The Personalist Project

In light of revelation, we can certainly conclude that we attain to our deepest understanding of the human situation, and of who we are, as we stand before Christ. This is our real situation; thus, if we are to approach other human beings in truth, we must "arc" through Christ to get to them. We never only stand before another in a direct one-on-one way; Christ always stands with us, before us, in us, and between us.

And how do we stand with Christ?  We eat with Him (and of Him) as his friends at the Last Supper (with the hope of the heavenly banquet/wedding feast) and then we stand before Him (dying on the Cross) as His betrayers, mocking and torturing Him.  And he forgives us.  This is the deepest truth about us and only through this awareness should we approach others.

The holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharistic banquet, makes present again to us every day this deepest level of our being.  Thus, we can find some clues as to our true state and true call in relation to others in the great prayers before and after Mass tracing back to Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and Bonaventure.

For example, St. Augustine reminds us of the absolutely dire straights we are really in--due to our own sinfulness (and only in light of this knowledge should we look at others’ sins):

Before Thy eyes, O Lord, we bring our offences, and we compare them with the stripes we have received. If we consider the evil we have wrought, what we suffer is little, what we deserve is great. What we have committed is very grave, what we have suffered is very slight. We feel the punishment of sin, yet withdraw not from the obstinacy of sinning. Under Thy lash our inconstancy is visited, but our sinfulness is not changed. Our suffering soul is tormented, but our neck is not bent. Our life groans in sorrow, yet mends not in deed. If Thou spare us, we correct not our ways; if Thou punish we cannot endure it. In time of correction we confess our wrong-doing; after Thy visitation we forget that we have wept. If Thou stretchest forth Thy hand we promise amendment; if Thou withholdest the sword we keep not our promise. If Thou strikest we cry out for mercy; if Thou sparest we again provoke Thee to strike. Here we are before Thee, O Lord, shameless criminals; we know that unless Thou pardon we shall deservedly perish. Grant then, O almighty Father, without our deserving it, the pardon we ask for; Thou Who madest out of nothing those who ask Thee.  Through Christ our Lord. Amen.  *Deal not with us, O Lord, according to our sins. *Neither requite us according to our iniquities.

It is out of this consciousness of our own state before the Divine Majesty, in light of what we have done to His Son (and continue to do each day), that we must approach others.  I think this is especially important in dealing with those who have sinned against us, offended or betrayed us.  We must pray for mercy for them as we constantly must do for ourselves—“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  When we ourselves deserve condemnation, we can hardly put our main emphasis on justice rather than mercy.  So St. Thomas, in his meditation after communion, says, “I pray that this holy Communion be not to me a condemnation unto punishment, but a saving plea unto forgiveness.” He also prays in his meditation before Mass: 

Almighty and eternal God, behold, I approach the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I approach as one who is sick to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of eternal brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Therefore I beseech Thee, of thine infinite goodness, to heal my sickness, to wash away my filth, to enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of angels, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such contrition and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention, as may be conducive to the salvation of my soul….

Going through Christ to the other means, then, approaching every other person—no matter what they have done to us—with an extension of this attitude toward God: reverence and humility, contrition and devotion on our part. This may be extraordinary to the point where it can scarcely be believed, yet it is exemplified in the lives of the saints.  So again, St. Ambrose, in his meditation before Mass, says:

O loving Lord Jesus Christ, I a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting in Thy mercy and goodness, with fear and trembling approach the table of Thy most sacred banquet.  For I have defiled both my heart and body with many sins, and have not kept a strict guard over my mind and my tongue.  Wherefore, O gracious God, O awful Majesty, I, a wretched creature, entangled in difficulties, have recourse to Thee the fount of mercy; to Thee do I fly that I may be healed, and take refuge under Thy protection, and I ardently desire to have Him as my Saviour, whom I am unable to withstand as my Judge.  To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know that my sins are many and great, on account of which I am filled with fear.  But I trust in Thy mercy, of which there is no end…. (H)ave mercy on me, who am full of misery and sin, Thou who wilt never cease to let flow the fountain of mercy…. I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done…. 

