If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” JOHN 20:23
Forgiving those who have hurt us is not easy. The bigger the hurt the more difficult it is to forgive, and for many people also, the longer it takes to forgive.
But how much should one forgive? To forgive is something serious, humanly difficult, if not impossible. One must not speak about it lightly, without realizing what one asks of the offended person when one requests him to forgive. Along with the command to forgive, one must also be given a reason to do so.
When I was in the minor seminary, there was this distorted way of practicing seniority. Instead of being good seniors and be the models and servant-leaders of all, our seniors were sometimes the exact opposite. They took advantage of their being seniors. When it was time for movie viewing, the seniors were the ones seated in front. When it was time for meals, the seniors were the first to get the biggest ration. When it was time for recreation, the seniors were the first to use the courts and sports facilities. They were like bosses. They were playing Gods in their own distorted rights. So when it was our turn to be the seniors, this pattern continued and even worsens. The mentality of wanting to get even creeps in deeply into our system.
Until one day on my second year, we had a 5-day retreat to culminate the school year. We started with confession and the retreat mood was set. On the evening of the second day, there was an activity for all called Circle of Love. Before the activity, the facilitator gave a short input on forgiveness and gave the mechanics of the activity. The mechanics was just simple: There were candles in the center of the court. If you feel like you have offended someone in this community, wittingly or unwittingly, get one and give it to him. You may or may not say a word. Then the facilitator signaled for its start.
Then came a very long silence. Nobody stood up in the first twenty minutes. After thirty minutes, the facilitator urged the seminarians to take courage in asking for forgiveness. Then one person stood up. The facilitator had to say something again after how many minutes. Then more and more stood up. The last memories I got there were: there were hugs and sobs; there were exchanges of forgiveness; there were exchanges of sorrys. It took us almost four hours to finish the activity.
When you are in a group of more than a hundred minor seminarians, who experience that kind of forgiveness, it changes the group and unites the group in a new way. But the fact that the facilitator had to ask and urge them to forgive again and again shows that it is not easy to forgive. Someone must have seriously hurt the other person or vice versa.
Indeed, forgiveness is a decision. It really takes a lot of courage to find and give forgiveness. It takes time as well. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that none of us is perfect, so when we point out the faults of others, we should be prepared to hear about our own. Christ himself emphasized the importance of being reconciled with our brothers and sisters.
JAMES B. ABELLA (San Jose Seminary)