Forgiveness and Thanksgiving

colbert and jesusDo you know what Stephen Colbert likes best about being Catholic? The forgiveness of sins. He told me so when I asked him during a Q&A before a taping of his show, The Colbert Report, a couple years ago. That’s an honest answer from a man who calls himself TV’s most famous Catholic and whose comedy show has a Jesuit chaplain.

I must agree that forgiveness is a pretty great thing, but it doesn’t just belong to Catholics! We Catholics tend to think we have a stronghold on the forgiveness business since we have the sacrament of reconciliation. But truth be told, everyone needs forgiveness and everyone is capable of forgiveness. There have been courageous stories of people forgiving murderers or maimers. And when it happens the public is shocked. How can someone forgive a person who did such horrid things? It’s not easy, I’m sure.

For most of us, our screw-ups comes from a place of stupidity and carelessness. Sometimes the hardest thing is forgiving ourselves.

coffee with jesus forgiveness

At this time of Thanksgiving in the United States, forgiveness of self and other is very much needed. Saint Ignatius placed gratitude at the top of his prayer. But it’s hard to get to gratitude when you’re in the dark state of unforgiveness. Let’s face it, lack of forgiveness blocks the gift of thanksgiving.

Why? Imagine holding a grudge against your mother and then you find yourself at the Thanksgiving table being asked to name something you’re thankful for from your mother. Hard to respond genuinely, isn’t it? Or imagine holding yourself hostage in guilt after hurting the feelings of your spouse who has already forgiven you. How can you accept your spouse’s gratitude when the lack of forgiving yourself is closing you off to freely receiving thanksgiving?

forgivenessJesus’ disciples likely thought a lot about the need for forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” And Jesus responds, “No, not seven times but seventy times seven.” Basically, this means there’s no limit. Why? Jesus simply says, “because the Kingdom of heaven is like this.” Full stop. There is no other reason other than because that’s just the way it is. In this understanding of Kindgom, we know God is not holding back forgiveness.

We know that this model of infinite forgiveness and letting go applies to our own sins. Once we forgive ourselves and others we become much freer to love and recognise what and for whom we are thankful.

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Categories: The Tough Questions

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18 replies

  1. Forgiveness is a grace you pray for. Not something you chose to do and boom, it happens. You pray, struggle and struggle some more. And then pray and pray some more. And then one day you have forgiven. You CAN absolutely be resentful of your abusive mother at Thanksgiving dinner, but be grateful that you have good food to eat and a warm place to sleep. Unforgiveness and gratitude can coexist. Forgiveness is not easy work in some cases where horrible abuse or wrongs have been committed and the LAST thing anyone needs is to feel guilty about that. If anything, feeling guilty because you cannot throw your arms around your abusive mom, or drunk father, is the most horrible block to gratitude. Accept you can’t forgive and pray for the grace to be able to forgive and heal.

  2. I am very happy to find this blog posting. I have been contemplating forgiveness and gratitude for a week. I believe their relationship is anchored in the depths of Love. If one can generate an energy of gratefulness, for anything, and feel being grateful, one can be more receptive to forgiveness. In the absence of love, gratitude is difficult. So which is cause and which is effect, forgiveness or gratitude, or are they circularly related such that it makes no difference which we attempt first?

  3. Great point, Charles. I think it is circular. Forgiveness and thanksgiving is about a disposition. If we’re good at one then hopefully we can be good at the other.

  4. I don’t really understand the concept of trying to “generate” spiritual gifts. I can pretend to like someone, when really I don’t. I can pretend to forgive someone, but that doesn’t mean I have. One is manufactured by human doing and the other is an authentic grace from God. It’s a grace and gift to be prayed for in my experience. You can try and keep yourself open at best.. Often, gratitude comes when you least expect it and weren’t really focusing so hard on finding it. The more you try and force something the less authentic it will be in my experience.

    I have had overwhelming feelings of gratitude for something as trivial as a cup of coffee or a drive through upstate NY on a fall day and it came out of nowhere. Had I made a gratitude list like I had done so many times before, it would haven’t even come close to the gratitude God imparted to me as pure grace on those occasions.

  5. Stephen, I definitely don’t think we can generate spiritual gifts. It’s always grace from God that brings such gifts. However, our actions are bound up in the exchange of graces. That’s why Jesus said to continue forgiving “seventy times seven”. Not taking action could mean never moving forward and never finding an attitude of gratitude (didn’t intend the rhyme when I wrote that!). God’s grace often comes to others as a result of our expression of love. Trying to create graces is not the point. The point is following the Gospel message. Then the grace comes.