It is in light of this my true state before God, i.e., absolutely in need of mercy and with a deep desire to make amends for my own sins in justice, that I must accept and offer back up to God in reparation all the crosses that are sent to me in life—including betrayal and harm from others, even friends, family, loved ones, etc.  Not that those who do harm don’t deserve punishment, but it is not my place as an individual (and fellow sinner) to judge and to punish.  I am called to extend the same mercy, love, and forgiveness that God has extended to me.  Again, this is not to say that no punishment is due for evil (indeed we see clearly that it is due in our own case, for which we should tremble), but I am called to treat others mercifully as I have been treated. So Matthew, 18: 32-35: 

Then his lord called him and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt because thou besoughtest me.  Shouldst not thou then have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?  And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

Or again Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 28:1-10: 

He that seeketh to revenge himself, shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his sins in remembrance. Forgive thy neighbor if he hath hurt thee: and then shall thy sins be forgiven thee when thou prayest. Man to man reserveth anger, and doth he seek remedy of God? He hath no mercy on a man like himself, and doth he entreat for his own sins? He that is but flesh, nourisheth anger, and doth he ask forgiveness of God? Who shall obtain pardon for his sins? Remember the last things, and let thy enmity cease: for corruption and death hang over in his commandments.  Remember the fear of God, and be not angry with thy neighbor.  Refrain from strife, and thou shalt diminish thy sins. 

But if we do give to others what God has given to us, His heart-felt mercy and forgiveness, His longing for reconciliation and communion in love re-established ("Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, have mercy on us"), then the free and undeserved gift of eternal joy in loving communion with God and others is given.

So with St. Bonaventure’s prayer after communion: 

Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene, and most holy apostolic charity…. (L)et my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savour…. (M)ayest thou alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savour, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession, and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firm and rooted immovably henceforth and forever. Amen.

But if our hearts are filled with anger and resentment at what others have done to us, there will be no room for the joy and peace described above.  And if we want this joy and peace for ourselves, we must forgive from our hearts those who have hurt or betrayed us and pray with a deep longing that they join us in the Heart of Christ, both now and in eternity.

So, while it is quite true that there are false notions of forgiveness and neurotic forms of "reconciliation" abroad among Christians (and others), what remains even after these have been overcome is the danger of hard-heartedness. "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh." (Ezechiel 11:19) 

I must look at other sinners with the clear knowledge that I am capable of every sin ever committed, including this heinous one right here before me that I am so disgusted with.  Only God's providence, His gifts, and His grace have held me back.  Lord, have mercy on us all!  

For instance, Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago first describes the evil of the “torturer-executioners” who beat confessions out of innocent prisoners as their daily job (Ch. 4):

There is one thing, however, which remains with us all as an accurate generalized recollection: foul rot—a space totally infected with putrefaction.  And even when, decades later, we are long past fits of anger or outrage, in our own quieted hearts we retain this firm impression of low, malicious, impious, and, possibly, muddled people.

Then, he throws out an amazing challenge:

And just so we don’t go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: “If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?”

It is a dreadful question if one really answers it honestly.

He goes on to share how close he came to just such a way of life.  And this is who we are, this is what we have to admit, as we stand before Christ and through Him relate to others.

I also know that, by my sins (of thought, word, deed, and omission), I have linked hands in the mob that preferred Barabbas to Jesus, that I have also cheered and shouted out with every murderer, torturer, betrayer, molester, liar, oppressor, etc., “Crucify him!”--so I share in their guilt, just as I would share in the evil of all that went on inside if I worked in an abortion clinic or a Nazi extermination camp.  Lord have mercy on us all! 

John Henry Cardinal Newman describes our real state, united in sin against Him while being saved by Him, in his sermon "The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion," describing the agony in the garden:

