Forgiveness is necessary

By Vinal Van Benthem | April 9, 2015

A friend shared recently what someone had once shared with her, that refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and then expecting the other person to die.
Rob was finally able to forgive his brother for leaving his wife and kids. Vince choked back tears when he was finally able to forgive his father for abusing his mother. But Denise simply could not see any good reason why she should forgive her father for abusing her when she was a child or for forgiving her mother for allowing it to happen. How could she be expected to forgive her parents for stealing her childhood? Certainly this was not what God had in mind when God commanded that she honor her father and her mother!

Then a friend suggested that Denise look at the commandment from another angle. She pointed out to her that because of what she had experienced Denise had determined that one day she would be for her own family what her own mother had not been able to be for her — the devoted wife and loving mother that she is today. It had not been easy but now, by her own life, Denise is bringing honor to her father and mother. And realizing the goodness born from that earlier abuse Denise, too, was finally able to forgive.

Rob’s sister lived in another part of the country. Vince’s father died while he was in the military. Denise’s dad died while she away at school, her mother a few years later. None of them was aware of the poison that the victims of their actions continued to drink and none would die of its effects. But for Rob, Vince and Denise the poisoning would continue until and unless they were willing to forgive.

“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” As Catholic Christians we traditionally associate these words with the sacrament of reconciliation. And this is appropriate. What we forget, however, is that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on each one of us as well. Do we forgive? Or retain?

Van Benthem
is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.

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