Category: Family

Justice or Mercy?

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Last week we considered Mercy’s two meanings:

  • to be compassionate and forgiving to someone
  • and to provide help to those in need.

 

In discussion of the first meaning, one reader asked, “When is it time for mercy, and when should I stand firm?” In answering, I’m keeping in mind three concepts:

 

  • Jesus admonishes us to forgive “seventy times seven.”
  • We must set limits to protect ourselves and others from people who feel no remorse when they take advantage of us.
  • If in authority, we must teach others about responsible behavior.

I read a quote lately something to the effect of “Forgive the unrepentant and accept the unoffered apology.” It seems whenever I try to write about forgiveness, a beloved member of my family has been deeply hurt and so I truly struggle with my subject matter. The temptation for me is to not even try to forgive people who show no regret for what they’ve done.

That’s certainly the easier path; if they aren’t sorry, why struggle to forgive them? Because a lack of forgiveness grows into bitterness and harms our mood, our nature, and our very souls. We forgive the unrepentant, in part, to keep them from having negative influence over us. In addition, our own pardon depends on how we have pardoned. In the Our Father we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We must work through our hurt in order to be ready to reconcile if the offender ever does apologize and ask for forgiveness. For more on  Steps to Forgiveness , click this link.

Consider the story of the Prodigal Son, who after demanding his inheritance squanders it on immoral living. When the money is gone and he is hungry, he realizes the error of his ways and returns repentantly to his father.  This story could also be called the Merciful Father. He has been watching daily for his son to return and, when he sees him in the distance, the father runs to his son with open arms and even sets a feast to celebrate his return. Obviously this man had done the hard work of forgiveness long before his son reappeared.

The son was sorry, the father forgave him, and showing him mercy, celebrated his return. But notice, when the son left, the father didn’t search for his son and drag him back, only to have the son leave again. The father’s mercy and forgiveness were ready and waiting for when the son had learned his lesson. I think of push-over parents who never quite enforce the threatened or natural consequences for their children’s disobedience. These parents are not being merciful. In fact, in their desire to be always the “happy, friendly, cool parents” they are keeping their children from learning the lessons of growing up responsibly. They are not merciful, they are selfish. They don’t want to feel those temporary emotions of their child’s anger, and instead forgo an opportunity to teach the child a valuable life lesson. 

In short, within our relationships, we must work to forgive time after time. However, mercy is not the same as leniency and our children must learn lessons from their mistakes. Those lessons are our responsibility to teach them. No matter how many times they make mistakes, we must continue to love them and be ready to run to them with open arms. People whom we are not in authority over are also deserving of our ready forgiveness and unending love, and in some cases we’ve built a strong enough relationship that they might be open to learning from us. But if not, and if that person continues to be harmful to us or our loved ones, we must set boundaries for acceptable behavior and sometimes limit contact with them. However, we should never “cut a person off” permanently.

We do the work of forgiving them in hope that in the future we can reconcile. A person who hurts us or others repeatedly must sometimes be loved from afar. This might mean putting a child in time out and then discussing why before they return to play. It means avoiding someone who is destructive in their treatment of our family until they show through their actions and words that they understand the extent of the damage they caused to such depth that it will keep them from ever wanting to repeat their behavior.

In serious situations, this realization may require counseling or spiritual growth to accomplish. (As may our attempt at forgiveness.) An abuser must realize how he or she makes the abused feel. An unfaithful spouse must acknowledge and know the hurt he or she caused, to such a profound depth that the very idea of hurting a person they love that way becomes unbearable.

There is a time for mercy and a time for justice. Where would our society be if a court always granted leniency to criminals? Our parole boards exist to make this choice carefully. A serial murderer requires the full extent of justice to protect our society. Sometimes the balance between justice and mercy is obvious. But in those times when it isn’t, when we aren’t sure which direction to lean, let’s err on the side of mercy tempering justice’s demands.

We must ask ourselves, what is in the long-term best interest of the person to whom we consider granting mercy? Because a child needs to learn responsibility, the long-term merciful choice is to enforce consequences, so they become well equipped to deal with the adult world. If an adult has learned a lesson and is truly repentant, mercy rather than punishment is due. If he or she is unrepentant, justice and discipline may bring the transgressor to realization of better ways.