Thy dearest are there, Thy saints and Thy chosen are upon Thee; Thy three Apostles, Peter, James, and John; but not as comforters, but as accusers, like the friends of Job, "sprinkling dust towards heaven," and heaping curses on Thy head. All are there but one; one only is not there, one only; for she who had no part in sin, she only could console Thee, and therefore she is not nigh. She will be near Thee on the Cross, she is separated from Thee in the garden.... None was equal to the weight but God; sometimes before Thy saints Thou hast brought the image of a single sin, as it appears in the light of Thy countenance, or of venial sins, not mortal; and they have told us that the sight did all but kill them, nay, would have killed them, had it not been instantly withdrawn. The Mother of God, for all her sanctity, nay by reason of it, could not have borne even one brood of that innumerable progeny of Satan which now compasses Thee about. It is the long history of a world, and God alone can bear the load of it. Hopes blighted, vows broken, lights quenched, warnings scorned, opportunities lost; the innocent betrayed, the young hardened, the penitent relapsing, the just overcome, the aged failing; the sophistry of misbelief, the wilfulness of passion, the obduracy of pride, the tyranny of habit, the canker of remorse, the wasting fever of care, the anguish of shame, the pining of disappointment, the sickness of despair; such cruel, such pitiable spectacles, such heartrending, revolting, detestable, maddening scenes; nay, the haggard faces, the convulsed lips, the flushed cheek, the dark brow of the willing slaves of evil, they are all before Him now; they are upon Him and in Him. They are with Him instead of that ineffable peace which has inhabited His soul since the moment of His conception. They are upon Him, they are all but His own; He cries to His Father as if He were the criminal, not the victim; His agony takes the form of guilt and compunction. He is doing penance, He is making confession, He is exercising contrition, with a reality and a virtue infinitely greater than that of all saints and penitents together; for He is the One Victim for us all, the sole Satisfaction, the real Penitent, all but the real sinner.

In this awareness of what we have done to Him, and what He has done for us, must we approach those who have offended us.  Our goal should be to achieve what St. Paul requires of us in Romans 12:14-21:

Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not.  Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Being of one mind one towards another.  Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble.  Be not wise in your own conceits.  To no man rendering evil for evil.  Providing good things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men.  If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men.  Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.  But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink.  For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.  Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.

We can hardly be demanding justice for others while screaming for mercy ourselves.

Comments (25)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jul 6, 2012 10:37am

Michael, you make a passionate case against claims that no one here is making, as if to overcome attitudes and dispositions that no one here has, or defends.

That, in itself, I submit, once again suggests a tendency in the direction of the false notion of forgiveness I oppose.

The false notion of forgiveness I have in mind treats concern for justice as somehow morally suspect, and essentially opposed to forgivness, when in truth, they are inseparably linked.  

Jules recently reminded me that Newman said that attaining any one of the virtues would be an easy matter if we didn't have to be concerned with also attaining the others. 

My fuller thoughts are coming soon.  I'm sorry I'm so slow to get them out!

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jul 6, 2012 10:44am

Meanwhile, I love this quote from Roger Scruton, which shows how well a concern for justice when we have been wronged (I mean a real concern for justice, and not resentment or vindictiveness masquerading as justice) has everything to do with taking others seriously as persons, with desiring their good, and desiring a restoration of communion with them:

‘You promised,’ you say, and your words are addressed to that very centre of being where his ‘I’ resides...You are expecting a response from that very I – a response from the centre of freedom where he resides, one self-conscious subject among others. You expect him, in other words, to take responsibility for what he did, to say ‘I am sorry’, and maybe to show how he is going to atone for his fault, to make amends, and in this way re-establish your relations in such a way that you will forgive him. There is a process here, and we are all familiar with it. And it is a process in which one ‘I’ faces another, both of them exercising their freedom, taking responsibility for their choices, and in general acting as the sovereign of the human animal.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jul 6, 2012 11:03am

The dyfunctional notion of forgiveness sees something wrong, something self-righteous in expecting another person to take responsiblity for what he freely did—as if it would be more Christian to say, "He couldn't help it." or "It doesn't matter; it's okay that he broke his promise."

But that expectation, in itself, has nothing to do with self-righteousness or any thought of moral superiority.  It is perfectly compatible with a deep awareness of and contrition for my own moral failings, and with a generous interior act of forgivess.  

Patrick Dunn

#4, Jul 6, 2012 1:04pm

As I've followed this conversation, my sense has been that Michael (and I don't mean to speak for him - it's just my impression) is arguing for forgiveness from the one who has been wronged, regardless of whether the one who is wrong takes responsibility for what he or she freely did.  It seems like forgiveness should be the Christian's anterior habit of heart, for lack of a better phrase.  I don't think the focus has been on excusing the one who is wrong of such a responsibility or not, but rather on the fact that forgiveness should still be granted regardless of whether or not "justice" has been achieved in a given situation.  Our fundamental concern ought to be mercy, forgiveness - not in opposition to justice, though also not as a respoonse to be offered only on the condition that there is also justice. 

