The truth is that forgiveness is not easy, and it certainly cannot be reduced to the banal level of a bumper-sticker slogan.
Forgiveness, first and foremost, is an act of freedom. The one who forgives reveals his or her true freedom in forgiving from the heart. When Christ on the cross uttered, “Father, forgive them…” he was revealing the very freedom of God. Interestingly, this forgiveness requires neither contrition nor an apology – it is gratuitous, that is, it is grace. It is not, however, a simply divine quality relegated only to God. Rather, forgiveness is a power granted to every human being, as basic as our freedom.
Not only is forgiveness “free,” i.e., freely given, it is freeing. The one who forgives releases oneself from the power that an injury has over them. It is not selfish in this regard (“I forgive you so I can show I am better”), rather it is directed toward eventual reconciliation. The one who is forgiven may not even know what has taken place. This is only a first step. Forgiveness means opening up the future – a future that only true freedom makes possible. When someone apologizes, they are, in essence, affirming our freedom to forgive. Sometimes we do; sometimes we don’t. That’s our freedom again. True Christian freedom chooses forgiveness because it is the way of Christ.
Holding on to hurts and stewing over the injury that someone has done to me does absolutely nothing to the one who has offended me. On the contrary, it creates a “prison” for myself, in which I am controlled by the anger that I harbor. There is no stronger prison than the one we put ourselves into. Nothing anyone can do will open that prison, and as long as I am contained in there, I always will have a limited future. The key? Forgiveness.
That’s not easy, and this little essay will not make it easier. However, it might help us to realize that, as we share divine life through our baptism, so we share that same divine freedom. It is freedom that allows us to hope, to love – and to forgive.