An element of Justice exists in Mercy which keeps an unscrupulous person from being allowed to continue bad behavior without consequence. Mercy is not a warm fuzzy emotion that accepts any behavior. It is hard-won forgiveness (sometimes a daily decision) and a reaching out to someone who understands their mistake and is determined not to repeat it.

Betty Arrigotti

 

Author of Christian Love Stories:
  Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
  Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)
  When the Vow Breaks (CreateSpace 2015)

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody

Betty blue bordered (2)I didn’t attend our parish’s Reconciliation Service last week because I was so angry at someone for hurting a member of my family that I knew I couldn’t yet ask for forgiveness. I wasn’t ready to forgive, and I know the two go inextricably together. A couple of days later I attended Reconciliation at another parish in our diocese; I wanted to let go of my anger and hoped I could. My confessor listened, looked at me with Christ’s tenderness, and suggested I write the word “forgiveness” on a paper where I’d see it throughout the week. I did.

In addition, I bought the book, Everyone Needs to Forgive Somebody, by Allen Hunt. He offers 11 stories of people who discover that forgiveness is a key to joy. At the end of each chapter, he suggests an activity. I’m listing some as suggestions to help you discover whom you need to forgive (perhaps yourself, perhaps God) and what steps can assist in your journey of forgiveness. So little can be covered in these 4 minutes. I read the book in a short evening and recommend it to all.

  • Create a forgiveness journal. List people you have hurt and need to ask for forgiveness. Then list people whom you need to forgive for hurting you.
  • Write down your 5 biggest mistakes, failures, or disappointments. Recite each aloud, praying after each one: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
  • Visualize your deepest hurts and resentments. See each as a rock and slowly place the rock in a bag. Imagine taking the bag to a lake, hefting it over your shoulder, and throwing it into the water. Watch it sink. Feel the release. Your hurts and resentments are gone.
  • Seven steps to forgiveness:
  1. Remember your own need for forgiveness
  2. Pick one thing you know you ought to forgive
  3. Ask God to saturate you with his grace to help you forgive.
  4. If possible, engage the offender in direct, open, honest communication. Don’t accuse, focus on how you feel. Say, “I forgive you.”
  5. Follow your words with some act of reconciliation—perhaps a hug, handshake, or meal together.
  6. To prevent the same hurts from occurring again, keep your lines of communication open, with clear, healthy boundaries and guidelines for your relationship.
  7. Learn to forgive the small things—with friends, family, or coworkers. Be a person of grace. Don’t dwell on the hurts. Recognize you are still prone to mistakes as you become the-best-version-of-yourself, just as others are.
  • Make 2 copies of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and place one in your bathroom for mediation as you get ready in the morning. Place the other in your forgiveness journal.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

When there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  • Make a conscious decision to forgive. Resolve today you will be a forgiver. Those who forgive benefit from a better immune system; lower blood pressure; better mental health; lower anger, anxiety, and depression; and enjoy more satisfying and longer-lasting relationships than those unable to forgive.
  • Perform an act of kindness. First do it for anyone. Next week, perform a kind act for someone who has injured you. Being kind to someone who has taken advantage of you prevents you from feeling resentful and can also change his or her heart.
  • Write a letter to someone who has hurt you very much. You may choose to mail it or not, but writing the letter is an important first step toward your healing and the release of the power the person holds over your heart. Express the specific hurt and that you forgive the person.

So how am I, Betty, doing on forgiving? It’s a process, not a one-time decision, but I’m making progress. Here are a few practices that help me:

  • Acknowledge to yourself the anger and hurt you feel. If possible, voice it calmly right away to the person who hurt you.
  • Don’t continue to “lick the wound.” Dogs make their sores larger by doing this, and so do we when we dwell or obsess on them. Practice “thought stopping” when you find yourself doing this and instead—
  • Pray for the person who hurt you. Place them in God’s care. Remind yourself you want to be a forgiver.

 

Today is Good Friday. Allen Hunt acknowledges how strange it is we call the day of Christ’s suffering and death “good.” Yet it brought our greatest gift of all time. Our sins are forgiven. All we need do is forgive those who hurt us. This isn’t easy, but God will help us, and grace us immeasurably. God’s plan for the whole world is forgiveness and reconciliation. What a gift and blessing!

After all, everybody needs to forgive somebody!

You can find this week’s book at www.dynamiccatholic.com, Amazon, or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.

Blessings on your week and on your Easter season!