I'd add that while it would be incorrect objectively, abstractly, to conceive of the concern for justice as somehow morally suspect (in light of the need to also forgive), subjectively, personally, if we are honest, I think there is good reason to be cautious of our own desires and interest in "justice."

Michael Healy

#5, Jul 6, 2012 1:55pm

Thanks, Patrick.  You said it clearly and simply, compared to my somewhat long-winded "passionate case."  

I understand the importance of the quote from Roger Scruton on seriously addressing one another as persons with freedom (see my earlier post, "Forgiveness: What Completes it? What cripples it?"), but I still disagree with the implication in his phrase "and in this way re-establish your relations in such a way that you will forgive him."  My forgiveness does not have to be conditional on his attitudes, only the completed social/interpersonal act of forgiveness is so dependent.  And on that score, I should be filled with longing for reconciliation and watching out for a chance of achieving it.  Even if the other person is still somewhat confused, in denial, superficial, or ignorant about their fault, but tries to apologize and reestablish communion, I should leap at such a chance and at least begin the process.  Caritas urget nos.

Michael Healy

#6, Jul 6, 2012 1:58pm

In terms of the emphasis on justice, it's proper level or place also depends upon my status or position vis-a-vis the other. So, for instance, the Little Flower writes, in Counsels and Reminiscences:

To want to persuade our Sisters that they are in the wrong, even when it is perfectly true, is hardly fair, as we are not responsible for their guidance. We must not be Justices of the peace but only angels of peace.

So do we want the Hatfields and the McCoys?  Or do we want the Little Flower?

Tim Cronin

#7, Jul 6, 2012 2:27pm

From: No Peace Without Justice - No Justice Without Forgiveness

But forgiveness is the opposite of resentment and revenge, not of justice. In fact, true peace is “the work of justice” (Is 32:17). As the Second Vatican Council put it, peace is “the fruit of that right ordering of things with which the divine founder has invested human society and which must be actualized by man thirsting for an ever more perfect reign of justice” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 78). For more than fifteen hundred years, the Catholic Church has repeated the teaching of Saint Augustine of Hippo on this point. He reminds us that the peace which can and must be built in this world is the peace of right order—tranquillitas ordinis, the tranquillity of order (cf. De Civitate Dei, 19,13). 

Tim Cronin

#8, Jul 6, 2012 2:27pm


True peace therefore is the fruit of justice, that moral virtue and legal guarantee which ensures full respect for rights and responsibilities, and the just distribution of benefits and burdens. But because human justice is always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations and egoism of individuals and groups, it must include and, as it were, be completed by the forgiveness which heals and rebuilds troubled human relations from their foundations. This is true in circumstances great and small, at the personal level or on a wider, even international scale. Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice, as if to forgive meant to overlook the need to right the wrong done. It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquillity of order which is much more than a fragile and temporary cessation of hostilities, involving as it does the deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts. Justice and forgiveness are both essential to such healing. 


Katie van Schaijik

#9, Jul 6, 2012 2:55pm

Michael Healy, Jul. 6 at 12:55pm

...I still disagree with the implication in his phrase "and in this way re-establish your relations in such a way that you will forgive him."  My forgiveness does not have to be conditional on his attitudes, only the completed social/interpersonal act of forgiveness is so dependent.  

But that's clearly what Scruton means.  He is speaking of the interpersonal relationship, the social act.

And, consider.  If my friend denies that he has done me wrong, then for me to say, "I forgive you" to him could tend not toward reconciliation, but a deeper alienation. 

Similarly, I would be offended if someone who accuses me of wrong that I have not done, then says, "But, don't worry, I forgive you." 

Persons relate to each other in and through truth.  The dysfunctional notion of forgiveness wants the question of truth to be set aside in the name of reconciliation.  Whether there was an objective offense doesn't matter.  Whether it's acknoweldged and repented of doesn't matter.  Who's at fault doesn't matter.  All that matters is that we (by an act of will) "forgive each other" and move on.

This is not real forgiveness at all.

