Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Sister Laura Gormley, S.S.L.

2/22/2008 (8 years ago)

The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com)

LOS ANGELES, CA (The Tidings) - In October 2006, in Nickel Mines, Pa., an extraordinary expression of individual and community forgiveness left some Christians stunned and disbelieving, and left many others in wonder and awe.

Highlights

By Sister Laura Gormley, S.S.L.

The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com)

2/22/2008 (8 years ago)

Published in Living Faith



In the face of heedless violence of the attack on ten girls in the local Amish school, five of whom died, the Amish community refused to hate the one who had caused the tragedy. When journalists asked their response to the atrocity, they simply repeated "We forgive this man."

They also reached out to the family of the murderer and supported them. Their lack of recrimination or vindictiveness left the non Amish world amazed. It was their clear insistence on forgiveness, with no question of revenge, that astounded the onlookers.

In a recently published book, "Amish Grace, How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy," the authors explored the faith traditions of the Amish people and found that forgiveness is a core teaching which they embrace individually and as a community as part of their identity.

Witnessing such a radical response by a community, that is often unappreciated in our modern culture, calls the rest of the Christian world to examine our individual and community response to such tragedy.

The challenge of forgiving

In our Catholic Christian tradition, we are well aware of the frequent call of Jesus to forgive our enemies and of his own prayer of forgiveness for those who crucified him. In the Lord's Prayer we are clearly challenged to be open to receiving God's loving forgiveness and, in turn, offering that forgiveness to ourselves and to others.

Perhaps because of the sacramental focus of Catholicism, our learning about forgiveness was often limited to the sacrament of reconciliation or confession, as we previously knew it. This sacrament can indeed be a great blessing in our lives, but we have often not learned or understood the difficult steps in the human process of forgiveness that is the everyday challenge to us all.

While we believe God's forgiveness is unconditional, constant and always available to us, we also need to realize that our own coming to forgiveness involves several stages as we let go and work through hurts, anger, resentments and desire for revenge. However, as we are healed, we are then able to accept God's merciful forgiveness and, in turn, offer such forgiveness to ourselves and others.

In this liturgical year as we listen to the Gospel readings from Matthew, we will be challenged on several occasions to forgive. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus insists that we are to make peace with others before we approach the altar of God. Facing this clear command we may ask, "So, how do I actually forgive?"

We are aware that often when we decide to forgive we still struggle with painful memories and feelings. From this experience we learn that forgiveness is not only a simple act of will, but a process that takes time involving our memories and also our feelings. In response to Jesus' command regarding offering our gift, perhaps the best we can do is to take the first step in making peace and then offer our gift.

Forgiving without forgetting

In beginning and all through the process of forgiveness, we are called to prayer. Sometimes, the only prayer we can offer is to ask for the grace to want to forgive. It may take time to be able to pray for the person who hurt us. We can, however, be encouraged in remembering that God is present to us in every step of the forgiveness journey, supporting and challenging us to "love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

One of the factors that can make forgiveness so difficult is our misunderstandings regarding the nature of forgiveness. A common example of such confusion is the frequently repeated maxim, "forgive and forget." This is often taken as a biblical teaching, whereas it is actually a line from Shakespeare's play, "King Lear." To forget a serious hurt is not possible.

A more accurate biblical injunction is "remember and forgive" --- i.e. remember God's mercy toward you in order that you can forgive someone else. We find this approach in Jesus' parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23-35). The servant who has been forgiven an enormous debt refuses to forgive another servant who owes him a small amount. The unforgiving debtor is punished for not remembering how he has been forgiven and, in turn, for not forgiving his debtor.

Forgiveness distinct from reconciliation

A further obstacle to forgiveness is in thinking that to forgive one must be automatically reconciled with the offender. The ideal is that forgiveness would lead to reconciliation, however, that may not always be possible, and in some circumstances, not even desirable.

Instead, forgiveness on our part is the work we have to do with and for ourselves to be released from the anguish that binds us to the offender. This inner work does not depend on whether the offender acknowledges the offense, seeks reconciliation, or is still alive or not.

