Last year, PBS released a four-hour documentary series, directed and written by  Helen Whitney,  entitled “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate.”

Forgiveness is wisely framed as a question, not an issue. Still, many wonder: IS there a time to hate? There is certainly a time–often a long, long time–to mourn, to grieve, to be bewildered, to be bereft, to be crushed, to rage at your enemies, to question existence, to doubt God. But the danger in hatred, it seems to me, is that you tend to forget all the hateful things you’ve done and continue to do yourself.

There are as many ways in which self can die out of our love as there are loves in the world, but there is one which we need to think of very much to-day: forgiveness. It is strange to say that we discover Christ in one another by forgiving one another. Perhaps this is because we have a wrong conception of forgiveness. So often, alas, as we use it, it is condescension following upon condemnation. But it should not be. It should be the most direct way of healing a wound. It goes beyond all possible explanations and all possible misunderstandings. It does not even ask to be understood.

Nothing could work more against the discovery of the lost Child in another than to foster bitterness against someone we love or to have an enemy.

Christ is utterly sinless; if someone has injured us, it cannot be the Christ in him that has injured us. But no one can do a wrong without wounding himself. Sin always wounds the sinner, but Christ has taken this great wounding to Himself. All His wounds, all His suffering, the whole of His passion, is the wounding of sin–ours the sinning: His the redeeming wound of our sin.

Forgiveness, then, is a reaching out to comfort and heal that wound in our friend which Christ in him bears because of the wrong he did to us: to forgive is to ask Christ to forgive us. “Forgive and you shall be forgiven.”

So, too, to be forgiven. When we ask and give forgiveness, we discover Christ’s redeeming wounds in one another. And when we ask the Father to forgive us, He discovers the Child who was lost in us. He sees the shining wounds of Mary’s Son, the lost Child in the human race come back to Him. And God forgives.

Caryll Houselander, from The Reed of God

15 Replies to “FORGIVENESS”

  1. I have to reread The Reed of God; it's been more than a decade. I've just finished The Risen Christ, also by Caryll Houselander, and it was splendid.

    And yes, to learn to forgive. So many thoughts from one's remote past can respark resentment. But even the most cursory examination of conscience will reveal that I've at least occasionally done worse than those who have offended me!

    If I am unselfsparingly honest, I can make the poemprayer of José García Villa my own: "Me. Me. My own perfidy."

    But there is hope. There is always hope. (And in some sense, there is nothing but hope!)

    More later.

  2. Wanted to let you know that your meditation today in the Magnificat was inspired.

  3. Now I have two more books to order! I always find things here that capture my mind and give me pause.

    Thank you.

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    I happen to be reading Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. The Amish make a distinction between forgiveness (like that expressed after the 2006 shooting in Nickel Mines) and pardon, which like absolution requires penance. Very inspiring and moving.

  5. Well, I'm going to quote myself, because I'm too lazy to write it again. "About 35 years ago, I went to a day of renewal in another city. It was shortly after I had recommitted myself to following my Catholic faith, and I think it was the first time I had ever attended anything like this. I'm really not sure what was going on at the time this happened but probably the speaker was leading us in some kind of guided meditation. I had my eyes closed and as I was praying, it hit me very forcibly that Jesus had died, not just for my sins, but for the sins of everyone that had ever sinned against me, and that when I refused to forgive someone, I was holding back the forgiveness that He had died for–that I was trying to undo the work of Christ on the cross."

    I don't see how there can be a time a to hate. I don't see how one can stand in Mass and say the Our Father, "Forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us," without dying from fright if we refuse to forgive.

    Also, CH speaks so frequently of Christ hidden in man. How can we turn away from the hidden Christ in those people who have sinned against us?

    And then, just from a practical point of view, our hatred hurts us so much more than it hurts them that it's like purposefully extending that hurt.


  6. Beautiful reflections, all. I'm not pissed at anybody I can think of at the moment (though I'm not thinking too hard), which is when I'm always most moved to promote forgiveness…

    Finally looked up AMDG, Janet. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God, for everyone's info (and the Jesuits' motto), though you Latin scholar/cradle Catholic folk probably absorbed this along with your mother's milk…

  7. Sometime or other in Catholic school, I was taught to put that at the top of my papers. I have found it very helpful with message boards and comments and email and the like because you can't really snark at someone, or make an uncharitable remark (no matter how amusing it may be) and then write that below it.

    I've had to delete a lot of stuff over the years.


  8. This one is going to require some serious mulling-over. But Heather, your "prayer for meaning" in yesterday's Magnificat…I'll simply say "thank you". And to Thomas D. for making me aware of José García Villa—how had I missed him?

  9. Caryll Houselander is a gem. I need to re-read her book, "Rocking Horse Catholic." I have a cool story about AMDG – I asked the guy who was redoing our cement porch if I could put some initials in it. He said "sure" so I did +JMJ+ on one end and +AMDG+ on the other. A little while later he says, "Well I know one of those is the initials of your children's names, but what does JMJ stand for?" So here I am so wonked out with Latin and how Catholic it is that I didn't even notice "Ann Marcie Douglas Gordon." I quickly forgave myself and thanked God for the best way ever to sign stuff. And I do like Jesuit spirituality!

  10. I love it. It makes me want to rename my children, but since the youngest is 24, they probably won't go for it.


  11. Thoroughly approve of AMDG as child-naming or snark-deterrent aid. I shudder to think of the hate mail I've received signed off with a "God bless" that really means Go to hell.

  12. I suppose one of the benefits of not being even in the corner of the public eye is that I don't get hate mail. I should count my blessings.


  13. But what of poetry?

  14. Lovely.

    I discovered that although I would say as sincerely as I could "I forgive" and "I don't hate," in reality I couldn't afford to forgive because, on a deep (wounded) level, I didn't really trust that God was God. The energy that held up the walls that "protected" me from "them" was my anger and bitterness, and if I lost that, I'd lose myself (wasn't ready to do that).

    But when I finally accepted that I'd been playing God and could step aside and let the Almighty really be in charge (that's admittedly an ongoing process), I found that, as Ms. Houselander describes, forgiveness has indeed become for me "the most direct way of healing a wound." My attempts at offering forgiveness had only been for me "condescension following upon condemnation," even though I'd been a Christian for 10 years before being able to admit I was not actually God (newsflash).

    And mysteriously, the walls came tumbling down, and all the energy that went into holding them up was transformed into love for those I hated. I mean, who DOES that?? Oh, Jesus, how I love you.

  15. Anonymous says: Reply

    You wrote to Janet yesterday, "Finally looked up AMDG… Latin scholar/cradle Catholic folk probably absorbed this along with your mother's milk…" – very funny, but oh, so not true. Starting with mother's milk… despite my cradle-Catholic-ness, I was NOT breast fed in 1965, and nobody ever bothered to tell me about AMDG, despite having two uncles who were Catholic priests. As a cradle Catholic, I suppose I should say I am "re-discovering" my Catholic faith as an adult, but I honestly do not think I ever had a good grip to begin with. And I think there are alot of us out there who feel like this. THANK YOU for your writing. I read an excerpt from your e-book, Poor Baby, in Our Sunday Visitor, and had to visit your website. Glad I did. I love what you have to say, and all of your commenters (well, almost all of them) are wonderful, too. Thanks for being out there and doing what you do.


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