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Jul 6, 2012 3:02pm

Patrick Dunn, Jul. 6 at 12:04pm

...while it would be incorrect objectively, abstractly, to conceive of the concern for justice as somehow morally suspect (in light of the need to also forgive), subjectively, personally, if we are honest, I think there is good reason to be cautious of our own desires and interest in "justice."

 We have good reason to be cautious about our own moral self-evaluation whatever values are at stake.  

We have to be on guard lest our stand for justice become infected with pride or self-righteousness.  

Similiarly, we have to be on guard that the forgiving attitude we cultivate in ourselves is the true one, and not a cheap substitute. 

We also have to be on guard against imputing unforgiveness to others who may, in fact, not be unforgiving at all.

Patrick Dunn

#11, Jul 6, 2012 3:29pm

Katie van Schaijik, Jul. 6 at 2:02pm

We have good reason to be cautious about our own moral self-evaluation whatever values are at stake.  

No doubt.  I just think the greater temptation to self-deception for most of us lies in tending towards zeal for justice rather than zeal for mercy.  If I'm going to miss the mark, I suppose I'd rather be too forgiving than too just.  "...the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Mt 7:2).

Jesus has revealed Himself as "Divine Mercy" - at least for our own era, I think this deserves our special devotion and imitation.

"Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (Diary, 300).

It was the same with another spiritual giant of our time, St. Therese, who when speaking with Sr. Marie Febronia about her preoccupation with God's Justice (contrary to Therese's view that a soul need not go to Purgatory), said: "My sister, if you look for the justice of God you will get it. The soul will receive from God exactly what she desires." If that is how it 'works' between a soul and God, then so also between persons, I'd think.  

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#12, Jul 6, 2012 6:27pm

Following this discussion with interest.

This seems relevant:

Our prejudices about mercy are mostly the result of appraising them only from the outside. At times it happens that by following this method of evaluation we see in mercy above all a relationship of inequality between the one offering it and the one receiving it. And, in consequence, we are quick to deduce that mercy belittles the receiver, that it offends the dignity of man. The parable of the prodigal son shows that the reality is different: the relationship of mercy is based on the common experience of that good which is man, on the common experience of the dignity that is proper to him. This common experience makes the prodigal son begin to see himself and his actions in their full truth (this vision in truth is a genuine form of humility); on the other hand, for this very reason he becomes a particular good for his father: the father sees so clearly the good which has been achieved thanks to a mysterious radiation of truth and love, that he seems to forget all the evil which the son had committed. - Dives in Misericordia

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Jul 6, 2012 7:24pm

 1. Kierkegaard has much to say about our tendency to false contrition and cheap repentance.  Our apology to another is easily motivated by an iritation with the discomfort of guilt and estrangement, rather than by true contrition. We easily fancy that we've done our part, now it's up to the one we offended to forgive us.  

The Catholic psychogist, Dr. Peter Damgaard-Hansen, says a sure sign of false repentance is that the offender gets irritated with the one he's offended, for not forgiving him.  He's done his part, now the problem's hers. 

2. Co-dependent types are notoriously apt to "forgive" wrong-doing where they ought to be demanding justice.

3. The theory I'm talking about is often focused on others, and what we perceive to be their responsibility to forgive.  We show "mercy" toward the offender in exactly the way the federal government displays generosity toward the poor--using other people's money.

I think our relativistic society is much more inclined toward "unprincipled forgiveness" than it is toward excessive zeal for justice.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Jul 6, 2012 7:38pm

Kate, thanks for the great passage!  I like this part especially:

 the prodigal son begin to see himself and his actions in their full truth (this vision in truth is a genuine form of humility); on the other hand, for this very reason he becomes a particular good for his father: the father sees so clearly the good which has been achieved thanks to a mysterious radiation of truth and love, that he seems to forget all the evil which the son had committed.

I note the repeated focus on truth.  And I note that the it was the son's recognition of the truth that partly enabled the father's forgiveness.  The son's "achievement" of truth and humility, in a way, "justified" the generous act of forgiveness.

"Unprincipled forgiveness" deliberately sets aside the question of truth.  

Katie van Schaijik

#15, Jul 7, 2012 9:36am

Michael Healy, Jul. 6 at 12:58pm

So do we want the Hatfields and the McCoys?  Or do we want the Little Flower?

 Completely false alternative.

