By Father Robert Lauder
IN Planning MY future columns, I am hoping to write a series on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s marvelous book “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life” (Translated by Walter Madges. New York: Paulist Press, 2014, pp. 264). I can’t recall any book in theology that so thoroughly covers one topic. On the book cover is a comment from Pope Francis which may be the best promotion any book has ever received: “This book has done me so much good.”
Refusal to Forgive
While thinking about writing a series of columns based on Cardinal Kasper’s “Mercy,” I came across an insight of Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B., in his book, “The Crucified Jesus Is No Stanger” (Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Seabury Press, 1977, pp. 116) on the parable of the steward who, after being forgiven by his master, refuses to forgive a subordinate.
“The truth this parable is getting at in its deceptively simple fairy-story way is the existential truth that lies at the heart of the human condition: that my hardness of heart in respect of my brother disguises from me the fact that I am enormously in God’s debt. Instead of saying ‘although I have been let off a huge debt, I won’t even let someone else off a small one,’ I should say ‘because I see no reason to remit my brother’s debt, the forgiveness of God has no serious meaning for me.’
“This turns the whole thing upside down. Far from refusal to remit being manifestly outrageous to me in the light of God’s forgiveness of me, it is my refusal that is preventing the light from getting through.. …
“We have to think of God’s forgiveness as a transformation of consciousness.” (p. 82)
Blinded to Great Gifts
Dom Moore’s insight seems to me to be important. How we relate to other people influences how we relate to God. In the parable, the refusal to forgive blinds the person to the great gift of God’s forgiveness. I have often observed how a person who holds a grudge is being hurt more than the person who needs forgiveness. In some cases, perhaps in all, the person who refuses to forgive is more needy and wounded than the person who needs forgiveness.
In God’s plan we really are tied together; our relationships with one another greatly influence our relationship with God. When I refuse to forgive, I hurt myself more than I hurt the person I refuse to forgive.
I believe that the more we love and the more deeply we love, the more capable we become of loving. As we freely reach out in love toward other people, even in seemingly small acts of kindness, the more capable we become of loving God.
Dom Moore’s insight has helped me to see that our failures in loving and our refusal to forgive others can greatly influence our relationship with God.
Examining my conscience, I have become aware of how long I nurture hurt feelings. I don’t think, except in my fantasies, that I try to get even, that I try to pay back for the hurt I have experienced, but even that I might fantasize about “getting even” indicates to me that I have not really forgiven, that I have not put the experience of being hurt behind me.
As long as I don’t let go of my hurt feelings, to that extent, I don’t allow God to heal me.
Though I find Dom Moore’s book difficult reading, I also find it very provocative. He writes the following about forgiveness: “It touches not the self-important sinner but the sin of self-importance.
“In touching this sin, the divine forgiveness is not acting out of character with its infinite and beyond-me root. On the contrary, self-importance is properly dissolved by that infinite and luminous centre that is its ultimate corrective. What is meant by the divine forgiveness of sin is that God begins to be God in the small, mean life of the sinner.” (p. 86)
I love the expression: “God begins to be God in the small mean life of the sinner.” We allow God to enter in and to heal us – or to paraphrase Dom Moore – we allow God to be God in our lives. God always deals with us as free persons. Our free acceptance of God’s love is crucial.
Our “yes” allows God to change us.
Father Robert Lauder has a 55-minute lecture, “The Mystery of Love,” on YouTube (search “Father Lauder” and “Mystery of Love”) and on NET-TV.
Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).