Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
I've been ranting for years now—in the confessional, the pulpit, in my office; probably even in my sleep—that one of the greatest modern heresies to infect the Church is the pernicious idea that all things spiritual must be felt in order to be true. For example, a woman comes to me in despair b/c God has abandoned her. I ask: what makes you think God has abandoned you? I just don't feel His presence anymore, she says. What am I supposed to say to this? What does it mean? If God—the source and summit of our being—abandons us, we won't be around anymore to feel anything! That she feels anything at all is proof positive that God has not abandoned her. Another example: a man tells me that he's forgiven his wife for cheating on him. Good, I say; so, what's the problem? I don't feel as though I've forgiven her. I ask, what does forgiveness feel like? I don't know, he says. Then how do you know that. . .oh, nevermind. . .you get the picture. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Where does he say that we are to be happy/sad/angry/anxious/giddy/calm about forgiving a sinner? Just forgive them, a deliberate act. Let feelings come what may.
Just in case we didn't get it the first time, Jesus adds a little hyperbole: “And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I am sorry,' you should forgive him.” If you're thinking in terms of the heresy of Feelingism, you're probably thinking that Jesus is setting us up for some serious emotional abuse. Seven times in one day I'm supposed to forgive this louse?! Yes. Even seventy-seven times, if necessary. This is a problem only if you think that you have to feel the forgiveness magically flowing out of you like a stream of warm regard. You don't. Because forgiveness isn't about feelings. It's about the intellect, how you choose to think. It's all about changing your mind not your passions. When someone sins against you, think first: that poor person is in a state of sin. Then, think: when one of my brothers or sisters is in a state of sin, the whole Body of Christ is weakened. When the one who sinned against you repents and asks for forgiveness, immediately forgive him so that the Body is strengthened. Can you be angry, sad, happy that you've forgiven them? Sure. So long as you forgive. Think: the measure I use to measure will be used to measure me.
Now, just in case the first two times Jesus teaches us about the necessity to forgive sinners didn't take, we have the reaction of his disciples to reinforce the lesson. After he tells them to forgive the same sinner seven times in one day, how do the disciples react? You gotta be kidding! But, Lord, he'll just keep on sinning! What about my hurt feelings?! No, none of those. The disciple say, “Lord, increase our faith.” Strengthen our trust in you, Lord. Fortify our belief in this truth. Faith, trust, belief are all more or less synonyms, and all are made manifest by intellectual assent; that is, saying Yes to truth. No feelings here. No emotions. Just a plain, old-fashioned recognition that Jesus' teaching on forgiveness is true. “Lord, increase our faith” is a prayer for better understanding so that the Lord's teaching may become a virtue, a good habit. Think of it this way: forgiving a sinner isn't even really about you at all. The other guy is the sinner, so he/she is the one in trouble. Why wouldn't you help get them out of trouble? It's good moral exercise for you, and your persistence in mercy can only be an excellent example for them. Last question: does it matter that you don't feel like being merciful? No, it doesn't. Just be merciful. If for no other reason than that Jesus commands it._____________
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