Monbourquette's Test for Unforgiveness
We all know that forgiveness is one of the hardest things in life. That's no surprise considering, as Algeria-based Italian monk Carlo Carretto (Journey without End, 1989) once put it, "forgiveness is the apex of the journey." Love (or love as we know it) is easier, for it takes no effort to love anything or anyone who's lovable. Besides, 'love' is pleasurable even though it can be hard. But real love, i.e., loving the unlovable? That's synonymous to forgiving one's enemy, in which not only much effort is necessary, it is also too impossible to realize on our own. But forgiveness is necessary, an essential part of life, if only for our own sake. Life is hard enough without the baggage of bitterness and heartache that unforgiveness brings. Forgiveness is the key to the unconditional love of God.
Part of the difficulty with forgiveness is that it's an amazingly complicated animal, as the book by John Monbourquette (How to Forgive, 2000) or any essay or book on the subject will attest. It is riddled with many qualifiers, from "You can't forgive what you don't recognize as an offense" to "Forgiveness doesn't automatically mean reconciliation or that the offender must change." But complexity should be no reason not to try to forgive, for unforgiveness has its own complex team of monstrous consequences.
Like disease, unforgiveness comes with several complications, as Monbourquette says. With this list of complications, I shudder at the mere thought of not having forgiven yet my many offenders, both consciously and, most importantly, from the heart.
I always knew I should forgive, and as early as I can, if possible. I am selfish enough not to know any better.
In case you too want to take your chances or help diagnose yourself, try this exercise: The Test for Unforgiveness. The only requirement is total honesty, being in touch with your true (i.e., hidden) thoughts and feelings (including dreams and daydreams, or most especially so), the great 'outers' of our true emotional, psychological, moral, spiritual state.
Imagine a person you hate so much. Now tick off the points below that you are guilty of feeling or thinking.
1. "He's such a bad person, s/he should be punished, and s/he doesn't deserve my mercy and forgiveness."
2. "Why am I so sensitive and why do I feel so insecure when it comes to his comments? Why am I so hurt by what s/he said or did? S/He must be the one who's so malicious."
3. "I resent her success. I deserve it more than she does."
4. "I hate all the things he's fond of. If he's fond of God, I will automatically hate God too."
5. "I will never ever see him or talk to him again. If he needs help, I will not give it."
6. "Oh, how happy I am to see her run into misfortune. How sweet it is to take revenge."
7. "You know what this evil person did to me? Come, let me share all the gory details with you."
8. "I am surely better than he is."
9. "For all my troubles, I should be blest more than she is."
10. "The point is, I am hurt, and I don't care if I have hurt others too in the process."
11. "I hate him so much! I swear to God!"
12. "Wait, this new person is just like him, and so I automatically hate him too!"
13. "Oh no, I've become just like him -- I see myself in him!"
One important element here is missing, however: the hardest form of forgiveness, which is forgiving oneself. Without this, one remains stuck even one has forgiven everyone else. Thus, this additional item:
14. "I hate myself, I'm ashamed of myself, I can't forgive myself." (N.B. This is also known as Judas's sin, the loss of confidence or trust in God's mercy.)
How did you fare? A score of 1 or more will most probably entitle you to a chance to forgive that filthy rotten animal you've always cursed to hell.
Although "time heals all wounds," we easily learn from the foregoing that forgiveness is never passive, but always an heroic act, even when done for one's own sake, in the desire to move on. In this sense, it is forgiveness that makes the world really go round.
THE ART OF FORGIVING
-The most creative power given to the human spirit is the power to heal the wounds of a past it cannot change.
-We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds; what happens to the people we forgive depends on them.
-The first person to benefit from forgiving is the one who forgives.
-Forgiving happens in three stages: we rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us; we surrender our right to get even; and we wish that person well.
-Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey.
-Forgiving does not require us to reunite with the person who broke our trust.
-We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.
-Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us.
-Forgiving is not a way to avoid pain but to heal the pain.
-Forgiving someone who breaks a trust does not mean that we give him his job back.
-Forgiving is the only way to be fair to ourselves.
-Forgivers are not doormats; to forgive a person is not a signal that we are willing to put up with what he or she does.
