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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Forgive, After Years of Harassment?”
Q: I know we are supposed to forgive, no matter what. Sometimes I wish I could, but I do want justice. I also want to forgive without feeling bitter, but I don’t know how. Over the past 10 years I have been slandered, to the point of losing my profession. My mother and I had been stalked, mocked and harassed wherever we went. I also know who started it. I don’t have any close friends. I’m pretty much alone most of the time. My mother was harassed right up to the time when she died. My faith is a comfort to me. I know I must forgive, but don’t know how. I can pray for my persecutors, but can’t ever see myself say even hello to them. How can I forgive? –P.T.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I am deeply sorry to hear about the harassment that you and your mother had undergone. The forces of evil are strong in the world. This is why being a Christian can be so demanding.
A person can be forgiving without forgoing justice. It isn’t unreasonable that we would expect people to try to make up for the evil they do. In that sense it isn’t unhealthy that you want to see some kind of justice done. You need not be indifferent to justice.
Then again, it is good not to confuse forgiveness with feelings. We can forgive someone but still reel from the pain that the person caused us. Sometimes painful feelings can last a long time.
The important thing is that you make an act of the will when you forgive. You can say, “Lord, I want to forgive this person; give me the grace to do it.” That is the important part. Our Lord knows that the feelings of pain might linger — but those are separate from your act of the will.
The upshot of this: Keep praying for the grace to forgive those who have hurt you. Your prayers for them, by the way, would be a sign of your forgiveness for them. In this way you won’t let them take away your ability to be merciful. People can hurt us on the exterior level (including our reputation). But they can’t hurt our core if we don’t permit it. Your loving heart is something no one can take from you.
Perhaps Jesus has allowed this special cross in your life to draw you closer to himself. You can probably understand more deeply what it means to be persecuted as Our Lord was. This cross can be the instrument of your growth in holiness.
For more reading you might check out Forgiveness Is a Choice, by Robert Enright.
I hope some of this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions.