In reading a book on the train today about marital infidelity, I discovered that the author came at the conclusion of her book to the subject of forgiveness. She said that to offer forgiveness to one who does not acknowledge their guilt is a re-opening of the wounds of betrayal. She went on to say that forgiveness that is not in some way earned through action in reparation is empty and ineffective.
Two things came to mind for me. One was, “What did Jesus do?” Did he forgive even those who did not acknowledge their sin or repent? He did say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” The second thing was, in the sacrament of reconciliation, penance is assigned and accepted. Reparation is needed. Absolution is not given to one who does not admit guilt and accept penance.
So, should one forgive those who will not acknowledge their guilt or be willing to work to repair in some way the damage done to others?
It occurs to me that forgiveness in order to heal psychologically is one thing; forgiveness to heal the soul and repair damaged relationships may be another.
To heal psychologically it is dangerous at times to offer some individuals forgiveness when they show no sign or willingness to change. It leaves one vulnerable to further hurt from that person.
Perhaps though we are even called to heal souls and repair relationships. Perhaps that is the vocation of all Christians? If it is, then we forgive even those who hurt us and do not acknowledge their guilt.
So what do you say to the woman or man who is being violated by another? Forgive and get away? Forgive and stay? Be a martyr in your efforts to forgive? Forget about forgiving someone who shows no remorse or capacity for change?
I don’t think Jesus is asking us to stay in violent abusive relationships. He certainly seems though to be saying, “Forgive seventy times seven times.”
Look at today’s Office of Readings where St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh describes his experience of imprisonment and upcoming martyrdom. He seems to speak of forgiveness in the face of horrid, unrepentant evil. It is easy to let ourselves off the hook by saying he was exceptional, and his forgiveness an ideal to which we strive but never really attain. We dismiss all too often many of our ethical responsibilities in this way. Jesus challenges us to forgive the small and the large injuries we endure with the same love that he loved, with the same forgiveness he offered us.
So we come back to the beginning. What is forgiveness really?
Forgiveness, I believe, is freedom.
A topic for further discussion and your comment.