-Forgiving is essential; talking about it is optional.
-When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is ourselves.
-When we forgive we walk in stride with our forgiving God.
Five Languages of Forgiveness (the offender's side)
(From the sermon of Fr. Dave Concepcion at the LNP Formation Center in Taguig on June 17, 2007)
1. "I'm sorry." - the offender feels bad, but doesn't necessarily acknowledge the wrong done
2. "I was wrong." - acknowledgment that one has done wrong
3. "I won't do it again." - promise not to do the same mistake
4. "What can I do (to make it up to you)?" - making amends
5. "Will you/please forgive me?" - actual begging for mercy
Forgiveness (diary entry)
I know I should forgive an offender seventy times seventy times. How come I just couldn’t?
I am profoundly hurt when A. accuses me of false things – to my face and within the earshot of others in the office. I am insulted when my co-worker B. bosses around more than the boss herself should. I am offended when C. whom I am having a harmless joke with, suddenly walks out on me when she herself would make really insulting jokes which I should have had walked out on. I am supremely slighted when D. goes around offering everyone but me something nice to eat. I am deeply outraged when E. who owes me a considerable sum, conveniently forgets it when he had even short of made a promissory note. I treat as an affront F.’s entering the apartment I am renting without even bothering to utter a vague trace of hello. I recoil in pain when G. slights me with chronic comments like I am a dinosaur and things like that. I still cannot accept it that H. has run away with my brand-new bag I have yet to use; this, after treating him like a friend. I am incensed when I. answers arrogantly after I ask him a very harmless and even well-meaning question.
On the bigger picture, I am consumed by a flaming anger whenever I read the classified ads and find them all requiring job experience. I gnash my teeth because I don’t have any money left. (That’s it. That’s it.)
I know that life is too short for hurts and pains to get the better of me. Still, I find it extremely hard to forgive, even if I know I have been and still am guilty of the same mistakes in the past and in the present. I know how it is to be forgiven but why am I so reserved when it is my turn to forgive?
Even something like forgiveness must be grace.
1. Forgiveness is realizing that the victimizer has been a victim himself/herself.
2. Forgiveness starts with me. "The buck stops here."
3. Forgiveness is breaking the vicious cycle of hate in the world.
4. Forgiveness involves: naming, separating, incorporating.
5. Forgiveness requires: competence, compassion, suffering.
6. Forgiveness is blaming oneself if really at fault. There's an adult takeover, a letting-go process, a choice.
7. Forgiveness is not: forgetting, indifference, naivete (looking for something/-one else to blame)
8. The call to life is not to deny our pain but to suffer with somebody, to become Christ-like.
9. Pain is bearable if we suffer with a meaning, a purpose.
10. We need pain so that we can fathom the meaning of love, to understand how much we are loved.
11. We need pain so that we can understand the pain of others. Only people who are at home with themselves can be at home with others.
12. People who suffered the most and have forgiven are the most compassionate, creative, contemplative. They become our mentors in this journey. (Ex. Einstein, Beethoven, Helen Keller, Francis of Assisi)
13. Be martyrs for the Lord! Take up the cross of Christ!
14. Count your blessings. Don't worry, God's grace is enough.
3.14.2000 (Based on Fr. Armand Robleza's (SVD) Lenten recollection, ~1997)
Forgiveness versus Reconciliation
Is forgiveness different from reconciliation?
Yes, says my guru. Reconciliation always involves two parties -- the one forgiving and the one asking forgiveness. Forgiveness, on the other hand, may not necessarily be a two-way street. You may forgive someone but no reconciliation ever happened -- whereas it's impossible to have reconciliation without forgiveness.
For a famous, or notorious, example, we Filipinos may forgive the Marcoses for the things they did through sheer forgetfulness, or Kris Aquino may kiss Bongbong Marcos on primetime TV for all she cared. While the former undoubtedly forgave the latter, the action does not mean that a much prayed-for reconciliation happened. It takes the Marcoses an admission of guilt and wrongdoing, plus the acceptance of legal retribution, before any reconciliation can ever happen.
In much the same way, we may forgive the Japanese for all the atrocities they've committed during the war, but it should take them at least an admission of their crime before reconciliation can ever start.
