By Marge Fenelon
In elementary school, my religion teacher told us that we must forgive others because, if we don’t God will not forgive us for our offenses.
That shocked me.
There were people in my life who I felt didn’t deserve my forgiveness. How ridiculous to think that God would refuse me forgiveness when, I hadn’t done anything nearly as bad as they had. I brushed it off and remained steadfast in my self-righteousness.
Still, her words echoed in me. Was it possible she was right?
Then, while in high school, I heard a homily about the Our Father. In it, the priest focused at length on the verse, …and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I was sure he somehow knew my little secret and was speaking directly to me. I slumped in my seat, convinced that everybody in the church was staring at me. They weren’t, of course, but the awkwardness of that moment has lingered in me to this day.
Those weren’t the words of my elementary school religion teacher; they were the words of Jesus himself. And, if Jesus said them, then I was positive that he had meant them because everything he ever said he said with purpose and authority. God would forgive me as I forgave others. If I forgave, I’d be forgiven. If I didn’t forgive, I wouldn’t be forgiven. That homily changed me and I’ve never said the Our Father since without harkening back to the time I heard it.
As I grew older, I practiced forgiveness – practiced, mind you, because I’ve yet to become adept at it. The more I practiced, the more I understood about real forgiveness. It isn’t a random thing, it’s a process. I learned to apply that process to many situations in my life – everything from snarky remarks, betrayal, and scandal to the abusiveness of my emotionally disturbed mother. I worked the process into an acronym that I share in my writing and presentations: R.A.R.E.
In brief, here’s how it works.
REVIEW – Generally speaking, we tend not to want to admit that the past happened, especially in abusive situations. Or, we replay our own version of it again and again. Neither of those options is healthy. Instead, you should approach the past prayerfully and see it as it actually was, not what you imagine it to be. In the process, lift it up to God and surrender it to him.
St. John of the Cross calls this purification of the memory.
“This is our task now with the memory. We must draw it away from its natural props and capacities and raise it above itself (above all distinct knowledge and apprehensible possession) to supreme hope in the incomprehensible God,” (St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel)
Granted, this can be difficult, even scary, but if you don’t look back your past will forever be a threat to you. It’s a good idea to do this under the guidance of a spiritual director and maybe also a professional counselor if you’ve experienced trauma.
ACKNOWLEDGE – Pretending it never happened or, worse, pretending that it didn’t affect you can be dangerous to your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It happened – acknowledge it. You’re wounded and have scars from it – acknowledge it. You have some behavior quirks because of it – acknowledge that, too. Acknowledge all of it, work with it, and realize that God is more powerful than any force with which you must contend. God’s got this, and don’t ever forget that.
RELEASE – Turn the cause of your pain over to God and turn your pain over to your Blessed Mother Mary. Release it all into their competent, loving hearts. Then, release the debt. Stop looking for vindication, retaliation, or understanding. God in his justice will take care of the debt himself. Write it off and let it go.
ENTRUST – Place the cause of your pain – be it a who or a what – totally into Mary’s heart. Then, place yourself totally into her heart. Allow yourself to trust in Mary’s motherly care and competence and in God’s mercy, wisdom, and justice.
It’s not a once and for all process, but rather one that you may need to repeat many times in a row or at intervals during your life. Sound tough? It can be, but it’s not impossible. That’s because real forgiveness is RARE.
About the author:
Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, blogger, speaker, and journalist whose writing has appeared in dozens of media outlets including National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service/Faith Alive. She blogs regularly at National Catholic Register and is a columnist for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald. Marge is the author of several books on Marian devotion and Catholic family life, including her newest work Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace (Servant Books, 2017). She is a regular contributor on national Catholic radio programs and has also appeared on Catholic television.