"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Today in our mid week Eucharist we remembered St Cyprian, who died on this day in 258.
And our Gospel reading was of the parable of the unforgiving servant, in Matthew 18: vv. 21-35. The servant had been forgiven his debts by his master, but promptly went to another man who owed him money and threatened him with violence for not paying. When the master heard from fellow servants what had happened, he was very angry with the first servant whom he had forgiven and “delivered him to the torturers (the bill collectors) until he should pay all that was due to him.” The lesson is that we should all from our hearts “forgive those who trespass against us,” and any number of times.
Jesus told this parable to his disciples because Peter asked Him how often should he forgive a brother who had sinned against him. Up to seven times? No, said Jesus, you should be always be prepared to forgive up to seventy times seven.
I wrote of forgiveness on another’s blog recently so this may be a little repetitive for some readers, but it is an important point so I make no apology!

“To err is human, to forgive divine,” wrote Alexander Pope, the renowned early eighteenth-century poet. We also have to forgive those who do wrong to us: otherwise we harbor bitterness and resentment within our own souls. Forgiveness is vital for our own spiritual wellbeing. Jonathan Sacks calls forgiveness the emotional equivalent of losing weight. It is even better for you than for the person you have forgiven! Even if our offer of forgiveness is not accepted, “yet once we reach out our hand, we cleanse ourselves of resentment. We may remain deeply wounded, but we will not use our hurt to inflict further pain on others.” These are the words of pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, who in his book The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of Healing from the Cancer of Bitterness, relates the very human stories of ordinary people scarred by crime, betrayal, abuse and war. He tells how many have learned to forgive in sometimes the most difficult of circumstances. He reminds us of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie died in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, the innocent victim of a terrorist bomb; of Chris Carrier, a ten year old abducted in Miami and subjected to the most brutal attack, who many years later exchanged mutual forgiveness with his abductor, by then an old man. Harbored bitterness, Arnold explains, is destructive and self-destructive. It “has a disastrous effect on the soul. It opens the door to evil and leaves us vulnerable to thoughts of spite, hatred and even murder. It destroys our souls, and it can destroy our bodies as well.”
The Most Rev. Desmond M. Tutu, formerly Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, oversaw the post-apartheid reconciliation in his native South Africa, as leader of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has deep practical experience of the power of forgiveness. Without it, he tells us, “there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.” He brought soldiers and paramilitaries face to face with their victims from the Northern Ireland Troubles to grant and receive forgiveness. This was a process, he felt, which would help individuals in Northern Ireland who had been living for decades with unresolved emotions.
Tutu often speaks of such unresolved emotions as festering wounds that need opening up again and cleansed before real healing can occur.
Some of us believe that the Anglo-Catholic Church has seriously lost its way in the last 100 years or so by concentrating too much on individual redemption rather than nurturing a deeper spiritual commune with the sentient world around us, understanding our place in the wider humanity, visibly living our faith more proactively. After all, Jesus said “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Until the Church truly admits to its past failings, it will not be able to move on in a truly healing mission within the world.
This ability to forgive and be forgiven is an essential part of any global healing, a fact recognized by organizations such as the Fetzer Institute, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. They are devoted to the furtherance of love and forgiveness in the pursuit of global healing. The Fetzer Institute has a mission that rests on “its conviction that efforts to address the world’s critical issues must go beyond political, social and economic strategies to their psychological and spiritual roots.” And forgiveness, within or without a sound supporting faith, is one key to the healing of those psychological and spiritual roots.

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