Sadly, as of this writing, both the Marcoses and the Japanese government intransigently deny their respective crimes, making reconciliation absolutely impossible.
This teaching solves a long-standing problem of mine. Why should you forgive someone who doesn't recognize the fact that he has sinned against you? How can you forgive a murderer who claims he did not commit the murder when in fact he did? Don't they say that God forgives all sins except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which essentially means denying that one has sinned? How can you forgive someone who thinks he's done nothing wrong?
The answer to this, according to my guru is, we simply need to forgive, period. It is because we need forgiveness ourselves -- whereas God does not because he does not sin. We all need to reconcile with God and with one another -- whereas God does not need being forgiven at all. If there's one thing that we can fault God with, it is that he loves us so much as to initiate the act of forgiving.
Will God perish if He didn't send his begotten Son to ransom us from sin? No. But God, through Jesus Christ, chose to die on the cross for our sins. You still there?
Good, because much as we need to forgive, says my guru, it is equally important that we need not forget. "History is bound to repeat itself," somebody named George Santayana is quoted as saying, so it is prudent that we remember. Remembering does not mean constantly reminding the sinner of his or her past sins. What we remember are the valuable lessons learned.
Friday, August 29, 2003
Some Unsettling Things About Forgiveness and Repentance
Forgiveness requires metanoia, Greek for change of mind. (Mt. 4:17). Metanoeite is to change one's mind, i.e., in the mind of Christ. See Phil. 2:5: "Make the mind of Christ your own."
Refer also to Rom. 12:2: "…transformed by the renewal of mind."
To repent is to change one's mind.
Our natural temperament is but natural; it's our personality type. But it can be molded into character. That's what education is for. Someone who is mapusok (daring), for example, can be molded into a good leader because it means he can decide on short notice without relying on others.
Repentance is a continuous process. Don't be too hard on yourself.
What is the mind of Christ or the nature of Christ anyway? Refer to Mt. 11:28-29: "Come to me all who labor and I will give you rest,… for I am meek and humble of heart.." Meek means gentle. Meekness requires strength.
"If your brother has anything against you,…be reconciled with your brother." - This means you have done something wrong against your brother. "The road going to God passes by your neighbor's house" so you better be in good terms with your neighbor. Forgiveness requires meekness and humility.
Forgiveness is not ritualism or formalism, puro porma lang. If you have wronged someone, settle with your opponent. If you are the one wronged, make an effort to forgive. Huwag itanim ang galit at siguradong tutubo ito.
In cases involving deep wounds, though, don't be too harsh on yourself. Give yourself time to heal. God sees through your heart's intention. You may choose not to talk anymore to the one you have forgiven, but at least, try not to remember!
Q: Is that possible?
A: You bet. It takes a lot to remember.
In confession, ask the priest not just to give absolution but also to pray for healing (of bad memories and deep wounds)
Q: After the prodigal son decides to come back to his father and recites all his evil deeds, what did he say next? What did his father say next?
A: None. The father didn't even let his son finish. The next scene is, he now talks to the servants to prepare a feast for his son's return.
If you have asked forgiveness but was denied of it, it's no longer your problem.
You can forgive and refuse to treat the person like before. It's your choice. What's important is you have forgiven from your heart.
If you need to burn the reminders of your past hurts, then do so. The devil uses these reminders to hone our resentments into a burning flame.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Forgiveness and the judicial system
Just when I was preparing to sue our former manager of "unfair labor treatment," after I ran into this former officemate who's now a lawyer and who's with the Civil Service Commission, here comes a Sunday sermon that admonishes me to forgive "seventy times seventy-seven times," which is a Biblical idiomatic expression for "infinitely." I feel remorseful, of course, never mind that I was the one who was victimized and offended. But I'm glad all the same that I was also doing myself a favor: forgiveness = peace of mind = stress-/disease-free = salvation.
But tell me, doesn't that Biblical passage make the entire judicial system basically an un-Christian entity? Geez, we're actually far more secular than we thought!
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Mercy is Thy Name
Fr. Socrates Villegas is easily one of my favorite priests. Like his namesake, he's a great thinker. He writes well and consistently jumps for the jugular when it comes to his sermons.
