The Grace to Forgive

Sister Esther Fangman, OSB

In the chapter about Lent in his Rule, Benedict talks about making an extra effort in Lent.

In a column last fall, I talked about the need for all of us to work on forgiveness. I believe that it is always worthwhile to do, to consciously spend time letting go of the hurts we have with others. Perhaps this is the “extra effort” we might make besides prayer, fasting and almsgiving in this season of Lent.

Why do I keep coming back to this issue? I do not believe we can be open in our prayer to God and hear Him if we are not open to others and hear God speaking through them.

I can’t decide that I’ll hear this person or that one, but I definitely will not hear this one. We either have our ears open or closed.

Secondly, we need to be free of the bonds of resentment, fear and anger. We need to be free of protecting ourselves from others. This takes up too much energy. We need to change from being reactors on the stage of life. Instead, we need to be actors, acting on what God places before us.

I was struck with this issue when reading in the rule about one of the kinds of monk, the hermit. I had always heard only the part that was about this kind of monk living alone.

I missed the parts that describe what they should do before choosing to live alone: “They who go into the solitary life have reached a degree of wholeness that now makes it possible to move to that step.” How? “Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil. They have built up their strength.”

What is Benedict talking about here? He is talking about how we come to the monastery, or any human community relationship, as broken human beings; and if community is working, we gradually are changed.

The evil is taken out of us and we become more and more whole. This made me think what really is Christian community but a place where we allow the guidance of many, as well as prayer, to push us to wholeness, to be holy; it works like a sacrament, making and causing us to change. We can only do that if we are open to everyone in that community.

It reminded me of couples I have seen whose marriages were working. The marriage worked because they were using the grace of the sacrament of matrimony that was there to heal their childhood wounds through the genuine acceptance and love they shared as adults.

It was that grace that turned present conflict between them into the growth of compassion, empathy, patience and endurance, and it was the grace of the sacrament of marriage that enabled them to work in ways to tenderly, yet surely, remove the scum that is carried into all relationships: the bitterness, anger, meanness, revenge, selfishness, etc.

If we use the graces we have received in our lives, with the help of many, we can learn to fight against the evil that stands in our midst, such as distrust, murmuring, ignoring one another, mean words and even the beliefs we have built up about the other: “They will never change,” “I don’t want to sit with her,” “There he goes again,” “Why can’t she ...” and so on.

We need to work against this “evil” in us so we can be free to genuinely love the other and even nudge them a bit with the kindest look, behavior or words. We all are called both to inspire others to greater zeal for good.