Forgiveness needs to become a part of us. It needs to be a continuing fact or force in our lives. Forgiveness is not like running a four-minute mile. If you run such a mile, you have it: it is on the record. To maintain the record, you do not have to get up every morning and run another four minute mile. It is a recorded act. You only have to do it once.
The art of forgiving is a bit more difficult. One has to keep on doing it. I recall years ago suffering a wrong and holding a grudge. I was hateful toward the person who wronged me. I knew that I had to forgive, much more for my sake than for his. So, on a retreat, I concentrated on this issue and worked on it. I came to an act of forgiveness of this person. I was so glad. I felt good about myself. I wanted to take a bow. At last, I had risen above injury and let go of a grudge. Wasn’t I wonderful? That night I woke up at 3 am, gnashing my teeth, furiously angry with the same man.
The trouble with deathbed conversions is that sometimes the sucker does not die. If I had died in that act of forgiveness, it would have lasted. But I lived, and the one act of forgiveness had not become a part of my life. I had discovered that forgiveness is not an act; it is a process.
To forgive means that we change our lives. To forgive, we must be something different. We must become forgiving people. And becoming is a process; it does not fall from the sky at any one time. I become a forgiving person by forgiving that man every morning for years, always on a deeper level. Then, one day I wake-up and realize that I am different. The process is completed.
- Fr. James O’Leary
What is troubling and exciting about spirituality is that in it, we are exploring God. And God is the huge unknown and unknowable. We can chicken out and say that we would rather pray to Him, not explore Him. God is a bit scary for us. We rejoice in His love, but we can still want to think of Him as distant. But like it or not, He is not distant; He is close. And He wants to be explored by His people.
When we pray, we tend to think that it is something that we are doing to touch God. That way of thinking keeps God at a safe distance. But there is another way to think of prayer. What if we thought of prayer as something that God does inside us. What if we just give God the space and the time in our head and in our heart, and God does the praying. We say we do it, but it is really God praying inside us. And how can this happen? I do not know. I do not understand God. But I know that the “God praying in us” phenomenon is not rare.
As a priest, I have known many men and women in whom God prays. I suspect this could happen with all of us, if we are consistently giving God the time and the space inside us. It is the easiest way to pray; we give the space, God does the job. And he is right inside us.
If your ambition is to hold this scary God at a distance, you are going to lose eventually. This God wants us close.
Fr. James O'Leary