While the six steps toward forgiveness outlined by psychologists can be of great help, forgiveness itself is primarily a spiritual work that takes place deeply within the inner confines of our heart. Therefore, making use of the remedies given to us in Sacred Scripture and through Holy Mother Church are of ultimate benefits.
Today, we will look at three spiritual remedies that enable us to move along the path to forgiveness.
Do not let the sun set on your anger (Eph. 4:26-27)
In this passage from his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul is basically telling us "Overcome anger before it overcomes you." Our call as Christians is to begin the process of forgiveness as soon as an offense has been committed against us. Once anger has the opportunity to take root within our soul, it is much more difficult to rout it out. While the emotion of anger is not a sin, choosing to hold on to it is a sin. And through sin, we choose evil over God's grace and make room for the devil to work within us.
Remember that St. Paul tells the Romans the wages of sin is death (6:22-23). Unresolved anger, grudges, bitterness, and resentment all bring with them death to our spirit, and in the end, we and we alone are left wanting and bereft. Engage the process of forgiveness at the first sign of strife.
Pray for your persecutors.
Matthew 5:43-48 records these words of Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?...You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Loving and praying for your enemies and persecutors seems to be counter-intuitive. After all, we are the one who was hurt, liabled, and damaged in some way. But the reality is, this is Jesus' own prescription for healing the malady of a wounded heart.
Something marvelous begins to happen as we enter into prayer for those who have hurt us -- we begin to see our persecutors through God's eyes. In a sense, God "reframes" our perception, and we come to see that the one who injured us deserves our compassion. Had that person known the extent of God's love, he never could have committed the action. With this understanding, prayer for our persecutor becomes easier. Our anger is assuaged, we begin to forgive, and we are liberated from the bondage of the sin against us. In addition, our intercessory prayer becomes the healing agent in our persecutor's heart and has the power to help lead him to the love of Christ. We may even be the very instrument of healing and conversion God had in mind for him!
Meditate on the Passion of Christ
Meditating on the Passion of Jesus is a great source of healing and helps us in our forgiving process. What emotional pain or suffering did Jesus not experience? Was there one indiginity He did not suffer? One humiliation He did not own? As we meditate on the Passion of Jesus, we come to see that our every sorrow was nailed to the Cross with Him. And His blood has redeemed it. We have only to appropriate the grace He merited for us to begin to experience healing, renewal and new life.
A practical way of doing this is to read St. Mark's account of Christ's Passion. In addition to the description the Evangelist offers regarding Our Lord's physical suffering, he also describes the interior suffering Jesus experienced. Consider these words from the Gospel account: betrayed, filled with fear, sorrow to the point of death, deserted, mocked, forsaken. Which of these wounds of the heart did you experience by the one who offended you? Ask Jesus to apply to your interior injury the grace He merited for you at this moment of His Passion. Begin to act out of that grace rather than out of anger and bitterness.
Today's Spiritual Exercise
How long have you been in a state of unforgiveness regarding the individual the Holy Spirit prompted you to forgive? Has your anger given way to a grudge? To bitterness? To resentment? Before the sun sets begin to reverse the spiritual damage by praying for this person with the good intention to forgive. Make a promise to pray for this person at least once a day and every time he comes into your mind.
Which of the words describing Our Lord's interior passion most spoke to your heart and why? Taking this into prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to apply the grace Jesus merited in this suffering to your wound. Receive the consolation He brings you.
Record in your journal all of your insights and inspirations.