I was at the Edsa Shrine when he talked about the parable of the prodigal son. "We have heard about the parable over and over again," he opened his sermon. "That's why we have a computer program running in our brains even before we hear the parable being read."
"By this, I mean that we always view the parable as a contrast - the prodigal son versus his jealous brother. One abused his gifts, squandered his inheritance. The other used them well and now feels deserving of his father's reward. One is disobedient; the other dutiful.
"We fail to see that there actually is something common between them. And that is, both of them are legalistic. The first thinks he has made a grievous mistake and therefore deserves punishment. The second thinks he has led a virtuous life and thus anticipates his just reward. Both failed to see the point.
"The point is we merit neither the Father's mercy nor His reward. The point is we don't deserve anything in this world. In the face of His love, it's inappropriate to say I have sinned, I don't deserve Your forgiveness. Or I did well, now give me what I deserve.
"If God actually gave what we really deserve, chances are we would think twice. God's mercy doesn't depend on us. We miss the point if we think otherwise."
Fr. Soc then relates a story: "During the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, there was a soldier who was accused to have deserted the army during the height of battle. The truth, though, was that he only failed to catch up with his comrades for some reason as they were trying to advance or escape. Napoleon learned about the 'deserter' and had him immediately court-martialed. The soldier was sentenced to death.
During the trial, his mother came over to plead with Napoleon. "Have mercy on my son!" she cried.
Napoleon answered, "You son does not deserve mercy."
The mother replied, "It wouldn't be mercy if he deserved it."
('So much mercy has been given us, why can't we be as merciful to others?')
Written before Fr. Soc became an Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
Thursday, September 25, 2008
On forgiving oneself
A lot of people make one crucial mistake when it comes to forgiveness: they seem to have forgiven everyone, but they can't forgive themselves. How does one forgive oneself?
Harry advises that one step back, retrace where one came from. "One solution is by feeling the pain, i.e., being aware of one's feelings, acknowledging that one feels this or that way. Expressing the feeling is healthy, provided the emotion is managed (not controlled, he cautions) at a legitimate (i.e., decent) level. Not acknowledging that one has been hurt will stress one out, possibly causing diseases." (But we're not about to jump to conclusion here: we're not saying all diseases are caused by suppressed or repressed feelings.)
What's worse is denial. "Denying one is hurt will lead to suppressed feelings, and suppressed feelings lead to repressed feelings, to burying of feelings in the subconscious, and ultimately to depression." This situation is oftentimes very hard to 'cure,' I imagine, because the 'sufferer' is no longer consciously aware of where the feelings are really coming from.
"Our emotions are the most neglected part of our self," Harry laments, quoting someone else from somewhere.
After being aware that one feels this way or that, the next step, Harry says, is to make a conscious decision to forgive one's offender -- and most especially, oneself. Someone butts in and correctly adds: "Nobody's perfect," and he is right. Acceptance of oneself, warts and all, is key. Like victims of child abuse are told to remind themselves, "I made a mistake, but I am not the mistake."
However, self-acceptance would be impossible without one crucial stumbling block: pride. It takes humility not to be too harsh or too hard on oneself.
Another key ingredient, says John Powell (in Fully Human, Fully Alive), is courage. Without courage, we won't have the strength to face whatever negative emotion is associated with confronting and forgiving ourselves. We need to first face the facts about ourselves, our feelings, before we are able to forgive. There has to be clarity so we'll know what we are forgiving and why.
Not going through this process will be doing a short-cut, which leads to a cul-de-sac, to nowhere. One cannot forgive something one is not consciously aware of.
"How does one know one has forgiven oneself?," I ask, a bit nervous that I'd be rebuffed.
"Has he or she already made a decision to forgive?," Harry asks back by way of an answer. "If yes, one can take a look at a possible indication: one is now able to look back on what happened and talk about it with others without bitterness."
"Confession leads to healing," another discussion participant adds, quoting James 5:16.
Then I remember what a priest once said: "Another strong sign that one has forgiven oneself is when one looks back and finds everything funny."
Of course, forgiving oneself presupposes that one desires change or have made the decision to change, to really move on.