From the time I was very small I’ve been told I have to forgive. Today I’m discovering that forgiving is not so much a moral act as it is above all a new level of awareness. That discovery is the fruit of a process that requires me to go deep into my own self, to come face to face with my gifts, my weaknesses, my woundedness…
I’ll give you a simple example. When a sister arrives for a meal, and I see on her face that she is not pleased with what I’m serving, I am hurt, because I have put my heart into preparing the meal. And yet, the other person’s reaction should not have such control over me, nor cause me any suffering, because the other person is not an extension of myself. In fact, she has every right not to like what’s for dinner. The other person is free, free to say or do what she wants to.
When I think about the episode again, with a little distance between it and me, I can see that the problem is me. After I’ve become aware that I’m hurt because my efforts have not been appreciated, I place myself, and the whole affair, before the Lord and I beg him for his grace and strength. This is how I discover that forgiving someone who has hurt me is, in the final analysis, accepting my own limits, my woundedness.
During this sabbatical year, I also became aware that our conflicts arise not so much because of our likes and dislikes, but mostly because our values and priorities clash. It is impossible for us to understand each other without dialogue and mutual listening. According to our history, our culture, a word or action can seem trivial to one person but not at all to me.
For example, the other day we had a guest in Tre Fontane. We had had a meal together. When the guest left, he had to open the door and let himself out, and that didn’t seem to be a problem for anyone. It bothered me, though, because where I come from, in Congo, this is very impolite. When guests leave, it is always expected that someone will go before and open the door for them. This was how I learned that we are affected differently by the same situation. Yes, it is in daily life, with my fellow sisters, in community, with the neighbors, in our families, or with our co-workers on the job…that I have to offer and receive forgiveness. And often I am the first one who needs the forgiveness.
I also realized that forgiving is not something that happens automatically. When I think of the situation in my country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of all the violence and war we’re experiencing, it’s hard. A few years ago we had to flee with our neighbors, because there were several massacres in the village. I had to ask myself, what does forgiveness mean in the face of this kind of violence? I felt various forms of resistance, like something frozen. I had already passed judgment on everyone; how could I forgive them? When I arrived for this sabbatical year, all these experiences of the past were a weight crushing me insde. At the same time I felt a great desire for life. That is what made me decide to set out on the path of reconciliation and forgiveness. I felt that I had to let go of my need to understand the mystery of evil, I had to accept it as a reality of life. This became for me a great moment of liberation! Now I feel like the suffering and hurt of this painful situation are still there, but they don’t weigh me down in the same way. I’m no longer crushed by those past events, I can once again receive life from my surroundings, and give life around me. Working my way like this through the things that have wounded me, even death itself, allows me to embrace life today. I’ve experienced in my own life that one cannot taste the light of Easter without having lived through Good Friday.