“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our need for reconciliation with God and marks the beginning of our Lenten journey.
Saint John Paul II saw mercy and the Theology of The Body as going hand in hand. The Theology of the Body recognizes that God has incredibly high expectations for us and our relationships, but he knows that we will inevitably stumble and fall along the way. The only way we can hope to achieve the heights we’re destined for is by leaning into God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness–and by sharing that same mercy and forgiveness with each other.
At the same time, forgiveness doesn’t require us to pretend that an offense didn’t occur or that things are better than they actually are. In fact, the Catechism (2043) says, “ It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense.” The Theology of The Body reminds us that we are created for communion with others, which means that we have to be willing to work to face the offenses we commit against each other honestly and courageously and then willingly work together to actually heal the damage that’s been done to the body of Christ. True communion can’t be built if we aren’t honest with each other about the damage our hurtful actions have caused and honest about the work that needs to be done to actually heal those wounds. The work involved in forgiveness and reconciliation is good work, but it’s also hard and complicated work. It’s ok to take the time that is necessary to do it right.
Let’s look at three stepping stones on the path to forgiveness:
1. Know What Forgiveness Is–St. Augustine said that forgiveness is surrendering our desire for revenge. It doesn’t mean pretending everything is ok. It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to discuss the situation further. It doesn’t mean you can’t hold the other person accountable for what they did. It just means that you are refusing to hurt them for having hurt you. We forgive to make reconciliation possible. If a person says, “I’m sorry” without being willing to do the work of healing the hurts they caused, they are lying. Despite what some of us have been taught, “I’m sorry” are not “magic words” that make the pain go away. “I’m sorry” isn’t the end of the process. It’s just another way of saying, “I’m ready to begin the work of reconciling with you.”
2. Know What Letting Go Means–Sometimes we say we’ve forgiven someone, but we have a hard time letting go of the hurt. Many times we think that means we haven’t really forgiven. More likely, it means that the injury hasn’t been fully attended to. Bring your pain to God in prayer and ask him to help you figure out what you still need from the other person to heal. Then go to the person who hurt you and, respectfully, tell them what you need. Don’t get caught up in thinking that the past is the past. If you’re hurting in the present, the injury needs to be dealt with in the present. “Letting go” is what happens when you and the other person have done what God needs you both to do to heal the wound. Until then, stay committed to the process of healing.
3. When It’s Complicated–Sometimes a wound doesn’t heal on its own and you need to seek a doctor’s help. In the same way, while most emotional wounds will heal with time, some can’t. These can become infected with bitterness. Bitterness is the infection that results when an emotional wound is not properly attended to. If you are having a hard time healing an emotional wound either on your own or with the person who hurt you, don’t let bitterness grow in you. Seek professional help from a faithful counselor who can help you discern the best ways to heal your hurt and restore peace to your heart.
If you would like to seek professional support on your journey to facilitating forgiveness, we’re here to help. Reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com