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How can I forgive someone when they do not repent? – Part II of II

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Forgiveness, Fr. Bartunek

Dear Father John, I have had this question regarding forgiveness ever since my husband filed for post on how can i forgive someonefor divorce and treated me terribly during the process. He never acknowledged his treatment of me nor repented and asked for forgiveness, yet, in confession, I was always told that I still must forgive him. Fortunately, eventually, God gave me the grace to forgive him, as He made me see that, sinner that I am, in God's eyes who am I to feel so self-righteous over the hurt my ex inflicted, when I myself am guilty of many hurts also.

Yet, when I read the first part of Luke Chapter 17, Our Lord says that if our brother sins against us 7 times, and repents and asks our forgiveness 7 times, we must forgive him. I understand that. So, why are we expected to forgive someone when they do not ask for our forgiveness? Also, it is my understanding that, while God still loves us, when we sin against Him, we must turn back to him and repent before we receive His forgiveness. If that is correct, then why are we told by so many priests that regardless of how much someone hurt us, if they do not ask for our forgiveness we still must forgive them?

In our first post, we considered briefly how forgiveness is central to Christianity — we must have no limits when it comes to forgiveness, and the difference between forgiving and being forgiven.

The Danger of a Closed Heart

The second question has to do with why forgiveness is so central to our spiritual growth. In the first part of your question, you show that you already understand this. You recognize that it is hypocritical to receive God’s forgiveness for our own offenses while refusing to forgive those who offend us. A deep theological truth underlies that reality.

God is love. There is no one whom God does not love. There is no one to whom God does not offer his mercy. He holds no grudges. If we, then, consciously exclude someone from our love, from our mercy, by refusing to forgive them, we are cutting ourselves off from God. We are telling God that we love him, but we don’t love others whom he loves. So we are not in full communion with him. In that case, our hearts are closed towards certain people to whom God’s heart is fully and constantly open. Here’s how the Catechism explains it (#2840):

Now – and this is daunting – this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father's merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.

By the way, the Catechism also stresses that this unconditional forgiveness is beyond our natural powers – we simply cannot live that depth of interior freedom without God’s grace (Catechism 2841: “This crucial requirement of the covenant mystery is impossible for man. But ‘with God all things are possible.’”) This is why forgiveness can be so hard. Our fallen nature tends towards self-righteousness. But our redeemed nature tends towards Christ-likeness. The battle between the two natures will rage as long as we are pilgrims on our way to the Father’s house.

Forgiveness Goes Deeper Than Feelings

In this battle, it is critical to remember that true forgiveness does not always feel like forgiveness. I can truly forgive someone who has grossly offended me, but I may still experience strong emotions of anger, resentment, and just indignation. After all, if someone needs forgiveness, it’s because they did something wrong, and someone was hurt because of it. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean pretending that no damage was done or ignoring the destruction. As we grow towards spiritual maturity, however, our emotional life will become more and more in synch with our spiritual life, and the best way to speed up this process is – in the arena of forgiveness – to pray for those who have offended us. To turn to the Catechism once again (#2843): “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.”

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • LizEst

    Wonderfully said, Fr. John.

    Salvation is all about mercy. We know that God, in his mercy, “has come to his people and set them free” (Luke 1:68). If we truly have faith in Jesus, if we truly follow Him, we do what He commands, trusting Him completely. In the Our Father, and in His teachings, He made the forgiveness of our sins contingent on our forgiving those who sin against us, just as Christ proved His love by dying for us while we were still sinners (cf Romans 5:8). Our “knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of…sins” (Luke 1:77) carries with it the responsibility of extending forgiveness to others. God, who is love and mercy itself, will manifest Himself to us if we are merciful, if do not harden our hearts with unforgiveness, which is the absence of mercy. Jesus told us as much in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7).

  • Becky Ward

    I was reading about someone who was complaining to the Lord about this very thing…and in frustration yelled at Him, “But they didn’t apologize!!” This person then found themselves gazing upon the crucified Lord on the cross…..and heard the quiet, gentle, words: “Nobody apologized to me.”

    • LizEst

      Thanks for sharing that, Becky. That would certainly get my attention. Who were you reading about?

      • Becky Ward

        Mother Nadine of The Intercessors of the Lamb. (If my memory is right.) They have been dis-banded now – due to issues with laity involvement with the order I believe – but she wrote some great books.
        I think this experience speaks for itself.

        • LizEst

          Thanks. I’m familiar with the name. As I understand it, they reorganized this year officially as The Brides of the Victorious Lamb. I don’t know Mother Nadine’s current status.

          • The Intercessors were suppressed because of blatant refusal to submit to their Bishop. They were serious problems in the community’s administration, spirituality, leadership, and finances.

          • Here’s a fair treatment along with a CNA piece that is also accurate. http://te-deum.blogspot.com/2010/11/contrasting-nadine-brown-and-padre-pio.html

            http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/omaha-archbishop-shuts-down-intercessors-of-the-lamb/

            The Brides are a group that came out of the Intercessors that demonstrated a holy cooperation with the Archbishop. He has allowed them to re-form a new association. Nadine Brown is not among them.

          • LizEst

            Fascinating. Thanks Dan. I didn’t know too much about them but had heard snippets, including the name. But, “inspired” by Becky’s comment above about her writing, I thought I would just see if I could find out more. That CNA piece was very well done, the te-deum blogspot really laying it out beautifully. Thanks for the primer! God bless you!

          • BTW – Knowing Becky, I don’t think she was advocating for Nadine Brown but simply pointing out something that she said that the Holy Spirit used in her life.

          • LizEst

            No, I didn’t think she was advocating either. I was just “inspired” by her comment to see what could be found on such;)

          • Becky Ward

            Yes! Thank you. Thus the reason I didn’t post the name to begin with.

          • Becky Ward

            Thanks for the update. I haven’t followed what has happened – sorry to hear Nadine Brown is not among those who have re-formed……but I am grateful to know that need to be more careful in sharing her material.

    • JP

      Thank you Becky, regardless who wrote this, it still applies. I never thought about it like that – that no one apologized to Our Lord when he was dying on the cross.
      And thank you Fr. John for your beautiful answer.

  • ginor250

    What if someone has offended God (and God naturally forgives them over and over) and persists until they die without regret, without remorse, without confessing the sin? Isn’t this when God becomes judge and the person will have to account for his sin? This is probably why we should let God do the final judging as he knows their inner soul.

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