I feel I am not equipped to write this post, or that I must do so from the point of view of a hypocrite. Well, I suppose that's many things in life, anyway, and a part of growing. At least I can acknowledge it.
The topic of forgiveness has been heavy on my mind in the past few months as I have seen places in my life where I feel I must forgive others for very real and hurtful actions. Some of them are things that happened a long time ago which I just now realize I have been holding onto, and some are very current. What makes it extra complicated, I realize, is that sometimes we have to forgive people for simply being themselves. That one is annoying. It would be great to be able to forgive a one-off action and move on - but forgiving someone's way of existence is just confusing. I think I don't like it because there's no solution or resolution. You have to acknowledge that something simply doesn't work, no matter how you look at it.
Last week I went to a talk given by the Center for Psychological Services entitled, "Forgiving Yourself and Others and Mental (and Physical) Health." The talk was given by Everett Worthington, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University whose credentials are impressive, to say the least. This is a man whose mother was murdered - beaten to death with a club during a home invasion - and he was able to forgive the murderer. He has done tons of research on the topic of forgiveness and I found it fascinating that there are psychological researchers who have devoted their whole lives to studying this topic. It seems worthwhile, doesn't it?
A few things stood out to me: of course there are the usual health benefits one would associate with forgiveness, both mental and physical, but I also liked his discussion of what forgiveness is not: forgiveness is not condoning an action or even reconciling with another person. It is something that happens within your own skin, and can only happen in your own skin, and you don't even need to communicate it to the other person. Sometimes it's better not to (for example, when that person doesn't know they have hurt you!). I appreciated knowing that forgiveness is not a two-way street, along the lines of reconciliation. Because there are situations wherein I can neither visualize nor desire reconciliation. Ultimately, though, I think the most important thing to remember is that forgiveness releases you and benefits you more than the person you are forgiving. It's absolutely critical to be able to move on. Ah, but sometimes we don't want to.
This is relevant considering the Year of Mercy starting December 8. Are mercy and forgiveness the same things? I can't figure it out. I think, though, that mercy is the first step toward forgiveness, and I don't think you can have one without the other. I do not find this naturally easy, though, when my ego gets worked up and I make assumptions and feel comfortable in self-righteousness. For this reason I plan to play special attention during the upcoming year, read more on the topic and pray (perhaps the Divine Mercy chaplet is a good place to start) on how I can improve my own ability to forgive.
By the way - I received the very thrilling news that I get to volunteer at, and attend, the Pope's canonization Mass for Blessed Junipero Serra when the Holy Father is town later this month! This is a blessing beyond belief and an answered prayer - one of many recently. I am so overjoyed that I get to not only see the Pope, but meet lots of other excited Catholics and witness this special event. Needless to say, I have never seen a canonization before. Holy cow! Or holy Junipero Serra, I should say. See what I did there?