The Personalist Project

Mike Healy jumped back into the discussion of "unprincipled forgiveness" because, as he put it (in comment #67 under Janet Smith's post) "I must at least defend myself from the charge (now repeated) of attributing horrible attitudes to [Katie]."

Suppose I were to say in reply: "You should model yourself on the example of Jesus, who didn't defend himself against much worse false charges made against him."

Wouldn't he want to say—wouldn't he be right to say—"Mind your own beewax. There is nothing wrong with a person defending himself against false charges!  Kindly answer my point."

If I were like the practioners of "unprincipled forgiveness," I would say in answer:  "Humanly speaking, perhaps, there is nothing wrong with defending yourself against false charges.  But it's not the example set for us by Christ, is it?  It's not the ideal we are called to.  Remember, the Bible says, 'Be ye perfect.'  If you take Christianity seriously, you should even be willing to be crucified rather than answer false charges."

If he says, "Never mind my subjective state, please respond to the issue at hand: I say you charged me falsely with imputing bad attitudes to you."

I might then remind him that he shouldn't be concerned with my bad attitudes, but only with his own—with making his own more like Jesus's, who remained silent in the face of false charges.  I might offer to pray for him.  I might spread the word among friends of his, too, that he needs prayers, because he's, clearly, got some anger and bitterness issues.  

If I responded this way to him, I would be exhibiting the same tendency the preachers and practioners of "unprincipled forgiveness" exhibit.  I would be illegitimately busying myself with Mike Healy's subjectivity rather than attending to the objective issue actually at hand.  And in so doing, I would be displaying both a lack of due respect for him and a lack of due concern about justice and truth.

Comments (16)

Michael Healy

#1, Jul 24, 2012 12:44am

Twice I have said, "Au revoir!" to this particular conversation, but then I get personally addressed.

Two points:  1) Despite the language used ["I must defend myself], that was just an indirect way of setting out to make sure that Katie's reputation was not bescherched by my careful, but easily misinterpreted (twice by Katie herself), parallel to the Hatfield's and McCoys.  Certainly I did not wish to be misinterpreted, but I have an obligation to set things right where the misinterpretation seems to attribute "horrible attitudes" to another.

2)  The call to forgiveness and mercy is not at all parallel to the case of Christ not defending himself before Pilate.  Forgiveness and mercy are at the very heart of our God relationship and consequently of our human relationships.  They are the deepest expression of God's unreserved love for us--each of us always and from all eternity, manifested throughout the OT (Israel, Hosea, etc.), and even more throughout the NT (Gethsemane, Golgotha, etc.)  As Newman says, after my sins He preferred all this to win me back rather than to create new worlds.

Michael Healy

#2, Jul 24, 2012 1:07am

Christ's decision to be silent before his unjust accusers was very unique to the fact that his death was already ordained, the time of preaching and verbal witness was over (after 3 years of active ministry in which he freely debated with the Pharisees), the time of his passion was upon Him--as the Father willed, as he accepted in the Garden.  This can and should and has been imitated by the martyrs when the time of their seasonal departure is upon them and the time of their active ministry is over.

Fr. Jean d'Elbee points out in his book on the spirituality of the Little Flower I Believe in Love that 

In the Our Father there are seven petitions and only a single commitment on our part: "Forgive us as we forgive."

This is the universal call and command of Christian charity which we are called to imitate.  Christ and the saints show us how.  

A new commandment I give unto you: that you love one another as I have loved you.

Michael Healy

#3, Jul 24, 2012 1:17am

Fr. d'Elbee writes:

How strong and eloquent are the words in Holy Scripture which call us to this charity: "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you shall be forgiven."

Again, this is the universal call and command of Christian charity.  He does not mean that one should slough off slights or deep injustices as if they didn't happen; but, these occasions should be for the spiritual victory in love of the offended one:

I assure you I like a hundred times better those sensitive natures who suffer profoundly, who feel the stings, who react strongly, who kick, than the soft, indifferent, passive natures from whom everything slides off without penetrating.  I prefer the former, on the condition that their reactions are occasions of victory for them, that they profit from them to unite themselves more closely to Jesus and to give Him the proof that it is Him they love, repudiating what displeases Him. The occasion for struggle is the occasion for victory. We do not have to yield deliberately, and, with the grace of God, we can always overcome.  Ask Him to rebuke the rising waves....

Michael Healy

#4, Jul 24, 2012 1:29am

And what is the alternative?  The alternative is to build walls, to isolate oneself. This does not mean we cannot defend truth and justice, but we do have to heal the wound in our own heart. Fr. d'Elbee:

Obviously you are not expected to experience the same feelings in your heart toward a friend and toward someone who wishes you evil. It is also clear that if your opinion is asked with a view to granting someone a position, for example, you are obliged to give an objective evaluation. It might also happen that the defense of truth and justice would be in question, or that the duty of fraternal correction would be imposed on you, which is an act of charity.

