Anyone who’s ever been inside a twelve-step program—or been to boarding school—knows about forgiveness, as in, how hard it is. There are things that happened between and among us forty years ago, my friend, that I am still “processing.” That’s one of the modern throw-away terms for what we try to do when an ugly event creates an unsettling memory and we think we can treat it like carrots in a Vegematic. Sorry, Jesus says we have to forgive.
In this chapter, Guardini lays out the steps we have to take on the path to forgiveness. His question: “What must we overcome in ourselves to be capable of genuine forgiveness?” Let’s keep this brief. The preliminary answers are:
- The instinctive need to defend ourselves. “The sentiment of having to do with an enemy” lurks deep inside. “The sense of the hostile is something animals have.” We are animals.
- The passion for revenge. And we are human, meaning we derive satisfaction from getting back at someone. “To forgive him would mean to renounce this satisfaction, and necessitates a self-respect independent of the behavior of others because it lives from an intrinsic honor that is invulnerable.
- The desire for justice. This boils down to demanding “treatment conforming to one’s personal dignity, and its simplest exptression is the ancient law, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ What the other has done to me shall be done to him; thus the wrong will be atoned, and order reestablished.”
Here, it seems to me, is a fundamental dividing line between the practicing Christian and the man who believes that self-reliance, self-help is enough. When I think of forgiving my enemies (and I have them), I think impossible. I don’t have the ability. But as a Christian I am taught that God does have the ability and can help me. It requires what Guardini calls “the opening of the heart for divine magnanimity . . . If we close it instead, we shut God’s forgiveness out.
“Briefly,” Guardini writes, “forgiveness is a part of something much greater than itself: love. We should forgive, because we should love. That is why forgiveness is so free; it springs from the joint accomplishment of human and divine pardon. . . .
“Forgiveness reestablishes Christian fraternity and the sacred unity of I-you-he (God).”
In the end, Guardini tells us, forgiving others is our way of participating in Christ’s salvific mission. “We cannot enjoy the fruits of salvation without contributing to salvation through love of neighbor. And such love must become pardon when that neighbor trespasses against us, as constantly trespass against God.”
Be well, my friend, and be forgiving,
This series of posts continues here with chapter 48.