Yesterday’s comments about forgiveness ended with the anticipatory remark that forgiveness isn’t quite the goal in the Christian experience. Forgiveness is indeed important and there are, as we saw yesterday, barriers that make letting go and forgiving others difficult such as the seductive quality of holding on to anger and victimhood. Yet, while overcoming those difficulties is an important process, its completion in forgiveness is yet another step in the journey of Christian living — not simply the end.
When we forgive, we let go. It’s a surrender of those things that grip us and prevent us from releasing the other of his or her transgression. Nevertheless, one can forgive and never have to face the person again. Oftentimes this is the case, someone has hurt us in the most painful of ways only to eventually be forgiven and then we never see the person again. Sometimes it is easier to forgive someone, whether the person knows this or not, long after the relationship has disintegrated to the point that you never encounter the other.
It seems to me that forgiveness, the letting go of one’s desire to hold onto anger and wallow in self-pity, is a step toward what Christians are called to live in reconciliation. The gift of forgiveness is the surrender, the gift of reconciliation is the reunion in relationship.
It is not enough for a Christian to ‘forgive and forget.’ Instead, those who bear the name of Christ are called to forgive and work toward the restoration of relationship, which is not an easy task. At times it can seem that the only way to forgive another is to impose, consciously or otherwise, a relationship embargo on that person. But Jesus asks us to move beyond that impulse and re-connect, re-unite, reconcile.
Francis of Assisi knew this well and expressed as much toward the end of his famous Canticle of the Creatures. When he first names humanity it is within the context of forgiveness, reconciliation and relationship. Throughout the text, Francis describes what each aspect of creation does in its praise of God. When it comes to men and women, what we do in praise of God is forgive and reconcile with one another.
Praised by You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned. (vv. 10-11)
Peace comes in the reconciliation of relationship that have been broken. As difficult as forgiveness is, reconciliation is much, much harder. To not only face but embrace a person who has harmed you is what God asks of us and models for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Francis identified this as the manner men and women should go about in the world, so too we should recognize that it is in reconciliation, the restoring of right relationship, that we praise God and live most fully as ourselves.