“Father … I have a problem with forgiving” said Sonia as she folded the last of the vestments and put them away in their cupboard in the Sacristy.
“What do you mean? A problem with forgiving …”
“I know you’ve always said we should forgive with all our heart … unreservedly … if we want God to forgive us our sins. I understand that … and I try as best I can to forgive wholeheartedly.”
“But …” smiled the priest, “but in this case …”
She smiled back.
“But in this case it is different. There’s this woman at work who has hurt me really bad. She lied about me Father. And as a result I was severely reprimanded by our manager and I was made to lose a day’s pay, which I cannot afford. We used to be friends, but she lied to cover up her mistake and I got unfairly punished.”
“This is terrible,” said Father Ignatius frowning at the unfairness of what he’d just heard. “Is there not some sort of appeal procedure at your workplace?"
“No, ” Sonia said. “The thing is, this woman came to see me yesterday and apologized profusely for what she had done. She cried her heart out and said she could not have been found out to have made yet another mistake. She was on her last warning and another mistake would mean losing her job. That’s why she lied and put the blame on me. She begged me to forgive her, which I did straightaway Father. I told her to think no more about it and that all was now OK.”
“That’s very generous and loving of you, so what is the problem?” asked the priest.
“She wants us to be friends again, as before. We used to visit each other at our homes, go shopping together, or pick up each others’ children from school and so on. She wants everything to be as before.
“I find that very difficult. I just can’t trust her anymore and I want us to keep our distance. I forgive her as I said; but I can’t go back as before. I think I can speak and be nice to her at work but that’s as far as it goes; I can’t be friends again. Is my forgiveness worthless?”
“No … it is not worthless,” replied Father Ignatius gently, “when we forgive someone else, we touch their very soul with the merciful love of Jesus Christ our Lord.
“You’ve been hurt Sonia … hurt and punished unfairly and undeservedly.
“When we forgive people it means that we no longer hold their wrongdoings to account. We no longer bear them any malice or ill-feelings or ill-will. We acknowledge that we forgive them and we let them go their own way free from any fear of punishment or retribution on our part.
“This doesn’t mean however that we forget the pain caused to us. How can we? The hurt is imprinted in our memory and try as we might the chances are that we’ll remember it time and again. It’s only natural. You forgave her and told her so …”
Sonia nodded; holding back her tears.
“And that’s all that is expected of you,” continued the priest gently, noticing that she was very upset at the mere thought of the event.
“We all have a right, a duty even, to protect ourselves and to protect our loved ones. If we feel uncomfortable about a particular situation or relationship, we have every right to distance ourselves from it.
“For very understandable reasons you feel uncomfortable at being friendly with this person as you were before; visiting each other and picking each others’ children from school and so on.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. Tell her politely that you’ve forgiven her and that you feel both of you should leave it at that.”
“But,” Sonia interrupted, “how can that be forgiveness? By keeping my distance implies that I’m still holding something against her. She knows that, you and I know that, and God knows that.”
Father Ignatius smiled.
“Oh yes. God knows that all right; and He knows the reason behind it too.” he said.
“Let me tell you a story. Jesus once taught His disciples and His followers about Himself. He said, ‘whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.’
“A number of His followers found this difficult to understand. What does He mean? Eat His flesh and drink His blood? Even today, many find this very concept difficult to understand; so you can imagine how it was in those times.
“So a number of Christ’s followers decided to leave and no longer follow Him. What did Jesus do?
“He didn’t call them back. He didn’t say, ‘Wait, let me explain. This is what I meant to say.’ He didn’t compromise His position in any way.
“He just let them go. He even asked His twelve disciples, ‘How about you, do you want to go as well?’
“You see Sonia; Jesus forgave them and let them go. He didn’t curse them and send plagues and pestilence on them and their families for generations.”
She smiled again feeling a little calmer.
“He just forgave them and let them go. Which is what you should also do.” said Father Ignatius serenely.
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