It was only recently that I came across a quote that made me truly reflect on forgiveness, and how it leads to mercy bringing forth both healing and peace. “I never knew how strong I was until I had to forgive someone who wasn’t sorry and accept an apology I never received.” Sit for a minute, and take in the words. Profound, isn’t it?
All right. But you beg the question, how does forgiveness relate to sorrow and loss? For many individuals, this is a key and necessary component to moving forward in the healing process. I know firsthand how struggling with forgiveness causes even more heartache for one who mourns.
After almost a year of working through my own grief after unexpectedly losing my vocation to the religious life and later working with other young people as they walk a similar path of mourning that is unique by its very nature, I have slowly been coming to peace about the heartbreaking events that happened to me leading up to the day that I left the convent. I can honestly say that I never blamed God for what happened to me, but I have realized after the course of the months that have come to pass that I needed to forgive someone not in my mind because I had already done so, but in my heart. I had to forgive my novice director for the hurt, pain, and suffering that I endured not only in the convent but subsequently after I left.
When I sat with my novice director on the last day that I was in the convent, and she pleaded with me to forgive her for how she had treated me for the past two years, the notion of forgiveness did not hesitate to come to me. As I fixed my eyes upon her while she was seated in the chair across from me I could not help but feel pity for her as I recalled the day she told me how she hated her own vocation. And after deep reflection and prayer, I came to logically realize how deep down inside I blamed myself.
If only I had gone to the Mother General myself and refused to accept any more maliciousness and cruelty directed towards me by my novice director. Why did I allow myself to be emotionally, psychologically, and verbally attacked daily by a woman who had the only concern of seeking more and more power and control? What if during the last conversation that I had with Mother Vincent I had told her what really happened for the past two years instead of remaining in complete silence while embellished stories and vicious lies swirled around me?
The guilt I felt was irrational, and I have come to realize as time further passes me by that there was nothing that I could have done to change what happened, no matter how much I desired it.
And I have also come to terms with that asking myself a continuous slew of “What if…?” questions only prevents me from overcoming my grief, and moving forward with my life so that I can heal from the trauma that I endured in the convent. I have forgiven myself for the things that I never said and the things I never did during that time.
My friend Marie still mourns the loss of her vocation to the religious life as well, and she also had been mistreated by her novice director. But she has not yet been successful in pulling herself up out of the muddy bog of never-ending blame. As she described how she never saw it coming since the week of her departure the Sisters were having her prepare her habit and try on white veils for her upcoming investiture ceremony, we discussed forgiveness through a torrent of superfluous tears streaming down her face.
“My desire is for them to understand that I do not place the blame on the entire community because there were beautiful Sisters in the convent, but it was one woman who brought such devastation to my heart. And it very much pains me to see that they have so quickly erased my existence from their lives by removing all pictures of me from their website as if I never was in their convent,” Marie weepingly spoke, very much distressed by the situation that which she had no control over. I could relate to her in a way that I cannot even describe, but as soon as the words left her lips the quote on forgiveness came immediately to my mind, and I decided to share it with her.
It is this quote on forgiveness that I have read over and over again that reminds me that as Christians we are called to forgive even if we never receive an apology for the trespasses committed against us because God gives us the grace to seek forgiveness. During our conversation after I shared the quote with her, we talked about finding forgiveness in our hearts and being merciful to another who has brought us sorrow and grief. We agreed that the only way to truly forgive those who may never be sorry for the wrongs committed against us is to ask God through the power of prayer to help us to forgive.
Forgiveness helps us to mourn a loss in a healthy manner, and also leads us on the road to find healing and peace. We all experience different ways of mourning, whether it be losing a vocation in my case or perhaps losing a loved one, losing a pet, or even losing a job. Some individuals turn right away and blame others, and others blame themselves for what should have or could have been if certain events happened differently in their lives. Yet some of us are caught in between and hang in the balance between blaming both others and ourselves for our loss, which can lead to utter pandemonium and disarray in our lives. It is in this upheaval that we can be led to feelings of despair, hopelessness, loneliness, or depression, and this urgent need to place the blame on someone; anyone.
But remember forgiveness does not mean that we have to forget the painful afflictions that are a part of our lives or release an individual from his or her responsibility of choosing to do what is right whether he or she knows of the offense committed against another human being or not. We do not want to be held hostage by the burden of unforgiveness. Forgiveness is for our own sakes, to cure our aching and throbbing hearts — bringing peace to our souls by releasing the hurt and pain to set us free.
Guest post by Christina M. Sorrentino. Christina is the editor-in-chief with Ignitum Today and a contributor to Radiant Magazine and Catholic365. She has published articles with other online publications, such as Homiletic & Pastoral Review and Catholic Stand. She blogs at Called to Love A Listening Heart.