Focusing on forgiveness this Lent Print
Everyday Faith
Written by Julianne Nornberg, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 05, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

"Say ‘I’m sorry,’" I remember telling my children when they were toddlers squabbling over toys.

"I’m sorry," parroted the perpetrator, who sometimes had to repeat it a few times before exhibiting the requisite tone of remorse.

"Now say ‘I forgive you,’" I would tell the victim, who also parroted the phrase without completely understanding its meaning.

For years we have done this in our household, trying to explain to the children the importance of forgiveness. And yet, I myself was an adult before I understood its full meaning.

Not until I felt truly wronged did I experience what it meant to forgive, to detach myself from roots of bitterness that had wrapped around my heart.

Understanding forgiveness

The hurts we experience as adults are often bigger, deeper, more complicated than the hurts we experience as small children. As our life experiences widen, so too does our understanding of forgiveness.

To forgive, according to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, is "to cease to feel resentment against an offender." That’s a short definition for a big act of the will. Because "to cease to feel resentment" takes time and a purposeful decision.

When you have been deeply hurt, you must work yourself up to wanting to forgive in the first place -- because it’s what God calls us to do. Then you must pray for the grace to do it.

How many times have we, like toddlers, said "I forgive you" while still holding onto some bitterness in our hearts?

Loving those who hurt you

Loving people who love you back is easy. Loving people who hurt you is not.

Yet that is exactly what Jesus asks of us, giving us the ultimate example of how we should forgive those who mistreat us: "When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’" (Luke 23: 33-34).

True forgiveness -- which does not mean condoning the wrong that was done -- is a letting go of all resentment, a dissolvement of grudges.

Whom you need to forgive can be a group of people, a stranger, a leader, a co-worker, a friend, an acquaintance, a family member, a loved one, or yourself. Sometimes it can take a lifetime to forgive.

But Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45).

"Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment," said St. Josemaria Escriva. "For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you" (The Way, #452).

God’s grace makes all things possible, even forgiving those for whom we harbor hidden resentment in our hearts.

This Lent, as we examine our lives and consider ways to grow closer to God, pray for the grace to truly forgive, to let go of past hurts -- and make room for the love with which God is waiting to fill us.

Julianne Nornberg, mother of four young children, is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Waunakee.