woman who lead the convent off and on (not her biological sister - I can’t think of her name at the moment :rolleyes:) and then how helpful she says they were to her sanctity. I think St. Therese’s actions in this are certainly a goal to shoot for - I, personally, am not able to achieve her sanctity very much!
Trishie, thank you so much for your reply. It helped me quite a bit.
BeckyMarie, when you say “this is correct” do you mean to say that feeling anger about what was done to me is, in fact, a sin? Or were you saying the teaching that I should forgive as soon as possible is correct? Just seeking clarity. I appreciate the links.
Brigid, I never felt “right” with the leader’s answer to me either. She is a wonderful woman, and I respect her very much, but something about it sat wrong with me and I suppose that’s why I still ask the question.
AngelsUnaware, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. Especially the part about agreeing to live my life as it is, with the affects of the sin and asking God to work it toward His glory.
Once again… I suppose I am still stuck on what “forgiveness” is. If it isn’t just praying for the person genuinely to come to Christ and not suffer damnation, if it isn’t seeking revenge (where it actually would be possible in my situation) and if it isn’t getting over the anger and pain… what is it? Is it actually releasing them from an obligation to you? I’m just not sure. Perhaps I should break out the dictionary!
I’d never told anyone before today, but I actually offered the suffering and pains of two of my labors up for the intention of his conversion of heart. It was a healing experience for me. But again… while I hold no malice, no hate, no desire for revenge, and genuinely want this person to find God and not to experience Hell… it still hurts so much and makes me angry at times, that I fear I haven’t forgiven. Trishie, thank you for reminding me that feelings in themselves re beyond our control, but that we can only choose what we do with those feelings.
Thank you for your responses so far. I really appreciate the input and help.
Dear Lerin, with tears in my eyes I assure you that you have forgiven this man, whatever feelings and doubts ever arise. If someone abuse or rapes one, if someone kills someone the we love, if someone causes us to lose a limb…the injury, the consequence of his sin remains, and of course it still hurts, of course you feel anger sometimes…Darling girl, those emotions are part of the injury this man has given you!
We who are mothers know what a deep act of love and forgiveness it is that your offered two labors for this man’s salvation. You do know what forgiveness is. You’ve lived it in that.
Keep apart forgiving and penance (maybe not the right word). WHen we sin we are forgiven yet we receive a penance. You must forgive other people who sin against you and yet they should still receive their penance (normally through the legal system if the matter is serious). You must also protect your own self. Forgiving does not mean allow people to walk over you. If someone were to say abuse you, you would forgive them, but they would still receive the penalty of our legal system in the hope that helps that person.
This is from the Diary of St. Faustina. It has been a tremendous help to me, in situations as you describe. Hope it helps. God bless.
(1628) “During Holy Mass, I saw Jesus stretched out on the Cross, and He said to me, ‘My pupil, have great love for those who cause you suffering. Do good to those who hate you.’ I answered, ‘O my Master, You see very well that I feel no love for them, and that troubles me.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is not always in your power to control your feelings. You will recognize that you have love if, after having experienced annoyance and contradiction, you do not lose your peace, but pray for those who have made you suffer and wish them well.’”
Sometimes all we can do in the face of true injury or injustice is to be open to God forgiving the person . . . . If we are able to take that first step – and it doesn’t always come easy or quickly – God may gift us with the ability to forgive somewhere down the line.
Years ago, after a profound betrayal, I came across a quote by Aeschylus that spoke to me . . . “In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
However, on this very website is an article from Jimmy Akin, who disagrees. Here’s the relevant section:
We aren’t obligated to forgive people who do not want us to. This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that people have regarding the topic. People have seen “unconditional” forgiveness and love hammered so often that they feel obligated to forgive someone even before that person has repented. Sometimes they even tell the unrepentant that they have preemptively forgiven him (much to the impenitent’s annoyance).
This is not what is required of us.
Consider Luke 17:3–4, where Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Notice that Jesus says to forgive him if he repents, not regardless of whether he does so. Jesus also envisions the person coming back to you and admitting his wrong.
The upshot? If someone isn’t repentant, you don’t have to forgive him.
If you do forgive him anyway, that can be meritorious, provided it doesn’t otherwise have bad effects (e.g., encouraging future bad behavior). But it isn’t required of us that we forgive the person.
This may strike some people as odd. They may have heard unconditional love and forgiveness preached so often that the idea of not indiscriminately forgiving everybody sounds unspiritual to them. They might even ask, “But wouldn’t it be more spiritual to forgive everyone?”
I sympathize with this argument, but there is a two-word rejoinder to it: God doesn’t.
Not everybody is forgiven. Otherwise, we’d all be walking around in a state of grace all the time and have no need of repentance to attain salvation. God doesn’t like people being unforgiven, and he is willing to grant forgiveness to all, but he isn’t willing to force it on people who don’t want it. If people are unrepentant of what they know to be sinful, they are not forgiven.
Jesus died once and for all to pay a price sufficient to cover all the sins of our lives, but God doesn’t apply his forgiveness to us in a once-and-for-all manner. He forgives us as we repent. That’s why we continue to pray “Forgive us our trespasses,” because we regularly have new sins that we have repented of—some venial and some mortal, but all needing forgiveness.
If God doesn’t forgive the unrepentant, and it is not correct to tell people that they need to do so, what is required of us?
Jimmy has a good point, but I don’t agree that his point is relevant to the subject of emotional forgiveness. This is Luke 17 1:4
1Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
The context is how to deal with a sinner, not how to deal with the poison of unforgiveness in one own’s heart. When people sin, rebuke them. When people repent, forgive them. Jesus says to do this for the benefit of the sinner, so that they may be spared of having a fate worse than having a millstone tied around one’s neck and being thrown into the sea.
Repeating what was said before, when you forgive someone who is not present, who has hurt you long ago, and who you do not have any on-going communication with, you do not do so for their benefit, you do so for your benefit. There is a difference between that kind of forgiveness and the circumstances being addressed in Luke above. Maybe, then we really should have a different English word for this kind of forgiveness, because it is a different kind qualitatively. It is more like release than forgiveness.
Maybe it would help to think of forgiving a person who has hurt you and who knows they hurt you and who is not sorry as releasing them to the mercy and justice of God. If they simply, ‘knew not what they had done’, as Jesus says of those He forgave who were crucifying Him, then pray for God’s mercy to grant them repentance. If they simply intended evil, then there is no need for you to feel any unforgiveness or bitterness, because God’s justice is more than sufficient. God will make them pay, you do not have to.
Funny - I found this a few months back when I was looking into the question for my CRHP group. One of the members brought up the need for repentence (ie, one must ask for forgiveness to be forgiven). My gut response was – I know for a fact this is hard, but trust me, you don’t want to go on with your life holding on to the anger and hurt.
I was following up on it when I saw this article, and couldn’t believe what I was reading.