Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Joys of Catholic Forgiveness

I have spent my entire life excusing sins, imagining that I was being kind and forgiving. 

When someone was hateful to me, I would calm myself and by sheer willpower control my desire for retribution. I would begin self-talk such as “Oh, this person had a bad day” and try and shake off the injustice or behavior towards me. If someone truly wronged me, I would call upon a mantra of excuses in order to sooth the feelings of resentment building in me.

“They are immature, they didn’t mean it.” 

“They are ignorant of how to behave correctly. They weren’t raised as well as I was.” 

“We’re all sinners in need of a Savior, this person just doesn’t know Jesus.”
As nice as it is to give someone the benefit of the doubt, in essence, I wasn’t truly forgiving them, I was just excusing sin. I have been under the impression that forgiveness was a cessation of bad feelings towards someone--that it was an emotional response to a sin against me. But I have been very wrong, as all I have been doing is deflecting the sin--not forgiving it. The forgiveness wasn’t about doing anything for them, but for me. I needed to feel better and when I felt better I thought I had forgiven them.
Over the course of one’s life, excusing sin shoves resentment to a subconscious level and a righteous injustice turns into an unseen raging furnace, like an underground fire. 
Nice feelings towards a person who has sinned against you isn’t forgiveness. We need to undo their sin.
I asked God, “Now how on earth can I, who cannot control anything hardly in myself, going to undo a sin? Didn’t Christ do that on the Cross?” 
Of course Christ did, but He also commands that He will forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us! Christ didn’t just forgive us by extinguishing His emotional wrath and turning it to a good warm fuzzy feeling for us. He took upon Himself the eternal--the spiritual--punishment for our sins. Forgiving sin is more than feelings, it is undoing the effects of the sin. And sin hurts much deeper than our emotions.
Sin, no matter how big or small, causes a wave that emanates out effecting all those in its path. It not only hurts the sinner, but God, the Body of Christ (Christian believers) and anyone it is directed at. There is simply no such thing as a private sin. Sin’s destructive path ripples in concentric circles.
While Christ has paid the eternal consequences, there is always a residue of sin here in this temporal abode that must be cleaned up. Sin is a contagious poison. True forgiveness is the antidote.
To truly forgive, we must not excuse, deflect nor minimize the wrongful act, but have the courage to see the depth of the offense. Then consciously, freely and with the grace of God--intentionally bear the temporal consequences of the sin. Without too literal a comparison, it is like offering the sinner a personal indulgence. 
We become little Christs, living sacrifices for that person, by bearing the hurtful effects of the person’s trespasses. We willingly, lovingly accept the suffering of the sin. Though it was involuntarily forced upon us, for love of God and our neighbor, we take the punch of the sin and stand against the crashing wave of pain and injustice. Thus, at least allowing the suffering to go no father in your direction.
When someone has harmed you, fall to your knees and lift the sin up to Christ. Offer up the pain you feel as a sacrifice of love for the one who sinned against you. You may even feel called to perform an act of penance in behalf of the person’s sin, such as fast a meal, give a monetary gift to charity... say a rosary for them. Prayers and charitable actions will avail much, for you are acting as a righteous person.
Don’t misunderstand. I am certainly not suggesting you go to jail for another person’s crime or pay any civil penalty or take the blame for someone else. What I am talking about is accepting the offense against you, personally as a Christian and acting in love in return. It is about acting in behalf of the sinner, not simply calming the emotions as if that wipes away the sin.

 And, we cannot bear another’s sin without doing as Christ did. 
With the obedience of faith and love for His Father, Christ offered up the sin. And we must do that too. With Christ, we offer the sin up to the Father in behalf of the sinner. We take the offense and lift it high in prayer to God. It is only then that the fires of love can consume the sin and its effects can be destroyed. It must be offered to the Father, through the sacrifice of the Son. That is forgiveness. 
Don’t worry too much about reoccurring emotions against the sinner. Reacting in love by a peaceful offerings to God will eventually subdue the feelings and they will be replaced by a holiness and not just a controlled anger. Keep focused on the crucified Christ and remember it is what He has done for you. We break ourselves for others, just as Christ has broken Himself for us. If it is just too much for you to do it for the sinner, do it for love of God. Focus on your love of Christ, rather than the offense and it makes it so much easier. 
We extinguish the raging fire of sin, not by excuse, nor deflection, not by reducing the offense in our minds, but accepting the offense with a full understanding and taking the effects upon us as a sacrifice to God. 
What about abuse and grave sin? I am certainly not offering advice about how to deal with the abusive person or suggesting you continue to allow someone to abuse you. This is only about how to forgive them. 
What about someone who sexually abuses children? What about someone who is unfaithful to a spouse? Or a thief or murderer? 
With such diabolical, momentous sins, forgiveness is only a gift of the abundant grace of God. Only on our knees we can receive such power to forgive. But forgive we must. Yes, it is a shocking injustice we are asked to bear. 
But true forgiveness rights the wrongs through Christ. The person you are interceding for will one day fully see what you did for them. Do not think I am minimizing the inferno of pain. God’s grace must overwhelm you to sustain you in such moments. For we cannot fully comprehend the deep horror of sin until we battle it spiritually.Yet, as we act in faith as little Christs, our fervent prayers will heal us as we are forgiving those who have destroyed, deserted and betrayed us. 

The impossibility of this becomes miraculously possible in Christ. And it creates within us a divine love and mercy that can only come through the suffering of forgiveness. 

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