By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Forgiving is difficult for those who have been deeply hurt.
Three years after their marriage, Anita’s husband abandoned her and their child. Splurging in relationships that entailed no commitment, he became a serial adulterer, never once visiting Anita or helping her bring up their child. Having been a strong woman, Anita moved on. But the pain of betrayal and rejection continued to haunt her.
One day, after seven years, her prodigal husband showed up. He told her he had become a member of a Christian group, got converted, and now was begging her to take him back. He said: “Anita, forget what happened. Let’s begin again.” Anita stared at him with eyes brimming with tears.
Iris DeMent’s song accurately expresses what she wants to say at that moment:
“You say that you’re born again, cleansed of your former sins.
You want me to say
‘I forgive and forget.’
But God may forgive you,
but I won’t.
You say that you’re born again,
well so am I
God may forgive you,
but I won’t and I won’t even try.”
Anita reminds me of another woman, Corrie ten Boom, who, after surviving unspeakable torture and humiliation in Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp, went on to become a great Protestant preacher. One day, after she delivered a sermon on God’s forgiveness, a man approached her and said: “I listened to your sermon. I was a guard there in Ravensbruck, but after the war, I became a Christian. I ask you to forgive me for what I have done to you.”
Corrie froze. This was the cruel and heartless guard who tortured her, and even caused the death of her sister. As he stood before her, asking for forgiveness, she felt ashamed because in all honesty, even after preaching about forgiveness, she could not and would not forgive this man at that moment. She looked up to heaven to pray: “Lord, forgive me. I can’t forgive.”
Kjartan Sekkingstad was kidnapped in 2016 and endured a terrible ordeal in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf. He saw how two of his companions were beheaded. Luckily for him, the ransom was paid before his scheduled execution. Upon his release, he told reporters: “I believe that no matter how bad people are, there is still something good in them. But these kidnappers are an exception.” Needless to say, he could not bring himself to forgive them for what they did.
Many of us can relate with Anita, Collie, and Kjartan. Rather than feeling guilty for our inability to forgive, let us take consolation from the fact that when Jesus hung on the cross, surrounded by people who wanted him dead, He did not say: “I forgive you.” For sure, He wanted to forgive them, but having been also human like us, when pain and suffering so overwhelmed Him, He could not bring Himself to honestly say those words. So He said instead: “Father, forgive them.”
Today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the need to forgive. But if Jesus, who is God, found it difficult to instantly forgive those who betrayed, cursed, and crucified Him, what more of us? God cannot expect us to be more forgiving than Jesus.
So, whenever I find it hard to forgive, I turn to God and pray as Jesus prayed: “Father, be the one to forgive them because right now, I cannot honestly do so. With your grace, heal the hurt and the pain that afflict me, so I may one day find the strength and the courage to say: ‘I forgive.’”