  6. And for me it’s always been the opposite. Following the inner prompting of grace. Or being “graced to act.” Not acting first. When I act first, grace is there, but usually to clean up my mess. lol It’s usually prayer —- then grace — then action. At least for me.

    I think in the West we have a subtle message of spiritual achievement ingrained in our Christianity. Instead of prayer and surrender followed by the grace to then do the action and where you are being inspired to act.

    Finding an attitude of gratitude through taking action doesn’t make sense to me. I usually pray, “God, please help me be grateful or show me the blessings you have given me that I have overlooked.” Trust me, you will hear from God. You will be shown and feel grateful without having to “do anything.” Don’t just take my word for it — give it a shot. 🙂

    You can also pray, “God help me forgive this person.” God prob won’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy for the person instantly, but in a way you can understand, He will maybe show you the person did what they did because they were in a lot of pain and inspire you with empathy and remind you of a time you were in pain and maybe hurt someone. And so you move closer to a disposition of forgiveness. Again, give it a shot.

  7. I’m angry with X. And grieving. But I don’t know why I’m angry with X, or what i’m grieving for.
    I fight the feelings, project them onto others because I’m not “supposed” to feel that way.
    i spiral down, requiring more and more energy to “feel” the right things, to have the “right” attitude, to deny the truth…
    and then one day I stand there at Mass feeling nothing but utter disconnectedness – a disconnectedness which kicks in the minute I set out for church, and which deepens with every moment that passes… a disconnectedness with both those around me and with God. What God? No God. No consolation. I don’t want to be here. I really think, in my core, I don’t believe any of this.It’s a sham and a charade.
    I don’t understand. Yesterday I went for a long walk, sat by the sea, asked Jesus to heal my wounded heart… and just for a few moments I saw everything from His perspective… I can remember the peace that flowed through me – but can no longer see what I then saw.
    Now I can only suppose that my postive experience the day before was self-hypnosis…
    I can’t – won’t – don’t – join in with any of the liturgy apart from sharing the Peace – after all, these are my friends and I wish them peace. Even X, the mere thought of whom hurts me so much – I wish X peace in that moment.
    Until, that is, we get to the Lord’s Prayer – and I find myself saying that despite myself.
    When the elements are distributed (in the round – no escaping), I shake my head – refuse. Offered a blessing – again I refuse. I don’t want the priest’s blessing. I don’t want the sacrament. A sham. A charade. Those are the words echoing in my head, and I know only one thing – that my actions at that moment need to reflect the honest truth about my state. Disconnected. Forget theology. Forget grace. I don’t want it. I no longer even _want_ it to be true…
    I’ve given up. No more fighting the darkness, no more pretense… I’m angry and I hate. And I want to hurt as I’ve been hurt – and more.
    After Mass, I exchange pleasantries with my friends, a smile on my lips – and feel genuine affection for them.
    I leave, glad to get away before X emerges from the other part of the building.
    As I arrive home, walking from the car to the house, I pick up an email on my mobile (cellphone for the US) – a blog post, an Ignatian meditation on The Road to Emmaus… I read it, I suddenly sense Jesus standing right there beside me. I look at Him in surprise – whisper “are you here then? are you coming in with me?”
    He doesn’t speak – simply smiles and nods and reaches out and gently touches my arm.
    I enter the house. He enters beside me. He’s simply there. No words, just Presence – and every so often that gentle, light non-invasive touch on my arm. And with each touch a little more peace returns…
    tht night I sleep well – better than I’ve slept for weeks – and wake the next day relaxed.
    As I drive to work I’m aware of just how _much_ I hate X – just how much I want to hurt, to damage, to destroy X.
    Jesus is still beside me. I don’t turn to him (I’m driving, remember? watching the road…) but I somehow show to him what is in my heart. Simply state how it is. I hate. I want to hurt, damage, destroy. Not in challenge or repentance, simply “this is how my heart is, Jesus”. And “I don’t want to let go of this. There you are. There’s the truth. I don’t want to be healed.”
    Still He says nothing. No words. No reasoning. No condemnation. No judgement. No forgiveness… simply Presence.
    And He reaches out and this time doesn’t touch my arm – He touches my heart.
    It feels as if my heart is melting.
    And throughout the day, over and over, I feel Him reach out again and again and touch my heart, softening it…
    If I bring X to mind, I’m still angry, frustrated, hurting, grieving… I still don’t understand quite why… I still don’t want to let go of all that pain… I still dont’ want to be healed…
    But this I know… I want Jesus to stay beside me, to continue to touch my heart… even if the price I eventually have to pay is the letting go of my sense of injustice. Even if the price I eventually have to pay is the price of forgiving the hurts, real or imagined, that X has done to me. Even if the price I eventually have to pay is an acceptance of my own powerlessness to change X or to make X “see sense” or to make X “get” just how badly I’ve ben hurt or to get X to admit guilt or failure…

