Ash Wednesday and Our Journey To Forgiveness

“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

Healing From Old Hurts

Forgiveness is a common subject. We frequently hear “inspirational” quotes about forgiveness and letting go. But what does forgiveness and letting go really mean and what steps do we need to take to truly be able to heal from past hurts?

Forgive–Forgiving doesn’t mean pretending “everything’s OK” or acting as if more healing doesn’t need to take place. St Augustine said that forgiveness simply requires us to surrender our natural desire for revenge. To forgive someone just means that you are going to refuse to be defined by the injuries you have suffered at their hands, and that you are refusing to make things worse by hurting them for having hurt you. Forgiveness allows something other than our pain to come into existence. It allows the possibility for healing to occur. The first step in letting go of old hurts is choosing to forgive the other person by refusing to be defined by your pain and choosing to get on with letting God’s grace heal your heart and any other damage that might have been caused by the other person’s actions.

Focus on Healing Not Hurting–Sometimes, even after we’ve forgiven someone, it can be hard to heal. Sometimes, we can even fall a little in love with being the victim. Holding on to victimhood sounds bad, but it can feel good, because it makes us feel like we’re on the winning team of us against the world. But this is an illusion that separates us from God’s healing grace. You don’t have to deny the pain you feel from those old hurts. You just have to focus on taking the next step in healing those hurts. When those injuries come up, instead of nursing them, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do right now to heal myself or this relationship? What’s one small step I can take to regain what was taken from me or heal what was broken in me?”  Then do that thing. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to do, seek guidance from a faithful mentor, spiritual director or pastoral counselor. Either way, the key to letting go of old hurts isn’t found in pretending they don’t exist or in wallowing in them. It is found in making a plan to let God’s healing grace into your heart so that you can not only restore what lost, but so that you can rise up to new heights through God’s mercy and his healing love.

Cultivate Joy–Cultivating joy in the face of old hurts doesn’t mean putting on a happy face and denying your problems. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is the quality we achieve by doing everything we can to cooperate with God’s grace to live a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life.  Living more meaningfully means doing whatever we can to use our gifts, talents, and abilities to make a positive difference in our lives and the world around us. Living more intimately means doing whatever we can to make our relationships healthier and deeper. Living more virtuously means asking how we can use whatever life throws at us as our opportunity to become stronger, healthier, godlier people. The more we respond to our pain by throwing ourselves into cultivating meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, the more we cooperate with God’s desire to give us joy in place of the hurt.

For more on how to heal from past hurts check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN SiriusXM channel 130.

“They Did What?!?” Simple Steps to Making Peace with People Who Hurt Us

My latest for OSVNewsweekly

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Life is filled with people who frustrate, irritate and otherwise infuriate us. Whether it comes to managing conflict in our own households or facing political battles and culture wars, there seems to be no end to the ways other people can inflame us.

And yet, in the face of all this discord, we’re reminded of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers’” (Mt 5:9). Pope Francis has asserted that practicing this beatitude is the “identity card of a Christian.” Refusing to add fuel to the metaphorical fires burning in our world is a hallmark of the call to follow Christ.

Even so, it can be hard to know where to start. I like to remind my clients that the key to authentic peacemaking is practicing the art of charitable interpretation. The art of charitable interpretation is not the same as excusing another’s bad behavior, and it involves much more than simply “assuming the best” about another person.  READ THE REST

How the Forgiveness We’ve Seen in Charleston Can Change the Culture (My interview with Aleteia)

shutterstock_121922278

From my interview with Aleteia Zoe Romanowsky

Everyone has heard the stories by now: How relatives of the nine victims gunned down by 21 year-old Dylann Roof at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, NC, appeared at Roof’s bond hearing and spoke words of forgiveness and mercy to him.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of response by devastated family members in the face of unimaginable loss.

When Charles Roberts, a 32 year-old milk truck driver, walked into an Amish school house in October 2006 and shot 10 Amish girls, killing five before killing himself, the Amish community responded similarly. Rather than cast blame or point fingers, they reached out to the killer’s family. The very afternoon of the shooting, one of victim’s grandfathers publicly expressed forgiveness and others went to comfort the Roberts family.

The forgiveness extended by the Amish community, particularly the family members, not only surprised journalists who showed up to cover the story, but changed the life of Robert’s mother, Terri Roberts. Because of the mercy extended to her, CBS news reportedin 2013 that she made it her mission to share the same message with other trauma victims, and that once a week she was caring for the most seriously wounded survivor of the shooting, now a teenager.