Michael Healy

#16, Jul 7, 2012 8:57pm

For the second time (Comment #37 in the "Unprincipled Forgiveness" thread and #1 in this thread), it has been surmised that I have fallen—perhaps unknowingly—into support for sham or "unprincipled" pressure to forgive. This despite the fact that, while agreeing that there is such a thing and that it's wrong and dangerous, I have "passionately" tried to distinguish neurotic "forgiveness" from supernaturally based, saintly forgiveness. In my contributions, I have done nothing but point to the examples of Christ and the saints, and the prayers and writings of the saints. Yet twice I am accused of supporting neurosis.  Why?

Now the first comment (#7) I wrote on "Unprincipled Forgiveness" started with "All abstract theory aside" and pointed to the living examples of Christ and the saints. This "abstract theory" interpretation was objected to. But I think it is central. It is one thing to acknowledge supernatural, radical Christian forgiveness theoretically, but quite a new step when this living ideal is pressed forward as a concrete existential burden on the shoulders of each of us to imitate. One can resist the latter while agreeing with the former.

Michael Healy

#17, Jul 7, 2012 9:03pm

Comment #3 states:

The dyfunctional notion of forgiveness sees something wrong, something self-righteous in expecting another person to take responsiblity for what he freely did—as if it would be more Christian to say, "He couldn't help it." or "It doesn't matter; it's okay that he broke his promise." 

Two comments: 1) I should hope the other will take responsibility, but not necessarily expect it—again, remembering first myself and my own weakness, dishonesty, and traitorousness.  2) A false alternative is offered here (while I’m not so sure that the Hatfields vs McCoys compared to The Little Flower is ultimately a false alternative).  The false alternative is: either a) “expecting another person to take responsibility for what he freely did” or b) making excuses for him: “He couldn’t help it,” or “It doesn’t matter; it’s okay….”  There can also be a deep understanding of another’s weakness—in light of one’s own—and extending the hand of forgiveness, love, and reconciliation even when the other doesn’t deserve it—because Christ has done so with me.  The Little Flower says: 

Joy to think that God is just, that is to say, that He takes our weakness into consideration, that he thoroughly knows the frailty of our nature.

Michael Healy

#18, Jul 7, 2012 9:09pm

Comment #9:

I would be offended if someone who accuses me of wrong that I have not done, then says, "But, don't worry, I forgive you." 

Persons relate to each other through truth.

But one must look at inner motives not just objective actions and reactions.  To neurotically succumb to pressure to reunion by falsely accepting a charge against one, “knuckling under” to pressure, would be a terrible weakness--not a foundation on which to build a genuine relationship.  

But, as stated above, it is never one-on-one, rather  always Christ with us, before us, in us, and between us.  So how have the saints reacted here?   To quote the Cure of Ars (from his Catechism on Pride) referring to another saint:

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, when he was a student, if found fault with on any occasion, never tried to excuse himself.  If he was wrong, he was wrong; if he was right, he would say to himself: I have often been wrong before. 

People relate to each other primarily through love, i.e., through Christ.  The truth about each of us as we stand before him must be the context of our responses.

Michael Healy

#19, Jul 7, 2012 9:11pm

More from the Cure of Ars, relevant to various earlier comments:

Love of our neighbor consists of three things: To desire the greater good of everyone; to do what good we can when we can; to bear, excuse and hide others’ faults. (Sermon on Love for One’s Neighbor)

The saints had no hatred, no bitterness; they forgive everything and think they deserve much more for their offenses against God. (Sermon on Forgiveness)

One sin cannot excuse another sin. (On Anger)

God makes greater speed to pardon a penitent sinner than a mother to snatch her child out of the fire. (Catechetical Illustration from Nature)

Michael Healy

#20, Jul 7, 2012 9:19pm

Also, St. Thomas More—and very few were as unjustly treated as he was (from his prayer in the Tower of London as he awaited an unjust death after the complete ruin of his earthly life and career): 

Give me thy grace, good Lord…

To know mine own vility and wretchedness;

To humble and meeken myself under the mighty hand of God;...

To bear the cross with Christ;…

To pray for pardon before the judge come;

To think my most enemies my best friends;

For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These minds are more to be desired of every man….

I’m afraid an emphasis on justice will make me grim; it is this open-hearted joy in suffering (even injustice) because it imitates Christ, because it is grounded in love, which liberates.

