Sunday, March 3, 2013

Forgiveness is not the Same as Absolution

Image Courtesy of Stained Glass Inc.


For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over a question: How do you act like a Christian in prison?  Then last night, while watching the DVD, “For the Greater Glory,” I realized that each time a Cristero told the man about to shoot him, “I forgive you,” that murderer didn't have a clue what he was saying.  The poor victim was saying he forgave, for nothing…or was he?

Last Wednesday, my “cloistered brothers” and I discussed “turning the other cheek,” and “forgiving your enemies.”  How do they do it, particularly in their environment?  After an hour or so, no definitive answer was determined.  But that’s not the end of the thinking process.  We’ll continue it, next meeting.

It is difficult, in my “cloistered brothers’” environment, because they can’t afford not to have a macho persona.  To anything less, than the attitude that I can take down everyone in here, would be perceived as cowardness. 

On one hand, being a Christian makes a big positive difference in my brothers’ lives.  Christianity offers hope.  It gives meaning to life.  Trying to live in the light gives purpose, a positive outlook, and a productive use of time.  Belonging to our community offers a renewed sense of self that helps overcomes guilt.  New relationships are formed.  Belonging to our community provides practical and moral support.  Moreover, they feel that their self-control and tolerance have made them better men.    In community, my brothers are striving to be good Christian men.

Meanwhile, outside on the quad, or in the cell blocks, it’s business as usual, shouting obscenities, swearing, gambling, drugging, extortion, sex, bullying, violence, etc.

Mix the Christians with those not, and you have the Cristeros saying “I forgive you,” to a psychopath, i.e., he doesn't have a clue why or even what you are saying.  Saying “I forgive you” could be dangerous to your health.  As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  Look at the beautiful stained glass window above, courtesy of Stained Glass Inc., Jesus doesn't tell His tormentors He forgives them.  He prays for them.

I’m still chewing on the idea of my “cloistered brothers” problem: How to act like a Christian and not become a victim of the bullies.  Forgiving their enemies would be perceived as condoning their bad behavior.  My ideas are not definitive.  I’ll probably post about them again and again. 

Some passages in the New Testament have Jesus not forgiving unless the sinners repent.  See Acts 3:19, Luke 13:3 & 5.  So why did the Cristeros say they killers were forgiven when they didn't ask for it?  Even if they were priests, they couldn't give absolution without repentance.  They should have prayed for them, like Jesus did. 

Following Jesus’ example, forgiveness is for the benefit of the victim.  The victim has been hurt and will feel anger, resentment, revenge, bitterness, etc..  Forgiveness disconnects the victim from these emotions, if he is blessed to overcome these emotions. 

Forgiveness is a decision to not be a victim any longer.  Leave the exacting of justice to God.  Then by the grace of God, the victim will progress and protect himself and others by not allowing the perpetrator to commit more hurt.  It would be great if the victim could pray for the perpetrator. 

One has to master his emotions, releasing oneself from a lifetime of bitterness.  Forgiveness is the best means of doing that.  Only priests can give absolution, so don’t even entertain that thought. 

Forgiveness is for the victim. 

This is where I am now.  Reconciliation is between at least a couple of people.  Absolution is between confessor and penitent.  Forgiveness is for oneself.