September 13, 2020
What if I told you that I had a pill. And this pill will:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Build your immune system
- Reduce bad cholesterol levels
- Reduce your anxiety
- Reduces cortisol levels and stress and hostility
- Improve your hearts health
- Help you sleep
- Reduce depression
- Reduce pain
And what if I told you that people who take this pill have better relationships with others and become more satisfied with their lives?
This is starting to sound like, "And if you call the 800 number on the screen, you can place your order now." If you did, they would answer, "Hello, welcome to the forgiveness network." You say, "What?" "I'm calling to buy that pill that lowers my blood pressure and cholesterol level, depression, anxiety, and stress. The one that builds my heart health and immune system and will make me more satisfied with my life. Have I called the right place? And if so, what is the price?" and the voice says, "You have called the right place and the price has already been paid for you." You say, "by who?" "By Jesus, of course. You see, it is not actually a pill that has all these benefits. It is forgiveness. When you learn the practice of forgiveness, you gain all these benefits. And the price has already been paid - by Jesus, on the cross, where he taught us to forgive, by forgiving those who crucified him."
Now, that is all amusing, but, actually, all the benefits of forgiveness that I have mentioned have been presented in medical journals - they are real! These are the benefits of forgiveness that I learned from Johns Hopkins Medical School, Mayo Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente Health, and Harvard Medical School. They are all in agreement on this!
But there is even more reason for us to practice forgiveness: Jesus in our Gospel and Sirach in the first reading are both telling us that in order to join them in heaven one day, we must forgive. That is a much greater benefit than anything I mentioned so far! But it can be so hard to forgive! A wife whose husband cheated on her; a drunk driver who killed your child; an abusive parent; a parent whose child rejects them and all their ways, the list goes on. It can also be smaller issues, like the guy who cut you off on the thruway on the way home. So, why does Jesus demand that we practice forgiveness?
Could it be because he wants us to receive these benefits that here and now, so that we can live life more fully here and now? So that we can live with joy? Could it be that he wants to provide these benefits so that we can become increasingly better at forgiving so that we join him eternally in heaven one day?
But forgiving isn't easy. It is tough getting started. a survey by the nonprofit Fetzer Institute revealed that 62% of American adults say they need to forgive more. While some people find it easier to forgive than others, it is something that we can all learn to do, and we get better at it when we practice.
So, how do we forgive? First, know that forgiving does not mean ignoring the seriousness of the offense against you. It does not mean excusing the offense. It does mean thinking less about the offense and hateful feelings you have against the offender. This is where the great benefits come in. According to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, forgiving takes away the destructive power that the other person holds in your life. It releases you from them and allows healing, peace, and happiness.
Medical experts say, and I agree, that there are two steps to forgiving: The first step, Decisional forgiveness, involves a conscious choice to replace hatred and ill will with good will. "You no longer wish bad things to happen to that individual," says Dr. VanderWeele of the Harvard School of Medicine.
The second step is Emotional Forgiveness. You move away from those negative feelings and no longer dwell on the wrongdoing. "Emotional forgiveness is much harder and takes longer, [because] it's common for those feelings to return on a regular basis," says Dr. VanderWeele. "This often happens when you think about the offender." This is where we pray for our offender.
So, this week, maybe choose one person who has offended you and who is occupying your mind way too much in a negative way. Then, with prayer, take those two steps towards forgiveness. And don't worry if you fail a few times. That is why it is called "practicing" forgiveness. Amen