16 August 2007 Thursday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 18,21 – 19,1 Forgiveness
If you watched Spiderman 3, you probably saw the underlying theme of forgiveness. Marko, the Sandman, was the killer of Ben Parker, Spiderman’s uncle (though in the comics’ series, Marko is not Ben Parker’s killer). In the end, Peter Parker would forgive Marko, because he was desperate in finding money needed to cure his dying daughter. Moreover, Harry who suspected Spiderman as his father’s killer would also forgive Peter and thus restore their friendship. Mary Jane too forgave Peter. And Peter would eventually forgive himself. The theme of forgiveness is surprising in an action-packed movie — usually it is about revenge. To introduce the value of forgiveness in a superhero movie gives us the message that the stuff of heroes is a higher moral character. Revenge leads to an endless spiral of violence; the end of it is forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi and Pope John Paul II forgave their assassins. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu also belong to the list of peacemakers. To me, they are the real superheroes — because they are real human beings, not figments of the imagination. If they can forgive their killers, so can we.
Most of the world’s religions teach forgiveness. Islam for example teaches that forgiveness is a prerequisite for genuine peace. Allah is the source of forgiveness. Buddhism values forgiveness because it prevents harmful emotions from destroying our mental states. And in the Gospel today, Jesus instructs that we should forgive those who wrong us “seventy-seven times” which means infinitely (since seven is an infinite number).
What then is forgiveness? Forgiveness is a process as we know from experience. It is a process of healing. Our feeling of anger, resentment and indignation against another person who has offended us dies down. When we forgive, we cease to demand retribution and repayment.
The result then of forgiveness is peace. Strained relationships are restored, and in many cases, deepened. Studies also show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold anger, grudges, resentments, and indignation (Campaign for Forgiveness Research, 2006). It also reduces depression and stress by leading us to positive feelings of hope, peace and compassion. It enables us to have healthy relationships. It makes our personalities attractive to people because forgiveness makes us kinder and loving.
I too have struggled with forgiveness. But there are certain things I do that help me lessen and reduce the anger. First, it is good to acknowledge our hurts. It is helpful that we are able to articulate our situation with a very trusted friend. Avoid telling everyone about it, like actors who call for a press conference. It aggravates matters. Second, commit to things that would make you feel better. They will keep your mind away from nurturing the hurt. Take time to relax. Watch a movie. Read a good book. Eat in a restaurant, either alone or with happy friends (avoid the negative or depressive ones: they will reinforce your hurt). Third, I always remind myself that the best ‘revenge’ is to be better. Live your life more meaningfully. The person who angers us controls us. So avoid focusing on your hurt; turn to more positive personal endeavors.
These are suggestions. You can have your own way. But you must want and desire forgiveness. As a process it takes some time. Nevertheless, look at the brighter side: if you are able to forgive, you become healthier and happier.