17 March 2009

Suffering from the Grudges

3rd Week of Lent (T): Dan 3.25, 34-43; Matt 18.21-35
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

[NB. Also podcasted. . .right sidebar under "Roman Homilies."]

Why is it so difficult to forgive those who have sinned against us? Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who find forgiving others to be an effortless joy, a pleasant boon to be given away like peppermints at Christmas or chocolates at Easter. Perhaps you are willing and able to toss pardons at your enemies like paraders toss beads at Mardi Gras. Your reward will be great in Heaven. The rest of us, however, suffer from the Grudges, that obstinate refusal to release anger, hurt, annoyance; that inordinate love of nursing a wound, or spending time petting the devil of vengeance. Our prayer is: “You will pay.” For us—unlike the angels among us—for us, the commandment to love is absolutely necessary; we need the admonition to forgive and the threat of eternal pain and darkness to pry open our pouting hearts to forgiveness. Once those creaky, rusting hinges grind open, the light of God’s mercy sears the grudging fungus of offense, and we are able to see a bit more clearly the way out of our hellish labyrinth. But getting in there, parting those corroded doors can be a life’s labor. Why? Why is forgiveness so difficult? And why is Jesus so insistent that forgiveness be a bottomless cup of infinite mercy?

First, forgiveness is difficult because to forgive a sin seems to suggest that the sin was of no consequence, meaningless or harmless. In my grudge, I say, “No! Your sin hurt me!” To forgive it minimizes my pain.

Second, forgiveness is difficult because to forgive a sin seems to imply that we are OK with being sinned against again. Wouldn’t forgiving a sin imply that that sin could easily be repeated because it caused no real harm in the first place?

Third, forgiveness is difficult because to forgive a sin seems to imply that I must forget your sin, never bring it up again, not dwell on it, or let it influence my view of you or our relationship. How can I forget a sin?

There are many other reasons that forgiveness is difficult, but these three are the most common. They make up the unholy trinity that rusts the hinges of our heart and keeps the doors of mercy corroded and closed. Now, I suppose, you expect me to give you a tidy way of dispelling each one of these corrupting ghosts. What’s the magic pill that will wipe my memory clean? Make me never worry about consequences again? Leave me free from anxiety about being offended in the future? No such thing. Jesus never once promises that forgiving others their sins against us will magically erase our doubts about the wisdom of that forgiveness. Like his commandment to love God, neighbor, and self, we are told to forgive. Ordered to do it, in fact. We have no option. Practice makes a habit and habits ordered to love quickly become virtues. And who among us can’t make us of a virtue?

If you have difficulty forgiving others, think on this: forgiveness is impossible for those who have no sense of their own sinfulness. Holding a grudge, refusing to forgive, is very often our way of refusing to confess our sins, a self-righteous cover for our own transgressions. If I can delude myself into thinking that my hurt, my anger, my annoyance is righteous, then my own sins seem somehow less immediate, less important. Eventually, I may even find a way to turn my sins into virtues while seeking justice for my hurts. Unfortunately, while I am chasing self-righteous justice, God’s mercy goes uncollected and I go unforgiven.

Fine. What I will not allow the light of Christ to illuminate, the fires of Gehenna will burn eternally.

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  1. Excellent homily! I missed your blog while you were in Greece.

  2. Very insightful. I still carry the grudges of childhood injuries though I'm now 56. Everytime they come to mind I try to remember much of what you've written, especially that last sentence. Doesn't seem to work too well but maybe without the efforts I put in I'd have climbed a bell tower with a high powered rifle some years back. "Going postal" always had a morbid attraction to it.

    Thanks for your great posts, it helps knowing we should be more centered on progress and not perfection.

  3. Many thanks.
    My feelings usually trap me. I am comforted with the fact that the want and desire to forgive is what is necessary.
    Because as you said, there is no magic pill to erase those memories.

  4. Flambeaux1:25 PM

    Boy did I need to read this today. Thank you, Father.

  5. It took me 30 years to forgive in my heart, the guy that molested me as a child. It also took that long to forgive myself for never coming forward. Guilt and anger are terrible things that walk hand in hand with us.

  6. Anonymous7:54 PM

    I needed this today, too, Father -- many thanks, and I too missed reading your blog while you were in Greece. God bless.

    Regards from Canada,
    Patricia Gonzalez

  7. I guess I'm one of those lucky people who find it very easy to forgive.

    To me, forgiveness is not about you, it's about me. It is about letting go of the hurt and regaining my peace.

    Maybe that's a selfish way to forgive. I don't know.

  8. I see you're back. good to hear from you.