 

-- 
Betty Arrigotti
Author of Christian Love Stories:
  Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
  Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)

www.BettyArrigotti.com

Our Father… Bless Our Families

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Recently I pondered the Our Father and discovered many of the remedies our families need are contained within it.

Our Father

  • The word Jesus used when praying to his father was more like our “papa” or “daddy” and carries tenderness and trust. Our Father loves us like a papa, tenderly. Like we should love our children.
  • The “Our” reminds us of our family relationship to everyone on this earth. We are truly brothers and sisters; none of us are foster children. We should treat everyone with respect.

Who art in Heaven

  • Our Papa God reminds us there is another life, another existence where all will be well. He helps us put into perspective this life and our nagging worries. Our attention should focus on the next life, knowing God is there, too, and we will know joy with him forever.

Hallowed be thy name

  • This phrase balances the concept of Papa God with a reminder of the awe-inspiring nature of All Powerful God, as well. He is all holy. His name is holy and we should speak it with respect and humility. Like our own children, whom we want to trust us and yet respect us, we owe him honor.

Thy Kingdom Come

  • We look forward to a better world but we can’t just sit and wait. We must also work to bring improvement to this world. Within our families and within our world, this phrase reminds us to strive to constantly improve ourselves and our relationships.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

  • Our children must learn to obey us as parents in order to be safe and to grow into successful, law abiding adults. It might feel better to us in the moment to let their disobedience slide, but we owe it to them to respond consistently, even though they will be angry with us for a while. It is our job to model for them that their actions have consequences so that when they are adults they will not expect to get away with infractions.
  • We, too, must constantly strive to discern and obey God’s will, in order to become the fully actualized people he created us to be.

Give us this day our daily bread

  • So much of the world is not assured of daily bread, let alone quality nutrition. And yet, we have more than enough. This phrase reminds us how desperately the world needs us to share our abundance.
  • In a broader sense we are asking God to provide what we need, trusting he will. Not what we want, necessarily, but what we need.
  • It also states us how truly simple are our daily needs. What do our children need daily? To be loved, protected, educated, fed, and clothed. Perhaps we need reminding that our children don’t NEED all the activities, toys, or electronics that we want to provide them. They need more of our time.

And forgive us our trespasses

  • We will make mistakes. We all do.  Let’s teach our children by example how to apologize quickly and ask forgiveness. Here is a useful template from www.cuppacocoa.com for a sincere apology:

1.     I’m sorry for…   Be specific. Show the person you’re apologizing to that you really understand what they are upset about.

2.     This is wrong because… Until you understand why it was wrong or how it hurt someone’s feelings, it’s unlikely you will change. This is also important to show the person you hurt that you really understand how they feel.

3.     In the future, I will… Use positive language, and tell what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.

4.     Will you forgive me? This is important to try to restore your relationship. Now, there is no rule that the other person has to forgive you. Sometimes, they won’t. That’s their decision, and that’s not something you automatically get just because you apologized. But you should at least ask for it.

 

As we forgive those who trespass against us

  • It’s a two way street. If we want to be forgiven, we must forgive others, even those who aren’t sorry and never apologize. God knows it cripples us to hang on to anger but when we release our grudges it releases our spirits. A family who learns this need never worry about mistakes tearing the family apart. Or resentments eating away at us from the inside.

And lead us not into temptation

  • No, God doesn’t ever “lead us into temptation.” We do fine leading ourselves there, or stumbling into it. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified, 2846-2847, “Sins come from consenting to temptation. We ask God not to lead us into temptation, meaning ‘do not allow us to enter’ or ‘do not let us yield to’ temptation. God cannot be tempted and he tempts no one. This petition asks him to block our way into temptation and to give us the Spirit of discernment.” We ask God to protect us from temptation and when we are subjected to it, to strengthen us so we turn away.
  • When we are tempted, God will “provide the way of escape, so you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).
  • We pray our children will avoid temptation. We need to communicate very directly with them about temptation and how difficult it is to stay strong. This is where role play practice comes in. “What would you do if someone asked you to…” Don’t let the actual situation be the first time they have to figure out how to respond.

But deliver us from evil

  • Protect us, God, from this world’s wicked ones.
  • Protect our children as they go out into the world. Keep evil away from our family!

For God’s is the kingdom and the power and the glory! All will be well. We simply need to trust in his love for us.

 

Blessings on your week!
Betty


 

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