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