||Msgr. John Hebl
Editor's Note: During Lent, a series of articles on Forgiveness will be presented by Msgr. John Hebl, pastor emeritus and charter member of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), and Robert Enright, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, author, and founder of the IFI. This will help introduce the first ever International Conference on Forgiveness in July 2017 which IFI is sponsoring in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
A number of years ago, a priest friend, now deceased, shared a personal conversation he once had with a parishioner.
She stated she liked him as a confessor. Somewhat taken aback, he asked whether it was because of his education (he held two Master's and a Doctorate degree), or his empathy, compassion, and understanding, or maybe even because he was elderly.
She said, "no it was none of these," and then added, "It's because you're hard of hearing!"
Why seek forgiveness?
We know God doesn't need hearing aids, since He already knows what is in our mind and heart. We might ask then, why should we say "I'm sorry" or seek forgiveness if God already knows?
The answer is because the gift of freedom empowers us to change -- to decide what we will say or do.
In reading the Passion of Christ in the Gospel of St Matthew (Matt 26: 36 ff), we can't help but notice how Our Lord had foreknowledge that Judas Iscariot would betray Him and Peter would deny Him. Yet each had the freedom to do otherwise.
From Sacred Scripture, we know Judas carried out his betrayal by kissing Christ on the cheek and then, returning the 30 pieces of silver to the temple area, went out, and hanged himself. We have no knowledge as life ebbed out of his tortured body that he had repentance.
Peter, on the other hand, after denying Jesus three times, went out filled with sorrow and wept bitterly.
Each sinned, yet only one was forgiven. The difference is the willingness to ask forgiveness.
What is forgiveness?
Many people think forgiveness was invented in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. Not so! You can't invent what already exists. God is forgiveness! And the only way to find out is seek it personally.
Forgiveness is a release, a "letting go," if you will, from the whole spectrum of negative emotions like fear, hate, anger, suspicion, mistrust, retaliation, and eventually alienation from others, especially those we love.
On its deepest level, forgiving others is an act of love toward those who have been unjust or even betrayed you.
Even though Christ gave us the two great Commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbor, He also added a codicil: Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5: 44).
William Barclay, the Protestant clergyman and author, states, "No one can pray for another and still hate the person."
St. John Paul II once stated, "Forgiving from the heart can sometimes actually be heroic" and then put those words into action when he visited his would-be assassin, Ali Agca, in prison.
When asked by a journalist what he said to Agca, John Paul II said, "I forgave as a person."
Forgiving another is heroic because it is being good to those who are not good to you. It is easy to love those who love you, but it is a struggle of surrender to God when you try to love those who have not loved you.
Seek forgiveness during Lent
The Season of Lent is a time not only to give alms, pray, and fast, but to do what is mentioned in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday as hidden. And that is to seek forgiveness from God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then, having received it, to practice giving that gift of forgiveness to others.
Jesus put it on the front burner when He said, "If you forgive the faults of others, your Heavenly Father will forgive you yours . . ." (Matt 6:14).
This Lent, turn up the heat and remember the Chinese maxim "The longest journey in the world begins with the first step."
FORGIVE AND YOU WILL BE FORGIVEN. Now isn't that better than searching for a priest who is hard of hearing?
Msgr. John Hebl is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.