    which comes first? action? grace? action?
    action took me to Mass against my disposition. Or was it grace?
    action led me to share the Peace openly and affectionately out of simple shared humantiy. Or was it grace?
    action led me to refuse the sacrament, to be honest about my state. Or was it grace?
    action led me to sign up to the blog emails and to check my emails nad read the post. Or was it grace?
    Grace has touched – continues to touch – my heart. Action leads me to behave compasionately towards others, including X, whatever my feelings.
    I don’t know when – or if – forgivenss will happen… but i’m pretty sure grace will have something to do with it.
    But first comes honesty… no pretence.
    I’m angry.
    I hate.
    I want to hurt, destroy.
    I doubt.
    I don’t want to believe.
    And then comes Presence – His presence, His Real Presence… not in the sacrament, which I refused… but by His grace at my side as I walked up the driveway in the dark.
    Real Presence.

  8. Hope, that is one of the most amazing, inspiring and authentic things I have ever read. Honest, real, authentic, raw and REAL LIFE. Thanks for blessing me with this. I relate so much. I think we get in our own way with our methods, excessive rituals, dogma, degrees, liturgies, educational background, formulas and bright ideas.Just bring your messy self to God in the moment. So simple.Thank you Hope. You give me Hope. Pun intended.

  9. OK.
    Odd, that…
    It was an absolutely honest, no-punches-pulled account of the past few weeks of my life, culminating with yesterday’s experience at the beach and at Mass, and today.
    So –
    action led me to sign up over a year ago for the email alerts to God in All Things. Or grace?
    action led Andy to write the original post a year ago in 2013. Or grace?
    action led Charles to comment today of all days. Or grace?
    action led to the comments exchange, alerts to all of which were waiting for me when I finally got out of school this afternoon. Or grace?
    Imagine – in the light of the past few days – 5 consecutive emails in my inbox all titled “New Comment on God in All Things”… grace?
    action led me to read them. Or grace?
    action led me to clik on the link and read the original blog. Or grace?
    action led me to immediately begin typing – unplanned, unpremditated, with no thought of anything other than somehow expressing the reality of the discussion which had been taking place. Or grace?

    Because now I find that my brokenness has brought you Hope…
    Now I find that in my borkenness still, yet, God can take and multiply Grace through my festering loaves and fishes which were only offered in the sense that I have somehow been open to the healing touch of Jesus all day.
    Suddenly I realise that I have myself been taken, blessed, broken, shared… this is the Reality of the Real Presence.

    Beyond logic.
    Beyond theology.
    Beyond reason.
    Beyond words.
    Beyond emotion.

    And all of this as a result of my _refusal_ of the sacrament… grace upon grace.

  10. You make me smile. 🙂

    I love St. Therese who was famous for saying “everything is grace.”
    Because…it is.


  11. 🙂
    thank you.
    I’ve never known the truth of it quite like I know it in this moment…
    the grace of His Presence with us, alongside us, at the heart of our deepest darkness, has stopped being a theoretical belief and become a living reality.
    And I’m beginning to get a glimpse of forgiveness…
    It’ll be waiting for me as another grace when I’m ready…
    Hugs back… 🙂

  12. Thank you All! Praise God! I appreciate Andy, Stephen, Hope and the Invisible Influences that I can only attribute to the Divine Orchestration of God. I have been blessed beyond expectation and measure by our interactions here. Hope, your generosity, unwavering sense of integrity and deep love of Jesus have opened doors in my awareness and humbled the arrogance of my intellect. My intention, from before the time I posted my comment, to my celebration of Thanksgiving next Thursday, is to intensify my gratefulness for God’s Gift of forgiveness. All of you have demonstrated, for me, that the gift of forgiveness goes beyond the experience of it. That is the experience of forgiving or being forgiven. It is also a blessing to know that it is available as a possibility… a blessing in the realm of hope and Hope! (yeah the pun was intended) 🙂 Rich Blessings Everyone!!