There are even holy kinds of anger. But always remember that nothing trouble hearts, nothing troubles Jesus in us like dissension and discord.  Nothing is more directly opposed to Him.  Think too of the havoc that can be wrought by speaking ill of another, or even more by detraction.  Be aware that a grudge nurtured voluntarily can bring about grave misunderstandings and at times can create an abyss or erect a mountain of ice between two persons.

Michael Healy

#5, Jul 24, 2012 1:40am

Fr. d'Elbee ends the above quote:

No one is completely in control of his first reactions, but you must recollect yourself very quickly. "To pardon an injustice received is to heal the wound in your own heart," says St. Vincent de Paul.

He goes on:

We must forget ourselves. A person who forgets himself brings joy to those around him. He quickens hearts everywhere he goes.  Goodness attracts goodness. It radiates something alreadly heavenly. On the other hand, spitefulness causes sadness, closes hearts, hardens faces, and brings a cold chill wherever it appears.  Of course, I am speaking of a spitefulness which is voluntarily and willfully nurtured. Then the imagination starts working; a thousand phantoms invade the mind; grievances multiply; all sorts of bad intentions are taken for granted.... The Devil fans these smoldering embers.

Michael Healy

#6, Jul 24, 2012 1:45am

We must try to show understanding and compassion even when others harm us deeply. Fr. d'Elbee:

On her sick bed, surrounded with cares, little Therese had compassion on suffering souls: "We must treat them, even the most imperfect, with precautions like those that are taken for bodily ills. Oh, very often people do not think about that; ...what they need is for us to care for them and comfort them with all our power. Yes, I feel that I must have as much compassion for the spiritual infirmities of my sisters as they have for my physical infirmities."

I have seen souls already advanced who have fallen because they failed to endure an injustice and exaggerated it, as I just said, and so were immersed and drowned in this backwash.  One drowns very quickly in gall.  Keep watch, therefore, over your soul ; swallow the bitterness, as Jesus swallowed the vinegar on Calvary, and know how to smile at those who cause you pain. Forgive a thousand times, as Jesus forgives you a hundred thousand times.

This is the universal call and command of Christian charity.

[All quotes from I Believe in Love, Chapter on "Fraternal Charity."]

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jul 24, 2012 8:52am

Well, Michael, I can only say that you have missed the point.  I suppose it's my fault for using an example open to the come back that the forgiveness is always required while remaining silent in the face of unjust charges isn't.

My point was that we are often too busy trying to get others to be perfect models of Christ in the way we think they should be, when our "theme" should be objective reality.

In any case, all your urgings and quotations (from that great and beautiful book) would be apropos only if I had denied that forgiveness and charity are universal calls.  I haven't.  I think I've repeatedly agreed that they are.

My complaint about "unprincipled forgiveness" isn't that it requires forgiveness when forgiveness isn't called for.  It's that, in its neglect of truth and justice, it substitutes genuine forgivenesss with an inefficacious counterfeit.  

That counterfeit is not only inefficacious (in terms of restoring communion between persons whose union has been shattered by wrong) it is positively damaging.  It lies; it harbors evil; it renders our communion weak and superficial.

Patrick Dunn

#8, Jul 24, 2012 9:18am

I've been wondering about the interiority of, in cases necessitating forgiveness, the offended.  Specifically, I've wondered about what focusing on the objective issue at hand and having due concern about justice and truth 'does', if you will, to the interiority of the offended - positively or negatively.

My fear all along has been that such a focus and concern, if we're not careful, easily leads us astray; for example, in ways that Michael has noted above through the book on Therese.  This can be, to my mind, a separate concern from whether charity and forgiveness are ultimately compatible with justice and truth.  I think, given our nature, it may well be impossible to achieve such compatibility (between love/forgiveness and justice and truth) in the real life situations we are confronted with. 

And I don't even know that such compatibility ought to be our primary concern (if we are the offended).  This isn't to say that justice and truth are unimportant, but that the "universal call and command" of charity, as Michael puts it, seems to me to be also the primary call. 


Patrick Dunn

#9, Jul 24, 2012 9:28am

Perhaps this is not the ideal from another perspective: that which seeks compatibility and reconciliation of charity with justice and truth, with the perfect realization of the desire to settle the objective issue at hand, and perhaps this ideal is truly the ultimate ideal that we should, and cannot help but to, strive for. 

But given our existential situation here and now, coupled with our human nature, and the interplay of time and eternity we must accept (the future-tending nature of the Gospel, the 'not yet', the promises of the Beatitudes not yet realized, etc.), I wonder if the ideal that we ought to concern ourselves with most is the charity that we can offer, and that is sensible to offer, given the reasons and situation (we're in) noted.

I wonder if this is how we ought to be tending, that this is what God expects of us - here and now; not that this is the final word on justice/truth, or a statement about their relevance in relation to charity.  But, rather, a realization that such things must ultimately be left to God, rightly understood - only He can realize their compatibility as our hearts (and His) desire.


Patrick Dunn

#10, Jul 24, 2012 9:31am

I think, as Michael has said, that the lives of the saints often bear this out and that their example could serve as our realistic (though not easily achieved) guide.

