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home : features : people of faith

7/23/2015 9:00:00 AM
SEMINARIAN'S DIARY
Forgiveness gives us power
BY MATTHEW HOULE


Earlier this summer, we all watched in horror at the news of the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The murderer sat through a Bible study for an hour with the people who would later become his victims. It was absolutely sickening.

However, what happened a few days later was incredible: The families of the victims each spoke in court and forgave the murderer. They forgave not because the murderer was sorry, but because forgiveness is what Christians do.

C. S. Lewis said, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." I stand in awe of the tremendous courage, strength, humility and faith of those families. Without these virtues, forgiveness does not happen.

One of the most difficult things that God wants us to do is to forgive others. Sometimes, the person who hurt us doesn't seem to know or care that they hurt us. Sometimes, there is no contrition and there are no apologies.

How do we forgive in these circumstances? How can we simply overlook the pain that was caused, the callousness shown, and the apathy that still lingers?

There are only two possible courses of action when you have been hurt. The first is revenge. With it, you play right into the devil's hands. You get back at the person who hurt you, but you are still not satisfied; no amount of revenge is ever enough.

Your pain still remains. So, you spiral into a deep, dark bitterness and anger that consumes you. Before you know it, you are so deep in this pit of despair that you don't see any way out.

There is another course of action: forgiveness. With it, you let go of your pain, anger, vindictiveness and even your victimhood, and trust in God. You pray for whoever hurt you and offer your suffering up to God, leaving it in His hands. The power to forgive is so great it comes directly from God. Who, without God, forgives?

Your options are simple: forgive or be miserable. Which sounds better?

There is power in being a victim. We can garner sympathy, lord our victimhood over others, make demands, get away with things, gain attention and even bully others. All of this feeds into our pride and self-satisfaction.

We live in a culture that glorifies and rewards victims. In fact, there are many fake victims today who have suffered little, but claim victim status in order to gain advantages. These people cheapen the stories of people who really have suffered through difficult and often horrible things. So many groups and individuals are now claiming to be victims that it is hard to keep track of who we are supposed to be feeling sorry for today.

Victim status gives us a powerful weapon and there is much to be gained: money, power, influence, sympathy and the ability to bully people and society into doing whatever you want them to. All of this makes revenge a great temptation.

Revenge is like any other false promise from Satan. In it, we see only satisfaction, but through it we attain only disappointment and misery and a desire for more. What we really want is the power to relieve our suffering.

In order to take up the power to heal, to grow stronger and not allow someone else to dominate and control our feelings and emotions, we must drop another power: the power of victimhood. This is what makes forgiveness so difficult. The battle we must win is not with an external enemy, but within ourselves.

It sounds so outrageous: You have been hurt and yet you are the one who must conquer something within yourself? But remember, it is not what we suffer, but how we respond to what we suffer that will come to define us.

Forgiveness gives us a different and greater power: the power to make ourselves immune to the pain that others try to inflict on us. Forgiveness is not surrendering to the one who hurt you; forgiveness is refusing to be their victim. Remember the words of Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor: "Getting even has never healed a single person."

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)





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