Though it can be hard to grasp after such atrocities, forgiveness is central to Christianity—recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:22 when he tells Peter that he must forgive “seventy times seven times”—in other words, there should be no end to who and how often we forgive.

Forgiveness frees and changes people. It can profoundly affect both the victim and the perpetrator, and paves the way for healing, reconciliation, and even cultural change over time.

Dr. Greg Popcak, a Catholic psychologist atCatholicCounselors.com, says forgiveness is always the first step in healing for a person who’s been wronged.

“St. Augustine  said that forgiveness simply requires us to surrender our desire for revenge—at the point that we stop wanting to hurt someone for having hurt us, we have, in fact forgiven them.” says Popcak. “Reconciliation is the next step in the process, where the injuries to the relationship are healed and the relationship is restored, but that’s secondary to simple forgiveness.” says Popcak.

As Popcak points out, research shows that people who cultivate forgiving hearts are both emotionally and physically healthier than those who are prone to carry grudges.

“The stress that accompanies nursing an emotional wound sets us up for a host of emotional problems, and even physical ailments. Forgiveness is a gift that we can give ourselves even when the other person hasn’t asked for it.”

In the aftermath of the Charleston tragedy, social media was buzzing with people disapproving of granting forgiveness too soon to Dylan Roof. For some, it detracted from the seriousness of the crime, the need for justice, and the underlying problems that need to be discussed and addressed. Perhaps what bothered them, however, was the perception of what may be called “cheap forgiveness.”

“Cheap forgiveness,” says Popcak….CONTINUE READING

The Secret of Forgiving Yourself

We’re heading into Lent and, as I noted on the show today, it’s a time where lots of us will end up facing some degree of temptation to beat up on ourselves for failing in our efforts to fulfill our Lenten penances.  Beyond this, though, forgiving oneself for one’s failings and struggles is a constant struggle.  It can be hard to know what forgiving yourself means much less how to do it.

As I’ve shared before, St Augustine said that  forgiveness is what happens when we “surrender our natural desire for revenge.”  In other words, at the point we stop wanting to hurt someone for having hurt us, we have forgiven them.  (Reconciliation is a separate issue, but that’s another post). So how does this apply to forgiving oneself?

To forgive ourselves doesn’t mean letting ourselves off the hook.  It means refusing to give into the temptation to heap coals on ourselves for having failed.  St Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, reveals the folly of this approach when he notes that our sins tend to be a flawed attempt to make ourselves feel better.  Therefore, the worse we make ourselves feel about our sins and failings the more likely we’ll be to sin again in that same pathetic attempt to make ourselves feel better for having sinned!  It truly is a vicious spiritual cycle. If we were to apply Augustine’s formula for forgiveness to ourselves, we’d have to say that forgiving ourselves means surrendering our natural desire to hurt ourselves… for having hurt ourselves.   Think about that a minute.  How quick are we to heap pain on ourselves for having hurt ourselves?  Does that even make sense?  How is that supposed to help?

Let’s take this a step further.  Research on effective apologies has some application to this process of forgiving ourselves.  If someone makes a good apology, it will usually have  three components (at least for a serious problem.  Lesser offenses can be healed by apologies with fewer components). First, the person expresses empathy–they make some expression that says they understand how much and how deeply they hurt us.  Secondly, they propose a plan of restitution, that is,  they say what they want to do to heal the hurt or make things right again.  Third, there is the recognition of an objective standard; this is, the person apologizing doesn’t try to pawn it off by saying “you’re too sensitive”  or “you expect too much.”   Instead, the person making the apology admits that the offended party has a right to have expected more from the offender.

How would we apply this to ourselves?  We know that we are truly sorry for our sins and failings, not if we never do it again (which is the ideal, but also a long process) but rather  if we a) can articulate how deeply our sinful actions have and are hurting us  b) can describe a concrete plan by which we would like to make a real change in our lives and c) can admit that we have a right to expect more and better from ourselves and that God’s grace makes achieving that standard possible.

If we can include these three components in our “apology to ourselves” if you will, we can know that we are truly sorry for what we have done to hurt ourselves which will make letting go of the desire to hurt ourselves for having hurt ourselves that much easier.  IF we are having problems forgiving ourselves, chances are, one of these three things is missing.  Just like it would be if we were having a hard time forgiving someone else.

