Last updated 5/29/2008 at Noon
Fr. Richard McAlear said: “The heart of forgiveness is that we have been forgiven first, thus we must forgive. We have to love ourselves enough to forgive others, ourselves, and God. It may sound strange, but without forgiveness, we are in emotional and spiritual bondage and not free to love intimately. Until we forgive, we are limited in our ability to share our essence with another. When we accept our forgiveness from God and decide to forgive, we are released from our emotional and spiritual bondage and we know we are loved by the Lord. This knowledge is the basis of self-love, and all love flows from that knowledge.”
I believe in order to understand the importance of forgiveness we need a concrete understanding of the stages we go through once offended. On that note, let’s turn to Fr. William Meninger who wrote a wonderful book on forgiveness called, “The Process of Forgiveness.” The book outlines five stages of forgiveness that we need to work through.
The first stage is denial: You deny the wrong. When you do so, the pain of the offense will manifest somewhere else in anger, diminished self-worth and depression. To heal the pain it first needs to be acknowledged and grieved for.
The second stage is guilt and self-blame. This stage is when you feel you did something to deserve such unfair treatment. This is how our mind explains the inexplicable wrong. We have to acknowledge the pain of the offense as not being within our control.
Third is the victim stage. This is where a person feels trapped, fatigued and helpless. We must learn not to identify with the pain. We overcome the wrong and victim mentality by being grateful. Fr. M suggested writing two things you are grateful for each day for a month and then looking back over the list periodically. Eventually, if we work our way out of the victim stage with gratitude we will land in the fourth stage – anger!
In this stage your anger rages and you expound: “Never again!” This is where you can appreciate your pain, see the influence of it and with that surge of energy propel yourself into the fifth stage, wholeness.
In the wholeness stage we begin trusting again and taking risks with our vulnerability that has been safe-guarded with every fiber of our being. We get involved and become productive and even may seek reconciliation. We begin seeing ourselves not as victims of abuse but children of a loving God.
I once read that where we are broken, Christ’s light shines through. I so find that true. Our wounds (and we all have them) are where our strength flows. It is in the cross we carry that we come to know God’s love. When we overcome our past pain through the grace of God, the damaged part of our hearts spring forth beauty in the form of compassion for others in the same circumstance. This beauty begins with our desire to forgive. The awesome love and freedom that God provides as we experience the joy of forgiving ourselves and others proves that faith truly matters!