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Forgiveness — the heart of mercy Print E-mail
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 13, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

Robert Enright and Msgr. John Hebl

Seventh in a series of seven articles on forgiveness.

This final forgiveness essay is a collaboration of both writers. Previously we discussed what it means and what it does not mean to forgive others; how one goes about forgiving; how forgiveness is viewed within the Catholic faith; and how it appears within schools and families.

Today, in conclusion, we will examine how forgiving might be planted for good in our communities.

Offering mercy

Forgiveness, as we have seen in this Lenten series, begins within the human heart as a willingness to be good to those who are not good to us.

Such a struggle to offer mercy to others through a wounded heart has the paradoxical effect of aiding our own healing.

At the same time, as we are released from our personal anger through forgiving, we make peace possible with others.

Conversely, our unforgiveness can complicate our own life and the lives of others. As Thomas Merton famously said, "We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves . . . "

Peaceful communities?

Is it possible that as forgiveness in individual hearts spreads to more and more people, we might then have more peaceful communities? Such an idea rarely is held up as a challenge within or across communities.

It is our hope that forgiveness might be put on the lamp stand and offered to many throughout the world for the betterment of individuals, families, and communities.

It is our belief, empowered by the grace of God, that forgiveness can bear unexpected fruit in our communities.

Jerusalem conference

For this reason, we are organizing the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, July 12 and 13, 2017, leading to the "Renewal of Individuals, Families, and Communities."

To our knowledge, such a conference in the Middle East has never been attempted. To achieve the desired result, we encourage not only your ongoing prayers but even any possible generous financial support (https://internationalforgiveness.com/jerusalem-conference.htm).

Might this conference, centered on dialogue among the proponents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, show us that we all have at least this in common: a shared history in which forgiveness is held up as valuable within that tradition?

Might this conference, also centered on forgiveness education for students, show us that children can learn to forgive and, when they are adults, forge a peace that seems so elusive in too many communities?

Might this conference be a springboard for some individuals to soften their heart in forgiveness toward "the other" and begin to see him and her, as Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee says, "not as an 'other' but as my 'brother'"?

Our hope is not for a complete transformation of ideologies which have existed for centuries stating that some groups are superior to others.

Instead, our hope centers in individual hearts such that those attending will see "the other" as possessing worth; as special, unique, and irreplaceable; as someone who can forgive and be forgiven.

The job of forgiveness is not to alter centuries of beliefs in one's own ideology that the other must not and cannot share with ours. Instead, forgiveness' beauty and power consist of converting individual human hearts away from conquest and toward love, not because of anything "the other" says or does, but simply because the other is.

Celebrating Holy Week

This week, the Catholic Church is celebrating Holy Week as a preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection. Having ordained the apostles as the first priests and celebrated the Last Supper as the first Eucharist, Our Lord then takes up his cross and climbs the hill of Calvary to be crucified.

As Jesus is hanging on the cross surrounded by sinful humanity, reflect on what is taking place: an African man helped Jesus carry the cross; a thief spoke up in defense of Him; a soldier expressed sorrow and canonized Jesus as God; a few women, including His mother, showed empathy and courageously stood beneath the cross in solidarity with the teenager John as the rest of Christ's team and the world abandoned him.

Yet Jesus never gave up on anyone -- the Apostles, the Roman soldiers, the thieves, sinners, and, yes, even His persecutors. Cruelly treated, stripped of all his possessions, and buried in a borrowed tomb by Jewish sympathizers, Jesus rises above the foray and returns in a glorified body.

Indeed, love and forgiveness conquers all! Perhaps you might think: that's Him, not me! But remember, little by little forgiveness is possible and doable. As someone once said, "If you want to move mountains, start by carrying away small stones."

The longest journey in the world begins with the first step and that step we call FORGIVENESS. Think about it. But most importantly, do it.

For those who wish to know more about the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) as well as the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, the web address is: www.internationalforgiveness.com


Robert Enright is a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, author, and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute and Msgr. John Hebl, pastor emeritus, is a charter member of the IFI.