A Catholic Approach
By R. Scott Hurd
Pauline Books, 2011
128 pages, $9.95
To order: store.pauline.org or amazon.com
We Catholics are used to hearing about forgiveness. We know that Jesus forgave his executioners. We know that if we want to be his disciples, we too have to forgive. We know that we can only expect God to forgive us in the measure that we forgive others.
That leaves just a few questions: What exactly is forgiveness? Does it mean letting people hurt us? Are we supposed to erase our memories? Are there any exceptions? Do we have to be friends again? How do we get started?
Father R. Scott Hurd begins his book Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach by defining forgiveness. "The forgiveness we are called to offer is a decision, a process and a gift. It’s a decision because by forgiveness we choose to let go of any desire for revenge or retaliation, and we free ourselves of the bitterness and resentment that harden our hearts," he writes. "Forgiveness is a process because letting go of resentment takes time; we may need to make the decision to forgive over and over again! Finally, forgiveness is a gift of love that we give freely, without expectations, exceptions or limits. It is neither earned nor deserved. When we love the ones we forgive, we wish them happiness, not harm; well, not woe; heaven, not hell."
He then echoes the words of C.S. Lewis, "Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive."
Father Hurd addresses the many difficulties of forgiveness. The first is that we may not even realize that we may be holding it back. Have we justified a grudge against anyone?
As encouragement, he gives examples of people who found the grace to forgive under extreme pain: the father whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, the veteran whose hatred of the enemy nearly put him in the grave — even St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who could not endure the man who had accidentally killed her husband.
Father Hurd sprinkles his lessons with stories that get readers right into the scene: "The Temple in Jerusalem is packed. People have come from far and wide to celebrate Passover … moneychangers are charging them outrageously high rates ..."
He’s got some good one-liners too, such as: "St. Augustine once described heaven as characterized by light, rest, happiness and peace. Gloating was not on his list."
Highly readable, highly practical, highly spiritual — this book spurs frank discussion with questions like: When is it good to keep our distance, and when should we "kiss and make up"? What should we expect to get in return for our gift of forgiveness? Are we contributing to the problem that caused the hurt?
Father Hurd’s book makes it clear — forgiveness is not easy; it is not fair; yet it is not impossible. And it’s just as revolutionary as ever.
Susie Lloyd writes from Whitehall, Pennsylvania.