Earlier today I had the space of time to begin my lenten observance by thinking about healing and forgiveness. Without these two legs of the spiritual life personal renewal won’t happen. A talk was hosted by the Franciscan Life Center in Meriden, Connecticut, a ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. The executive director of the FLC Sister Barbara Johnson, FSE, made the presentation to about 75 people.
Sister Barbara, a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, began our discussion by eliciting areas that typically need healing and forgiveness: relationships (in families, among friends, infidelities, harmful family secrets, being alienated from others due to mis-awareness of reality), past events, yourself, deaths, trauma, illness, abortion, divorce, impatience, anger, acts of violence, abuse, addiction, etc. The list can be expanded. But you get the point: the human person is full of complexities.
Getting to the heart of the human person is that we are made up of a body, a spirit, an emotional and social life and a psychology. No surprise, there. Well, may be for some people. The renewal that I am pointing to here is awareness of what we are made of so that we can understand that to be human is to be aware of our need. To be human is to be a person of need. That’s how God has made us. The trick, though, is be aware of our humanity. The traditional understanding of the human person is that we have a memory, intellect and will.
What needs healing? What needs forgiving?
Sister Barbara listed the areas that need our attention if we’ll have a healthy living. First, though, she gave us the synonyms for the word “forgiveness”: to cover, to take away, to wipe out, to be in atonement. Look at the OT figures of Moses, David, and Essau. Forgiveness is complex and not naturally human. John Paul II would speak of forgiveness as a gift that originates in God.
1. There’s an offense against God, another person, and/or self.
2. The result is a condition of guilt.
3. The person is estranged from the other.
4. We are deprived of grace and friendship.
5. There is a need for a payback.
The process of healing and forgiveness:
1. Consciousness: We can’t deny that something needs healing; “the unexamined life is not worth living”; we need to unravel the “problem”. Adam and Eve become for us mirror:
Adam & Eve’s approach Christ’s way
blame claim one’s part
2. Admission: We can’t do it alone otherwise we’ll collapse under the weight of the problem leading us to deepen the hurt and pain in others and in ourself; here there’s an awareness of what we need to do to face the issue and it reminds us that the process keeps moving.
Here I need to recall that Msgr. Luigi Giussani tells us that with Christ we are not orphans: if we walk with Him we are never alone.
3. Contrition: The “I don’t care” attitude is a further example of deeper alienation from God, others and self; this “I don’t care” attitude is a contemporary response of teenagers that is frustrating and self-distructive. William Shakespeare said in “Macbeth”: “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak. Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break” (Act 4, scene 3). Indeed, there is a power in the words: “I’m sorry.”
4. Restitution: We may need space to regain composure, mental relief, prayer, etc. The work of restoration (renewal) requires us to be honest with our feelings but we can’t be measured by our feelings. Another standard of restoration has be objective and rooted in the divine.
5. Resolution to change: We have to a firm and clear commitment to change: a firm purpose of amendment. How have we put ourselves in the other person’s place?
Sister Barbara was brilliant in saying that forgiveness does not mean we forget; but it does not mean we continue to throw in the face of the other past transgressions each and every time we need ammunition to “get at the other person.” Sister’s point in that we don’t forget is that we don’t want to repeat the harmful act again.
The offer of forgiveness is really to receive peace. John Paul II taught us that (See the Pope’s message on the World Day of Peace 1997). We know from experience that forgiveness is contrary to human logic but it is an act of heroic care for the other and for self and it bespeaks of the warmth of friendship.
To be Catholic, I like to say, is live in an attitude of a “perpetual second chance.” God’s mercy, that is, God’s love, is taken to its extreme end. Therefore, there is nothing that can’t be forgiven.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist
(FSE) is a community pontifical community of sisters founded in 1973 that sponsors 12 centers around the USA, Italy and Jerusalem. The life and work of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist is situated in the charism given to Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi by the Lord “to rebuild the Church” by attending to the sacred in each person. The FSEs number about 82 women; all the sisters are well-educated, professional women who follow the indications of the Catholic Church. In fact, one of the sisters was the brain behind the Vatican’s webpage.