Looking for a resolution that will change the world (and you)?
Start the New Year of Faith with an act of forgiveness! By forgiving the Vatican butler, Paolo Gabriele who violated his trust, then Pope Benedict XVI gave witness to a uniquely human attribute. Seeking and extending forgiveness is one of the most identifying qualities of our species and perhaps the most liberating one as well. Forgiving another person puts us in touch with the heart of God.
Recall the old quip, "What is Irish Alzheimers?... When you forget everything but the grudges." We laugh partly because, deep down we all know that grudges are as debilitating as any other disease. Too many Christmas dinners have been spoiled by the presence of unresolved conflict. A grudge is a story of hurt, resentment that we repeat to ourselves so often that it takes on a life of its own. It stresses our hearts and contorts our spirit. Unresolved resentment triggers hormones related to fight or flight degrade our immune response, drain our energy, and rob us of our creative instincts. Studies confirm that forgiveness has a cathartic benefit.
Forgiveness has little to do with the offender and everything to do with me. It requires no change of heart from anyone else. I am in complete control. People who forgive often report immediate and long term health benefits. They feel better, are more active and become physically healthier. Because forgiveness allows us to let go of fears and negative attitudes toward others, it multiplies our capacity to receive love from these people. Grudges leave us bound by the offense and the offender. Forgiveness sets us free.
It can be quite difficult to forgive without fully embracing the full consequences of an injury. This sounds disheartening and can make it difficult to accomplish by oneself. If it feels unnatural to forgive that is because it is. It is a divine act, not a natural one. For this reason, the deepest wounds may require the Sacrament of penance - not for the offender, but for me. Whenever I plumb the depths of my own resentment and failure to accept the action of another person, I often find the cause to be something within myself. What I hate in others is connected to what I loathe in myself.
Forgiveness never condones an injury, nor does it require an apology. It taps the gift of gratitude for God's grace toward oneself. It grows from acceptance of what is most ugly in me. My deepest fear is not of re-injury, it is that I might have deserved the injury. When I start with reconciliation with God, I tap a power far greater than my own. Forgiveness breaks the dance of resentment and dependence when God joins us in the dance. When we forgive without condition we experience resurrection. God abides in us.
In one sense, forgiveness is the most selfish of acts, because I am the only direct beneficiary. What a gift to give myself in a Year of Faith - the freedom that comes from forgiveness. Ask yourself:
- What injuries do I still hold onto?
- What is the cause of my hurt?
- What will happen if I keep holding onto it?
- What do I fear in letting go?
- What do I have to lose?
- Why does this story of hurt continue to play in my head?
- Who needs forgiveness?
- Is there someone from whom I need to seek forgiveness?
- Is there something for which I have not even forgiven myself?
- If not now when?
Each new year offers graced opportunities, especially when we start by lightening the load through forgiveness.