This Lent, if you would like to experience more peace in your heart, I would encourage you to give up…beating up on yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to forgive yourself and start cooperating with God’s plan of healing for your life, check out The Life God Wants You To Have:  Discovering the Divine Plan when Human Plans Fail.

Coming Monday on More2Life Radio– To forgive, Divine

As our nation tries to put itself back together in the aftermath of last week, many are asking questions about mercy and forgiveness really asks of us.  It’s a great question, and one that has a great deal of personal resonance as we reflect on how to treat those who have hurt us in big and small ways. Today, we’ll look  at forgiveness actually requires, some common misperceptions about forgiveness and how to bring about healing after the hurt. Call in from Noon-1pm Eastern at 877-573-7825 with your questions on forgiveness and mercy.

Don’t forget to respond to our M2L FB Q of the D:  What offenses are hardest for you to forgive and why?

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at avemariaradio.net)

COMING TUES on MORE2LIFE RADIO: A Question of Mercy.

Coming Tues on More2Life Radio:  A question of mercy.  We’ll look at mercy, what it is, what it isn’t and how to give it more freely without being taken advantage of.
Call in with your questions from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C) at 877-573-7825
Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C). Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!

Study Shows: People who Don’t Go to Church are Haters.

Ok, now that I’ve got your attention, the study doesn’t say that… exactly.  But it does show that non-religious persons are much less willing or able to forgive themselves or others than religious people.

…those who leave a religious tradition entirely (i.e., those who were religiously affiliated and no longer were at the time of the survey) are less likely to forgive themselves and others compared to those who stay in a religious tradition. What seems to matter in promoting forgiveness, then, is that a person adheres to a religion or denomination; on the whole, the religiously unaffiliated have less of a propensity to forgive.

Previous research has pretty well settled the notion that religious people are more forgiving of themselves and others than non-religious people, but this study wanted to understand what the mechanism of that forgiveness really is.  The study identified three factors that contribute to the more forgiving nature of religious people, the degree to which you exhibit these factors as a religious person tends to determine how forgiving you will be of both  yourself and others.

 (1) one’s relational disposition toward God—in other words, beliefs about who God is, what God does, and the appropriate interactions a believer should have with God;

In other words, the degree to which you believe God is a loving, forgiving God (as opposed to an angry, spiteful God) has an impact on the level of forgiveness you display toward both yourself and others.

(2) the extent to which a person imitates God’s qualities and actions; and

Fairly self-explanatory.  The more you feel you are obliged to treat others as God treats you (assuming point #1; i.e., that you think God is loving and forgiving) the more likely you are to be forgiving to yourself and others.

(3) the extent to which a person believes her religion (and therefore its injunctions and teachings) is or should be pervasive in life.

Also pretty straight-forward.  The degree to which you see your religion as a blueprint for living as opposed to merely a path to personal enlightenment/reflection (as is the case with those who are “spiritual but not religious”), the more forgiving of yourself and others you will tend to be.

If these factors have a signficant impact on forgiveness levels, it also makes sense why non-religious people may have a harder time forgiving.  For example, athiests like Richard Dawkins certainly don’t profess to believe (or even not believe) in a merciful, loving God.  The God they reject is perceived to be pretty angry and spiteful.  Because of that, they certainly don’t see the value in imitating what they perceive to be “God’s” immature, tantrumming behavior, and they therefore reject that any religion that worships such a God should have anything to do with life.

Not having a positive model for forgiveness or a more cohesive definition of what forgiveness looks like outside of their own experience, the non-believer would have a more difficult–if not impossible–challenging himself or herself to be as forgiving as a believer who is consistently challenged by a faith community to at least imagine that it is possible to be more forgiving than he or she has actually witnessed in his or her own life.

QUESTION:  What offenses tend to be the hardest for you to forgive in yourself or others?

——Having difficulties forgiving the difficult people in your life?  Check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People

 

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day for Mon 3/18: Forgive Your Spouse

In Sunday’s gospel, we’re reminded that only “he without sin” may cast the first stone.  Clearly forgiveness is important to the Christian walk.   On the show today, we reminded listeners of St. Augustine’s definition of forgiveness; specifically, that it involves surrendering our desire to hurt someone for having hurt us.  It doesn’t mean pretending that everything is OK when its not, or letting someone off the hook.  It means surrendering the anger that makes you want to lash out so that you can approach the other person and heal the relationship in love.

How does your spouse irritate or upset you?  Today, surrender your tendency to lash out.  If you can let it go, let it go.  If you have to say something, say it in love.  Practice an attitude of forgiveness.

For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.