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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Forgiveness—It's Not as Easy as I Thought It Was

  Tom Vona
  Tom Vona
Senior Associate and Mentor

Forgiveness is a concept that I’ve never had difficulty with in my entire adult life—until now. It’s ironic that forgiveness has been chosen as the focus for this edition of the Lens, as I am currently having a great deal of difficulty forgiving someone who has hurt my family and me in a painful manner. I can’t help but feel that some spiritual force is at work here, helping me examine my own beliefs and my conscience. In this particular instance, I’m finding it much easier to “talk the talk” than to “walk the walk.”

In my entire adult life, to the best of my memory, I have never faced the necessity of forgiving anyone for hurting me or my family in any significant way. When I think back on my personal life and my professional life as a school leader, nothing reached the point where true forgiveness was necessary. Of course, in my professional life there were often disagreements and those who disappointed me in one way or another. I guess I was fortunate in that such events never reached the level of personal affronts to me or to someone I loved. I was the person who was usually called in to talk to people who were having difficulties, be it in my family or at school. Very often I brought teachers together who were having some sort of difficulty because of a perceived wrongdoing. Usually, by the time they left my office the situation was resolved. In my extended family, there have been ongoing issues where I’ve had the opportunity to talk to family members about forgiveness and its importance. I am the member of our family who people think of when anything like this becomes necessary. Being an active member of the Catholic Church my entire life, where forgiveness is one of the major tenets, I was taught to “turn the other cheek,” to look for the good in people, to try to right wrongs rather than to let them fester into something significant. That is the way I’ve always lived my life, and I had one of the best teachers in my mother, about whom I have written here before. That is why to be in this situation today is so difficult for me to cope with.

In preparing to write this article, I perused the second edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 2000. I looked up “forgiveness” in the index. Though there was a great deal written about it, what I read didn’t make me feel any better. I came across passages such as “…this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us”; “In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love”;  “Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer”; and “Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin.” Knowing all this, and having believed it for my whole life, is creating enormous turmoil within me now that I am having such difficulty truly forgiving another person. I’m finding that sometimes life’s circumstances can make it very difficult to live up to one’s long-held beliefs, and that is a painful realization for me.

What does “forgiveness” mean to me in this circumstance? Were I able to forgive, it would mean that I could think of this person without feelings of anger and hostility; it would mean that I could pray for this person again and hope that he finds peace and happiness in his life. Right now, I am sad to say, I am very far from this state. Recently I told a nun from my parish that I hope I have long enough left to live that I can achieve this level of forgiveness while I am still alive—because I wouldn’t want to die with these feelings on my conscience. I realize that I have a lot of work and a lot of praying to do to reach the point where I need to be. Something that I thought would never be a problem for me has indeed become a significant problem, and at a time in my life when I thought I was past worrying about such things.

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