  13. Thank you. 🙂 And you also. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Gobble gobble.

  14. Gosh again…
    Thanksgiving (the festival) will of course pass me by here in dear old Blighty…
    And throughout today I’ve journey in hope… many signs of grace, including Singining Assembly at school (7-11 yr olds, non-faith state school) where I taught the entire school “This little light of mine”… and then throughout the day overheard groups of kids singing snatches of it. After school, a trio were sitting on the hall steps before orchestra started, one playing guitar and singing it, another playing flute, and a third singing her heart out with the others…
    A fellow staff-member came up to me after assembly and said “that was great! I belive all of that – I’m a Christian”…
    And then after school, to Mass again – and suddenly again an inability to enter into it… Jesus was somehow present this time, but not, for me, in the liturgy or the ritual – and when it came to it, I simply couldn’t take the sacrament, and again refused a blessing. I still don’t know why… and afterwards nothing but a deep, deep sense of grief, of sorrow, of pain… and I’ve no idea why.

    Somehow to forgive without acknowledgement on the part of the other of the pain and damage caused feels like accepting abuse… like colluding with institutional abuse of power and authority.

    And it pains me deeply _not_ to share the bread and wine with my friends…

    I can’t square this circle…

    pray for me, my brothers, pray for me…

  15. Hope, my prayer is that you feel God’s Love and experience the Peace that surpasses human understanding. I am standing with you in Christ’s Love. Thank you for blessing me deeply! It is a sacred honor to pray with you!

  16. “Thank you All! Praise God! I appreciate Andy, Stephen, Hope and the Invisible Influences that I can only attribute to the Divine Orchestration of God. I have been blessed beyond expectation and measure by our interactions here.”

    Charles, I read these words of yours just before I left school yesterday to go to Mass. They brought such joy to my heart and a deep “Amen!” to the Divine Orchestration of God…
    To you, and also to Stephen and to Andy Otto, I say that I too have been – am being – blessed beyond expectation and measure by our interactions here.
    My current struggles locally could have dragged me completely under – have come very closeto destroying my faith – and the clarity and sheer graced-ness of our interactions over the past couple of days have been a beacon of light in deep darkness.
    Where I was experiencing conflict and fear, you saw integrity and hope…
    Where I was experiencing doubt, you saw faith…
    Where I was experiencing deep failure, you saw authenticity…
    And above all, where I was experiencing despair, you saw hope…
    Your responses have affirmed me at the core of my being and have strengthened my faith.

    On Retreat a few weeks ago, just before all of this blew up in my face, the words of a hymn were significant for me. In particular the final stanza –
    “Lord, your summons echoes true
    When you but call my name…..”

    I prayed at the time that God would call me by name and thus that I would hear His true summons and find the grace to
    “Let me turn and follow you
    And never be the same.
    In your company I’ll go
    Where your love and footsteps show.
    Thus I’ll move and live and grow
    In you and you in me.”.

    At the time there was a moment when I heard the call of God in relation to my birth-name (which is Dorothy, not Hope – I blog under the name of Hope). However, something was lacking. Something wasn’t quite in focus. And I’ve always somehow thought I was called the wrong name – never, even as a child, felt comfortable somehow with my name.

    I realise this morning that through the exchanges here God has indeed called me by name – by the name which _He_ has given me.
    God is calling me by the name of Hope.

    I don’t suppose for one moment i’ll be able to get everyone around me to call me Hope… but you guys addressing me by that name has been for me the clarion call of God, and His naming of me.

    I am honoured and humbled by your willingness to stand alongside me and hold me in prayer.
    I suspect there’s a way to go yet, but this morning I have made a decision.
    However I’m feeling, I’ll not refuse the sacrament. And I make that commitment with you as my witnesses.
    I think the deep sorrow I felt yesterday was Jesus Himself weeping because after all the great gifts He’d given in the previous 48 hours I was refusing His gift of hImself in the bread and wine, and all because I was holding a grudge against X. He has shown me that whether X ever admits or realises how much he has hurt me is irrelevant. I don’t have to _feel_ any connectedness. The connectedness which comes from being part of the same body is fact, not feeling, and the sacrament is a sign of that fact. I don’t even have to put down the grudge – Jesus will, in His own good time and in His own good way, deal with my pain and heal our relationship, one way or another.

    PS I’m intrigued by the “time of posting” which shows beside my contributions. i’m guessing that’s local US time for this blog.
    Fyo, I’m typing this at 07:45 on Saturday 22nd November 2014, GMT!
    I’m guessing it’s the middle of the night in the US. Sleep well, my brothers!
    And tomorrow – Sunday – we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Thanks be to God.

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