We need to forgive, as God forgives us - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

We need to forgive, as God forgives us

On Monday evening we gathered in the narthex of Sacred Heart Cathedral to have a conversation about forgiveness. The program was the latest of several opportunities sponsored in recent months by our Diocesan Women’s Commission.

We began with prayer after which I spoke for 25 minutes, sharing some personal reflections on forgiveness and what that means in the Christian life. I touched on why it is important to forgive, the dispositions of heart that help us both to forgive and be forgiven, and some of the difficulties that we can experience in both.

Following my comments, we invited people to spend 15 minutes in quiet prayer in the church or in the narthex. I offered them some questions to think about, but I encouraged them to spend time with any theme or question of forgiveness to which they were drawn.

Following that time of quiet, we reconvened in the narthex and, over coffee and dessert, those present had the opportunity to share with the rest of us whatever they were moved to say.

Quite of few of the 60 or so participants chose to speak. They all addressed the theme of forgiveness but did so in their own ways. One person spoke of an effort to ask forgiveness of another. In that case, the individual responded positively. Not only did the healing occur, but the relationship became stronger than ever. In another instance, the speaker described a similar effort that to date has yielded no notable changes.

Others, reflecting on barriers to asking for or receiving forgiveness, mentioned such things as fear of rejection, the lasting power of old wounds, the sense of vulnerability that can be part of asking forgiveness for offense given.

I admired very much the people who chose to share with the rest of us their thoughts and experiences in such a sensitive area of life. But, I admired no less the attentive and respectful hearing each speaker received. I had the sense that the respect shown to each speaker allowed them the freedom they needed to speak what was in their mind and heart that night.

In reflecting on the evening, I have tried to think about the elements which made it — in my opinion, at least — a rewarding and life-giving one. These factors have come to my mind:

1. We talked about a matter that is of great importance to most people — God’s forgiveness of us and our need to forgive one another.

2. People could tell something of their own stories with the presumption that they would be respectfully heard and understood. In my view, such an experience is beneficial both to speaker and to listener.

3. The interval of prayer helped me — and I think it helped others — to remember that the work for forgiveness is not simply a mental process or an idea translated into words. It has much to do with the deep places in our spirit where God speaks in very quiet ways. In other words, the movement to seek and accept forgiveness is a kind of spiritual conversion. It is a grace, a gift for which we pray.

4. The evening offered all of us an invitation to be mindful that the need to forgive and be forgiven is very much a part of human life; and, that when it is sought or offered in the spirit of Christ, it can be truly life-giving and a source of joy and freedom.

If you have read this far, I expect that your spirit has moved to an awareness of relationships in your life that may call you to ask for or to grant forgiveness. I know that I have come to an awareness of such a need in my own life through the experience of that evening and through the writing of these words. I hope that we can pray for one another that we’ll be willing to respond to that grace and enjoy the peace and freedom it offers.

My thanks go to the Women’s Commission for their wonderful work on behalf of us all and to the participants in our conversation about forgiveness.

Peace to all.

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