Anger and Hate and Forgiveness

09-13-2020Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Family of God,

Peace and Joy in Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Do you find yourself often frustrated, tired, and lacking patience? You may want to look at how you deal with your hatred and anger. The very first line we heard from Sacred Scripture applies to so many people in our culture. The Book of Sirach “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will experience the Lord’s vengeance... So forgive your neighbor’s injustice.”

The reading continues – “If you nourish anger against someone, how can you expect God to heal you?” Anger and hatred not only prevent a person from the healing that God wants us to know but also leads to more frustration, tiredness and even depression and anxiety.

Our Lord calls us to forgiveness because He calls us to holiness. But forgiveness is so difficult, especially when you’re angry. In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly makes it clear – forgiveness is not optional. It is essential. After all, Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass again us...” Many of us have been praying that prayer since we were children. Now, we need to pray that we mean what we say.

A word of clarification: we’ve all heard the saying, “Forgive and forget.” Healing our memories doesn’t happen overnight. We remember the beautiful moments of our lives, as we should… but we can remember the times in life when we’ve been hurt, and we feel that pain again.

Some Christians say, “I want to forgive that person, but I still remember what they did.” They have a misconception that forgiving means forgetting. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I can no longer remember what you did to me. Forgiveness means that I choose not to allow that memory of the past to control my present. Yes, I can remember the pain, but that pain does not have to control me today. I can choose to live in the present while looking to the future. Forgiveness does not mean that I have to allow you to keep doing something to me that is painful or destructive.

Christians believe that all of our actions have consequences. The husband who is physically abusive to his wife cannot say to her, “You have to forgive me 70 times 7 times, while I keep hitting you...” No. He needs to stop being abusive. Or he needs to move out. Or he needs to be arrested. She will need, eventually, to work on forgiving him.

A wise priest once said, “If someone has knocked you down and has put their foot on your neck, a Christian can say, ‘With God’s help, I will work to forgive you... but first you have to take your foot off my neck!”

So, forgiveness is not a Christian way of pretending that things did not happen. Forgiveness is not Christian amnesia. Forgiveness is not a kind of approval that let’s bad people keep doing bad things. Forgiveness is not something I can demand that other people should work on. Forgiveness is something I need to start doing. That’s the only way our angry world gets healed. Forgiveness begins with you and with me.

Our Lord shows us the way to experiencing joy and true peace. As He suffered on the cross, Jesus could have angrily called on his Father to send down wrath and ruin. Instead, in His suffering, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

I get it. We see many injustices and hatred and anger and division in the world. We must continue to work with Our Lord and Our Lady and the Communion of Saints to make the Kingdom of God more present in peoples’ hearts. Part of the healing begins with forgiveness. To be clear: Forgiveness is not something that someone else needs to do. Letting go of anger is not something that someone else has to get working on.

Turning away from hate is not a task you should tell others to undertake. I remind myself that wrath and anger are bad for me. Vengeance is something that is bad for me. The unwillingness to forgive will harden my heart and sap my strength and turn me into the very kind of person I am frustrated by.

So yes, I expect people to forgive 70 times 7 times… and it starts with me. The great news: God wants you to experience wholeness and holiness that come from forgiveness more than you do. He will give you the grace you need to forgive. When you forgive, you are sharing in God’s work. As you forgive, you participate in a supernatural action… you share the love of God that only comes from God. You and I are not capable of forgiving on our own. We seek retribution and vengeance. God desires you share in His work and be about His mission.

In his book, Fire of Mercy Heart of the Word, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis offers this reflection:

Our Lord suggests that the Christian life is a battlefield. Only the squeamish and the cowardly return untouched and “whole” from battle. Wounds make the hero. He who does no violence to himself is either spiritually dead, apathetic to the point of putrefaction, or narcissistic to the point of prizing nothing above his own unblemished reflection in the mirror.

If I find nothing in myself to discipline, it is because I suffer from an adolescent insecurity that wants nothing changed, nothing challenged, and because I have installed myself in the illusion that everything about me is already perfect. Only the others need to change, only they have to undergo radical operations, and then all will be well for me in the world. Or I do not really believe in anything worth defending, worth fighting for, more precious than my body and my ego in their splendid isolation. I clutch spastically at the integrity and sovereignty of my body and ego as the ultimate treasure, little realizing that this body of ours has been given us to engage it in adventures, in odysseys, in warfare, in heroic deeds for the common good.”

Practically speaking, our common experience shows that our dreams of physical and mental “wholeness” sooner or later crumble in this world. As we grow old, we are every day more the prey of aches and pains, sickness, lapses of memory, to say nothing of grievous terminal illnesses that emerge from within our poor “vessel of clay”.

In the face of this reality, we must decide just how the experience of a crumbling frame will be used, how it will be submitted to the redeeming action of Christ, who, like a master mason, is continually carving us so that in the end we might become living stones of His heavenly Church. The painful experience of illness and aging that awaits all of us can become the best and fastest road to strip ourselves of the beauteous and vain self I admire in the mirror and be transformed into soft, humid, obedient clay in the hands of the sublime Potter, who alone knows in the context of what wonderful work of art He wants to use us.

God and God alone can heal you. Turn to Him. Let Him heal you.

God Bless, Fr. Don Kline, V.F.