Saturday, September 12, 2009
This evening I had to run out to complete an errand, and when I returned, I saw evidence that my dog had gotten into something. No, it wasn't a big mess of any type, just a bit of evidence revealing that, in fact, she is a dog and sometimes finds her joy in things such as used kleenexes.
As I picked the evidence off the floor, she laid on the couch, ears up, wagging her tail as I stared at her disapprovingly. I said her name quietly, shaking my finger.
Her "tone" changed immediately from one of innocence to guilt as her tail wag decreased to wagging the tip only, she ducked her head, laid back her ears, and when I called her to me, she slithered off the couch, remaining low as she approached.
In proper fashion she "crawled" to me, turned around, sitting on my left foot, her tail tucked as tightly as she could manage. She looked upwards at me, still wagging the tip of her tail, her ears flat back against her head in her most "heartfelt" apology.
As I bent down closer to her, she took the opportunity to show her great love by giving me several enthusiastic "kisses".
Naturally, I laughed out loud as I showed her a bit of my own affection for her, immediately forgiving her. Who can withstand those puppy-dog eyes, that voracious affection and heartfelt apology?
I'm a pushover.
What gets me, though, is that my dog's "apology" is exactly the same, no matter what her level of offense. She apologizes with the same degree of hopeful sorrow and submission, whether she's caused a disaster or whether she's done something as minor as tearing apart a used kleenex left sitting out on the coffee table.
I can't tell you how many times God has used my dog to get through to me.
And yet people wonder why Jesus compared an imploring woman to a dog in the gospels? Really?
They must not know dogs...or God!
There's a bigger message here, though.
If we are to be forgiven, we must first forgive others.
Maybe the only one we have to forgive is our dog, but in reality, we've all suffered at the hands of others, we all hold grudges, and we all nurse our wounds even as we beg for God's mercy for our own offenses.
What hypocrites we are.
Lately, this topic of forgiveness has come up over and over again, naturally getting my attention. Recently on the radio I heard a priest suggest that it is a good practice to ask God to reveal to us anyone we haven't forgiven. We aren't always aware of the grudges we are holding and perhaps don't intend to hold. In prayer, God will answer this powerful request and we can simply choose to forgive that person who has hurt us as soon as they come to mind.
There are cases where, of course, the damage goes so deep that we simply don't have the natural ability to let go. It is then that we can throw ourselves upon Our Lord and ask Him, in His Passion, to forgive that person for us, bringing us to do the same. We can do nothing without Him.
I've been working on this, not consciously aware of any particular person I haven't forgiven. Yet, since I began this prayer, a few people have come to my attention, some through random contact, others while I was in Adoration, and I've realized that I am harboring far more grudges than I ever realized.
And just "forgiving them" isn't so easy. I can't seem to let them all go, even though I don't WANT to feel any anger towards them, I don't WANT to remember their offense against me, and of course, I hope that they have also forgiven me my offenses against them, if in fact my own offenses applied.
It seems I can far more easily forgive a terrorist who killed thousands of people than I can a friend who offended me once.
That says a lot, doesn't it?
And I suspect I am not alone in this.
The other day I read a news article about a September 11 family suffering still because of the loss of their husband and father. They are still angry, eight years later. The article quoted them saying they COULDN'T move on, they couldn't let go.
As I read, it was obvious; they needed to find a way to forgive. Indeed they couldn't move on; to do so would necessitate forgiveness of their enemy.
I don't judge those people; I understand. If I were in their shoes, I'd have a hard time, too. I, too, wouldn't have room in my heart to forgive a terrorist who had taken my loved one.
Yet I CAN forgive that terrorist. It doesn't really mean a lot, though, does it? After all, the terrorist didn't kill MY family member, but THEIRS. Is he my enemy? Indeed. He hurt my country and I spent yesterday in tears at that loss of life. But there's still a disconnect. That terrorist is faceless to me in a way that he is entirely personified evil to the families directly affected.
It is really easy to forgive people who have injured us collectively, as opposed to personally.
That's the REAL test.
It's not about politics. It's not about generalities. The words of Jesus weren't asking us to forgive political agendas and the people representing them, but rather, He was asking us to dig deep and consider all those who have harmed us...ever. In any way. Maybe a sibling or a parent, a cousin, a friend. A rival in love or competetion of some sort.
Our problem with this gospel is that we legalize the definitions, applying them to our times. We "democratize" them, thinking that an "enemy" must be political, for this definition gets us off the hook.
I have found that although I wouldn't define them as such for myself, the people I find it hardest to forgive are those who are or were friends. People who are in my life as loved ones, with whom I still have contact or some kind of fellowship.
They aren't "enemies" belonging to any kind of political agenda. Let's face it; I really don't care if some random German has decided to hate me because I'm American. Their hatred doesn't affect me unless that individual makes it personal, and even then, it wouldn't affect me much because, not knowing that person directly, I really wouldn't know if it was some kind of bot or just a maladjusted mental patient who had gone on random attack. (In current internet parlance, we call them "Anonymous Trolls". I might not even know of their hatred for me at all.
In any case, such an "enemy" would really be no more than a horsefly, if even that.
Jesus wasn't asking us to forgive horseflies.
His use of the term "enemy" was far more personal, far more intimate...and He meant what He said.
Our enemies are those we love, those with whom we associate, and who affect us every day. They are the people we meet on the internet and who disagree with our position. Maybe they ARE anonymous trolls who attack and run away, poor souls much like what's-his-name in Lord of the Rings, who really is more deserving of pity than hatred?
We have to forgive. That message is very very clear. We have to forgive those who injure us, who hate us, whether they are close to us or not. "Enemy" is a broad term, and it encompasses everything. No one is excluded from this.
If we desire God's mercy, then we need to be forgiving of others. That is His commandment. Love your enemies; it is no credit to any of us to love those who love us.
Even sinners do the same.
We can't excuse ourselves by saying that we are sinners.
Jesus came to save us; not to leave us to our excuses not to follow His directives for holiness.
One More Thing
We have to forgive ourselves, too.
This is perhaps the most difficult thing of all. We know when we have done wrong, we know when we have offended God. We Catholics know for certain when we have been forgiven, and we have to ACCEPT God's mercy.
We are our own enemies.
Again, recently I came across a quote from someone saying her priest had told her the following (paraphrased: "You can be certain that you are forgiven when you feel remorse for past sins."
So true. When we are tempted to beat ourselves up for stuff we did long ago, but already confessed and from which we have moved on, we must be certain to accept God's grace of forgiveness. Our ongoing contrition is indeed a sign that, truly, we are forgiven.
Remember that forgiveness and forgetfulness are two very different things. We may remember the pain, but we should do so without anger. We should remember only with objectivity, in that we are forgiven, and that we are to forgive others.
Myself, I struggle with ALL of this. I realize that I don't forgive when I should, I hold grudges, and...I have a really hard time forgiving myself for things I have long ago confessed.
All of this is an offense against the Holy Spirit. Yet God in His patience and love is ready to help us overcome our own inabilities, and simply awaits our cries. Can we recognize our unforgiveness? Or will we try to burst forward in our spiritual lives without being held accountable?
If we can't seem to move, perhaps it is because we need to forgive...others AND ourselves.