Forgiveness Happens Inside the Forgiver

September 11, 2020 – Patriot Day

Nineteen years ago today – on September 11, 2001 – there were four aerial suicide attacks coordinated to strike the areas of New York City and Washington, D.C. On that Tuesday morning, 19 terrorist from the militant group al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger jets. The hijackers intentionally flew two of those planes into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City; both towers collapsed within two hours. The hijackers also intentionally crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia,  and intended to pilot the fourth hijacked jet into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The total number of people killed in these attacks was 2,819. In addition, 403 police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, working to save the lives of others, also lost their lives. Thousands of citizens were injured while trying to help in some way.

Such events make the words of Jesus difficult to process: “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well…”

Which brings us to a question that most of us have struggled with at some point in our lives: Just how forgiving are we supposed to be? Are we called to forgive in every situation, even terrorism? What does the Church, what does our faith, teach us about forgiveness? These are deep theological and moral questions.

Before talking about what forgiveness means, let me begin by saying what forgiveness does not mean.

To forgive does not mean to forget. If we simply forget, we miss out on an opportunity to learn something valuable from the pain we’ve experienced.

To forgive does not mean to condone. When we forgive, we are not saying, “What you’ve done is OK.”

To forgive does not mean to eliminate consequences. There is a price to pay when harm is done to others. While the Church teaches forgiveness, it recognizes and supports the need for justice.

Finally, when we forgive, it doesn’t mean that we are forbidden to feel anger toward whoever has hurt us. Anger, hurt, and resentment are normal feelings; to deny these feelings would be unnatural. There is no expectation that we become emotionless robots.

So where does forgiveness fit in? Forgiveness keeps that anger, hurt, and resentment from taking over our lives. Left unchecked, these feelings can harden our heart and keep us prisoner.

We forgive others for our own sake, to free ourselves.

When God forgives sin or evil, the one who has sinned is the one who benefits, the one who is renewed. When we forgive someone who has harmed us, we are the one who benefits.

While serving as Pope, St. John Paul II was shot six times by a would-be assassin. He later visited the shooter in prison to offer him forgiveness. John Paul said, “Forgiveness happens inside the person doing the forgiving. It heals our pain and resentment before it does anything for the person we forgive.”

Is there someone who has hurt you? Have you dug in your heels and refused to forgive them? Have you allowed the anger and resentment you feel toward them to take over your life and impact your interactions with others? If so…how’s that working out for you?

Consider freeing yourself. Offer forgiveness for your own sake.

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