Maybe I can offer another example of how our interiority (especially if we are the offended) ought to be situated:

"In my opinion, one absolutely heroic practice of love of neighbor was her discipline in speaking. In the seven years during which I was often around her and could discuss many matters with her, I never heard her say even one single negative word about someone. “They were so good to us…” was an expression she frequently used to nip in the bud any attempt to place blame or pass judgment. She used to call negative language “talking darkness,” and she saw it as her duty to reignite the light of hope right away by referring to some positive aspect. Thus, for example, when someone asked, didn’t she see the corruption in Calcutta?, she replied, “I know there is corruption, but I know also that there is good, and I have chosen to see the good."

Msgr. Leo Maasburg on the life of Mother Teresa

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Jul 24, 2012 9:36am

Great question, Patrick! (I mean in #8)

First let me say, that my claim is that a concern for justice and truth is inseparably bound up with the universal call to charity and forgiveness.  We can't have one without the other, just as we can't "have" the unitive meaning of sex if we close off the pro-creative.

What a focus on the objective issue does for the one offended:

One thing it does is help him avoid a sickly and obsessive introspection. It gives him a good "mission"—a way of achieving good outside of himself and his own concerns.  "I can't 'undo' the wrong done to me; I can't heal myself; but there may be something I can do to help ensure it doesn't happen to someone else."  

It can restore a sense of personal efficacy, where the injury had afflicted him with a crippling sense of impotence.  (Cf. Barbara's story.)

He also may deeply feel that his own inner healing is bound up with a "call" to bring justice into an unjust situation, to shine the light of truth into a place that's riddled with lies and illusions. (Many ex-Legionaires testify to this.)

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Jul 24, 2012 9:42am

It also helps him "measure" his injury in the right proportions.  Excessive focus on his own interior state can lead to two different kinds of distortions:

1) An exaggeration of the wrong

2) A false minimizing of the wrong.  (This is tempting when we are afraid of "losing" the one who wronged us--e.g. the battered wife--or when the task of forgiving seems too far beyond our power.)

The "outward" focus of the victim helps him see the offense for what it is in truth, instead of just in his own mind.

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Jul 24, 2012 9:55am

As for the bystander, the outward focus keeps him from sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong, from "projecting", illegitimately judging, and interfering with God's work in another's soul.  It gets him to attend to what is really in his power and purvue.

Remember this story in the life of St. Therese? (I may get the details wrong.)  She is at "recreation" with several other sisters.  (I think sitting in a circle together, sewing.)  The superior comes and asks whether someone can help her with some task.  Therese's heart leaps with a desire to make the sacrifice, but, in charity, she restrains herself, thinking another sister might gain more from volunteering.  

She gets openly mocked by a fellow nun.  "I see that Sister Therese is not so holy as she wants to appear," or something like that.

That nun had seen her hesitation and had falsely assumed that it must mean what it would mean if she herself were hesitating.

Similarly, we easily assume that another person is "nursing a grudge" or "stewing in bitterness," or hardening their heart, or "attacking the Church," when the truth of their interiority may be very different.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Jul 24, 2012 10:10am

Finally, the outward focus helps the offender find his way to real contrition, because it leads him to take responsibiity for himself and what he did.  

Instead of focusing on trying to get the one he wronged to do what he thinks she should do, he is focused on what he did and how he might repair it.  

One of the obstacles to our receiving forgiveness and mercy is our refusal to face what we have done, in truth.  We make excuses for ourselves.  We minimize the wrong.  We blame the one we hurt.  We focus on their "obligation" to forgive us rather than on our obligation to confess and make amends.

Dr. Peter tells of a great case in point he encountered in his marriage counselling practice.  A husband has an affair.  He apologizes.  The wife is horribly depressed.  They go to counselling to help her get over her problem with anger, depression and unforgiveness.

Straight away, Dr. Peter diagnoses the real problem.  He sees that the wife's depression comes from the fact that her husband hasn't really repented. He's blaming her. He hasn't really accepted his responsiblity for the "discommuion" between them.

Katie van Schaijik

#15, Jul 24, 2012 10:18am

Once, under Dr. Peter's gentle guidance, the husband does see it, a dam breaks in him.  He sobs out his sorrow over the wrong he did.  He sees the terrible, insupportable pain he has inflicted on this woman who has loved him faithfully all these years.  He is overwhelmed by the feeling, "How could she ever forgive me for this?"  It's too awful.  If he were to spend the rest of his life loving her with devotion, it wouldn't be enough to compensate for this ultimate betrayal.  He sees it.  He gets it.  He is sobbing and covering his head in shame and remorse.

And Dr. Peter says to him, "Look at your wife's face."  It was beaming tenderness and mercy.  

He said it is among the most beautiful and rewarding moments of his years and decades as a counsellor.

Teresa Manidis

#16, Jul 24, 2012 10:27pm

And that is your whole point, in a nutshell.  Well done, Katie!

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