Again, the little Flower:

It is confidence, and confidence alone, that must lead us to Love…Does not fear lead us rather to think of the rigid justice by which sinners are warned? But that is not the justice that Jesus will show to those who love Him.

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Jul 7, 2012 9:39pm

Maybe an analogy will serve to explain why your comments, taken together, make me suspect you of tending in the direction of (not formally endorsing!) the "unprincipled forgiveness" I am speaking of.

Say you start a discussion about "a false notion of altruism", according to which any interest in our own welfare is identifed as selfishness.  In truth, (you say) concern for our own welfare belongs to our duty as Christians.

Imagine I reply by amassing instances of saints, such as Louis de Montfort, who express violent contempt for themselves, and press on your attention the importance of living for others, not for self.

"But," you say in reply, "I don't deny that we're called to give ourselves in love, or that there is such a thing as true altruism.  I only say that there's a false notion out there that is misleading many."

"Of course there are false notions out there," I reply.  "But what I don't understand is why you won't admit that we are called to make a radical gift of ourselves for others--even if it means losing all our earthly goods and joyfully embracing persecutions of all kinds.  Think of St. Francis!"

What would you say?

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Jul 7, 2012 9:53pm

Here's another reason.  

Where I say "concern for justice", you seem to read, "hard-heartedness," "self-righteousness", "stinginess", "rigidity", "shunning," "refusal to forgive", etc.

Why is that? 

Another point: 

You are contrasting neurotic forgiveness with true forgivenes.  Well and good.  But what I had posted about was a contrast between a true account of forgiveness, i.e. one that includes a concern for justice, and a false account that doesn't.

I said the false account is operative and doing harm in Christian circles these.  You reply by saying we are called to true forgiveness.  And by suggesting all over the place that a concern for justice is a morally dubious proposition.

It makes me wonder.

Michael Healy

#23, Jul 7, 2012 11:06pm

See new post on "Examples of 'False' Charity" where I express more agreement with you.  But I'm afraid that I think my previous posts and comments already address your questions and I don't want to start repeating myself.

As to the altruism question and the radical self-abnegation statements of the saints, I think both have to be seen in light of the fact, again, that it is never me and others, but Christ, me, and others.  As I stand before Christ in my sin, with what I have done to Him and to myself, the more negative statements of the saints about self must be understood. 

It's not that legitimate self-love (affirmed by St. Thomas and the great tradition, as well as by Von Hildebrand, Wojtyla, even Kierkegaard) is ever denied by the saints. It's just that they leave their "own good" to Christ and realize they never have the worry about it again as long as they follow Him.  So it is not contradicted but rather absorbed into the love of God, much like the role of shame (to defend a high good) is no longer needed after Christian marriage and is absorbed into conjugal love.

Michael Healy

#24, Jul 7, 2012 11:20pm

So, the Little Flower says:

On the day of my conversion Charity entered into my heart and with it a yearning to forget self always; thenceforward I was happy.

So one's own happiness is not rejected or denied, it's just no longer a theme that needs to be addressed.

As to the questions about the concern for justice, I think Patrick's comment (#4 above) says it well. Again, the key is realizing our true state at the foot of the cross; this has to modify all concern for justice--especially in situations where we ourselves are the offended one.

Patrick Dunn

#25, Jul 9, 2012 9:39am

I think our relativistic society is much more inclined toward "unprincipled forgiveness" than it is toward excessive zeal for justice.

In three fairly recent, prominent, public examples of wrong doing - the situation with Osama bin Laden and the collective post-9/11 reaction, the situation with Catholic clergy and sexual abuse, and the situation with Jerry Sandusky - it seems to me that, in each, most of us were concerned that the offenders were brought to justice.  I saw comparatively little concern that we were being merciful with them and/or trying to understand them as human beings with their own personal 'story', part of which may well have contributed to some of the poor decisions they made, whatever their culpability may be otherwise.  I believe few of us are willing to admit that, though we may never commit the same horrific acts that those men may have, we are sinners like them and "but for the grace of God, go we."  But most of us going around effectively bracketing off those 'bad men' who deserve justice from those of us who could never quite be so bad.  Yet the Gospel draws our attention into our hearts where evil thoughts and desires dwell, even if we never carry them out. 

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