Forgiveness: The key to psycho-spiritual freedom

by Jayson M. Brunelle

St. Paul exhorts us to get rid of all envy, jealousy, bitterness and anger.  This admonition ought to be taken quite seriously, as each of these states is profoundly detrimental to the psychological, spiritual and even physical wellbeing of the human person.  The only way to rid ourselves of such negativity, however, is through authentic, sincere forgiveness and prayer.  It is only natural, given our fallen state, to experience such negative emotions and sentiments when we have been wronged or when life has seemingly been unfair to us.  In order to preserve our psycho-spiritual equilibrium, it is absolutely imperative that we learn to forgive, and leave it to God to bring about justice.  As for forgiveness, it must be noted that it is truly an ongoing process, especially when we have been hurt deeply.  For, each time the injustice comes to mind, we must redouble our efforts to forgive from the heart.  And it is precisely throughout this process of ongoing forgiveness that our own hearts are softened and, with the passage of time, the negativity dissipates.  We must understand that forgiveness does more for the person who’s doing the forgiving than it does for the one being forgiven.  Neither must we forget the spiritual axiom that we will only be forgiven by God to the extent that we ourselves forgive others, as is so clearly elucidated in the Lord’s Prayer.  Yes, forgiveness benefits our psychological, spiritual and physical wellbeing as human persons.  Let us, then, ask our Lord to provide us with the graces necessary to forgive at all times, in all circumstances, despite the severity of the wrong that has been done to us.  Afterall, harboring resentment can and will lead to psychological, physical and spiritual illness, and in the most extreme cases, spiritual death.

Moreover, forgiveness is a two-way street.  Not only must we forgive those who trespass against us, but we, ourselves, must allow ourselves to experience the forgiveness of God.  Catholic teaching on the issue of forgiveness is that if we have committed a serious, mortal sin, that is, having performed an action that is objectively evil and that was committed with full knowledge and full consent of the will, we have the right and the obligation to confess our sin to a validly ordained priest who, acting in Persona Christi, has the power to absolve us of our sins provided we confess all mortal sins, are truly contrite, make a firm resolve to sin no more, and perform the prescribed penance.  It would be helpful here to make a distinction between perfect contrition and attrition.  Perfect contrition consists of a compunction of heart, a detestation of sin, and a firm resolve to sin no more, all springing from a perfect, pure love for God as our greatest good.  In cases of perfect contrition, the Church teaches that God will forgive even our mortal sins directly, without recourse to sacramental confession, provided that we take the opportunity to avail ourselves of the sacrament of penance as soon as a priest is available.  Attrition, on the other hand, is a sorrow for sin that rises out of a fear of going to hell should we die before going to confession.  Attrition is sufficient for forgiveness in the confessional, but is not sufficient for the forgiveness of a mortal sin outside the context of the confessional.

It is most unfortunate that many Catholics have fallen out of the practice of monthly confession.  It seems that psychotherapists have, by and large, taken the place of validly ordained ministers of the soul – priests – and often attempt to ease the burden of guilt by justifying so many immoral actions, viewing the latter as mere idiosyncracies of behavior rather than morally illicit actions.  This is not to dismiss the role of the psychotherapist in assisting individuals who are attempting to deal with real sentiments of guilt and shame.  Certainly, psychotherapists have an integral role to play in the restoration of psychological and even spiritual health to their clients.  It goes without saying, however, that a therapist is not an ordained minister and has no power to act in the person of Christ or on behalf of the Church in extending true pardon and peace to a contrite soul seeking forgiveness from God, who is the one offended in every sin committed on the part of human persons.

In sum, the key to psycho-spiritual freedom consists in both forgiving from the heart and being forgiven.  Christ, in His infinite wisdom, knew the therapeutic, healing power of both the confession of sins to another person acting in His own Divine Person, as well as the healing power of hearing the words of absolution being spoken and granted through the authority of both Christ and His Church.  It goes without saying that Christ was and is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, but in addition to that, he was the greatest psychologist who ever walked the face of the earth.  Christ was the “firstborn of all creation.”  “All was created through Him, all was created for Him.”  Moreover, he forever grafted a true human nature to His Divine Person.  In His infinite wisdom, He established a profound sacrament of healing, knowing with a perfect, divine knowledge, what man needed both spiritually and psychologically to both receive and experience the healing power that is transmitted via the profound sacrament of reconciliation.  It would be most foolish of us to not take advantage of this tremendous sacrament of forgiveness and healing.  If we Americans were as concerned with the cleanliness of our souls as we are with the cleanliness of our bodies, we’d be in the confessional on a daily basis.

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