Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Unfinished Business

Somewhere in our hearts there are always dead ends of human relations: something forgotten, something we have put away on the shelf or in the cavern of our soul. It may not show all the time, but it does come forth. All those dead ends have to be swept away into the lap of the Lord, or at his feet. We cannot enter radiantly into [Easter] unless we have forgiven.

Christ expects of us a peaceful approach to the other, no matter how hurtful that other has been, an approach like his own: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” I remember when the Communists shot a priest in Russia [during Mass], an old man with a thin, reedy voice said, “Father, forgive them, even if they do know what they do.” I understood then what total forgiveness could be. We can only understand forgiveness through Christ forgiving us. Christ who forgave his enemies while he lived, and telling us to forgive “seventy times seven”.

The greatest thing I can do for anybody is to pray for them and really mean it. If I just say, “Lord, I have forgiven her; please look after her”, that is not enough. The person has to be in my heart, in my mind, for a little while. Then I hand him or her over to God, clad in the white garment of my forgiveness. I forget them in the sense that I have forgiven them, but I remember them in the uniqueness of their person. Now they are just as they were before. It can be done. I think such love can do what is almost impossible.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Season of Mercy

Reflection – Catherine has a way of coming at things from a slightly different angle than other writers. Here it is the whole business of forgiveness and the Gospel call to same. This is a tough one, and there’s no question about it. Besides the somewhat petty level of daily annoyances and small injustices, almost all of us have at least somewhere in the back of our histories someone who did us a great injury, or who injured someone we dearly love.

Both on the petty level and on the grand, forgiveness is hard. But Catherine is quite right, of course. We may not be feverishly plotting revenge against our enemies, but we all have a tendency to simply park these dead ended relationships somewhere back in the caverns and shelves of our mind. To simply write it off and move on.

But we cannot write it off and move on, not if we are Christians. Because the ‘it’ is not an ‘it’ – it is a he or a she—a person. And we are accountable for every human relationship and how it ends—not in the outer realm which is beyond our control—but in our hearts.

Until we forgive this person and love them, the relationship has not ended rightly, and is unfinished business for us. We might need to leave it as such for a time, especially in the bigger injuries and deeper hurts, but if we are Christians we cannot leave it at that forever.

Essentially, Christianity means being called to live the life of Christ in the world in our frail fallen flesh. And so God so loved the world that He died for the salvation of everyone. Our living his life in our own flesh means we simply cannot leave anyone outside of our love. Not the person who hurt you worst (I know that as you read this you have someone in mind – I certainly do as I write it!), and not the person who bothers and frustrates you every day (you probably have someone in mind for that position, too!).

Challenging? Yes. But the world as we see it today is filled with the opposite attitude: hatred and revenge or cold indifference and contempt. And where does all that take us? Our biggest contribution to a culture of life and love is to this day extend the hand of forgiveness through the prayer of our heart, through carrying that person today in our thoughts and minds, asking God to bless them and, in a sense, giving our lives for that blessing. Christ gave his life for you; you can give today for ‘that person’. And that’s how love conquers in our world.
I'm not being too simplistic, am I? I don't think so. It's hard, no question, and the emotional realites can be complex enough, but I think the thing itself is extraordinarily simple. To desire, and to ask God, that hatred and anger and indifference be eradicated from our hearts so that love can flow outward to everyone, and in a particular way to our enemies, whoever they may be.


  1. Catherine states,"The person has to be to be in our heart, in my mind for a little while." I find it useful to remember folks in prayer for a period of days perhaps until it seems right to let them go or my contrition is heart felt and certain. I have found that a brief prayerful act can be forgotten and when the pain returns months or years hence I sometimes find myself wondering why, and a little doubtful about what prayerful action I might have taken at the time. Did I truely forgive or seek forgiveness? I find myself reforgiving or reasking God's forgiveness just to be sure. I do better with a longer more memorable effort as seems true for Catherine.


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