In all this work of forgiveness, we remember that we are unconditionally loved by God, as is the one who has hurt us. Trusting in this love we move forward, step by step, held in this merciful love, learning to forgive as we have been forgiven, hoping that, in time, some reconciliation may be possible.

---

This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.



Comments


More Living Faith

Pope Francis spreads words of love Watch

Image of Pope Francis speaks of reconciling with God (Pinterest).

By Elise Harris (CNA/EWTN News)

Reconciliation is an essential aspect of God's mercy, Pope Francis said Saturday, explaining that when we distance ourselves from the Lord through sin, it takes much more than our own effort to get back to him. Vatican City, Rome (CNA/EWTN News) - Referencing St. ... continue reading


5 tips for Catholics to stay positive Watch

Image of Stay positive by following five simple tips (WikiMedia Commons).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Do you - or someone you know - struggle with maintaining a positive attitude? Are people less inclined to spend time with you due to your poor attitude? Are you tired of wallowing in negativity? Try these simple tips to change the course of your life forever! LOS ... continue reading


Why are these transparent wires being put up in cities around the world? Watch

Image of Eruv lines are set up in cities around the world to make life easier for Orthodox Jews.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Members of an ultra-conservative religious denomination are stringing transparent wires around many urban neighborhoods, all for religious reasons. These nearly invisible wires form webs in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. What are these wires and ... continue reading


'[D]on't ignore us:' Pope Francis explains the difference between knowledge and real love Watch

Image of Knowing about God is not the same as loving Him (Vanvick/Wordpress).

By Elise Harris (CNA/EWTN News)

On Wednesday Pope Francis said that just because someone is an expert in God's law and a strict adherent to the rules doesn't necessarily mean they know how to love and serve others. Vatican City, Rome (CNA/EWTN News) - "It's not automatic that whoever frequents the ... continue reading


Miracle in the Philippines: Tribe converted to Christianity after hearing Gospel and watching 'Passion of the Christ' Watch

Image of Manobo tribe embraces Jesus (tikbo).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The Manobo tribe of the Philippines were taught the Gospel and viewed Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" film, which led several to convert to Christianity. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to missionaries from Christian Aid Mission, nearly the entire ... continue reading


'I just couldn't believe it:' Oklahoma officers seize Christian charity money Watch

Image of Christian rocker stripped of charity money after being accused of engaging in drug activities.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Christian rock band Klo & Kweh was driving through Oklahoma when they were pulled over for a broken headlight. What happened next was a shock that rippled throughout the Christian community. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to <a ... continue reading


Pope Francis decrees instances of miracles and martyrdom Watch

Image of Pope Francis spoke of saints on Tuesday.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

On Tuesday, Pope Francis spoke of several men and women worthy of canonization. He included miracle attributions and stories of martyrdom. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis received a private audience with Cardinal Angelo ... continue reading


Christians deserve equal protection too! - Christian baker case may go to Supreme Court Watch

Image of Christian bakers should not be forced to participate in someone else's sin.

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The case of a pair of bakers who refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple, may go all the way to the Supreme Court and resolve the apparent infringement of their First and Fourteenth Amendments. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The attorney for Aaron and ... continue reading


Pope Francis writes moving letters to prisoners Watch

Image of Prisoners in Velletri receive letters from the Pope.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Inmates at Italian prison Velletri wrote Pope Francis letters earlier this year - and received personal replies. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to Vatican Radio, the prisoners gave their letters to Bishop Marcello Semeraro, the Bishop of Albano, during a ... continue reading


3 inspirational reminders of hope for Catholics facing darkness Watch

Image of (Photo by: AJGIEL)

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Tears roll down my face as a sea of blankets threaten to pull me completely under. I fight to stay afloat while the darkness continues to pull me down like a thousand needles hooked to anchors. Terrifying thoughts run rampant through my fragile mind, "what's the point ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
1 Then some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, 'Unless ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
2 Then the earth will acknowledge your ways, and all nations your power ... Read More

Gospel, John 14:23-29
23 Jesus replied: Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father ... Read More

Reading 2, Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
10 In the spirit, he carried me to the top of a very high mountain, and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 1st, 2016 Image

St. Marculf
May 1: Marculf is also known as Marcoul. He was born at ... Read More