Forgiveness is a beautiful concept. It's the centerpiece of our religion -- the very reason Jesus suffered torment and humiliation. We are told in very clear and easy to understand terms in both Scripture and Tradition that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. When we pray the Lord's prayer, we are reminded weekly (or daily!) that we need to forgive others. Yet only a few moments can pass after prayer or Mass and we are thinking about a favorite grudge, or explaining away a pet resentment. I know you think forgiveness is beautiful, BUT your story is different. What has been done to YOU is so unspeakable, so wrong, that surely it qualifies for a hall pass from The Church and from Jesus Himself. The person who did it to you isn't even sorry! I'm here to tell you, my friend, that it is irrelevant what tale you spin, how long or how sordid. You are called to forgive all, as you want all to be forgiven of YOU. Now of course you see YOUR sins as bad but not BAD. The sin committed against you was ongoing, is ongoing, stinks to high Heaven. Your own sins are venial, teeny, and smell like gardenias. Stop kidding thyself. Forgive if you have aught against any. Jesus said it. You think Jesus didn't mean it? He meant everything; He is God, and God is Truth itself.
How do you forgive the apparently unforgivable of the perpetrator who is unrepentant or even an ongoing violator? You put on your big Catholic pants and just do it, and by that I mean, you use what helps you have been given: the Sacraments, the Saints, prayer, Scripture, the Catechism, sacramentals. Go to the Confessional and talk about YOUR sin of unforgiveness. If you have a soft priest who tells you it's okay to hold a grudge, quietly walk out, do your penance, but know that it is NOT okay to hold a grudge. Your priest is making a pastoral decision and trying to be kind, but you know in your heart that forgiveness is not optional. You know the ugly nasties you are wishing on your enemy. Strive to have no enemies! It can be done! This does not mean you stick around and let people continue to hurt you. Sometimes it is giving another human being an occasion to sin by staying in a toxic relationship. Get away! But forgive, pray for the person, and sincerely wish conversion, peace, and yes, even Heaven for this person, as if you were begging for yourself or your own child.
Along with forgiveness, the second area I see Catholics and other Christians taking short cuts is obedience. That's understandable. Everything our senses take in tells us that obedience is for suckers, idiots, medievals, provincials, dopes, and rubes. Yet we know better. Obedience is glorious. It is the key to peace. To do that which Christ commands us, without complaint, without anger, without rebellion, without pride, without qualification, is the sweetest gift we can offer Him. Here again you will flood the page with "Yes, buts." Yes, I am called to obey, but The Church really needs to get with the times on contraception, so I don't really have to obey to the letter there, do I? YES. Yes, I am called to obey, but the death penalty is still permitted by The Church, so I think it's a great idea and a great deterrent, and I will fight, fight, fight for the right to have people executed despite our Catechism's statement on it and our last three Popes urging us to rethink it. Yes, I am called to obey, but Mass at my parish is BORING and the homilist should be doing better and the music is tripe. Yes, I am called to obey but I think Pope Francis is too plain. Yes, I am called to obey, but the old rules about masturbation, pornography, and gossip are really very 1950's and let's face it, NOBODY can really follow them. Yes, I am called to obey, but I will not let my husband lead our family if he's going to try to boss me around in the year 2013. Yes, I am called to obey, but Confession is more of an optional thing, not something that most Catholics really DO anymore. Yes, I am called to obey, but I can't welcome the immigrant because he might take away more of my money and stuff.
We could do this all day, couldn't we? Why don't you think of yours right now? Or write them down? Or reread your Catechism to see where you're falling short, where you're putting your own "yes, buts."
You know, my friends, Catholicism is not supposed to look like anything else. We should be standing out like the Amish at this point. That's how crazy and sin-soaked the "world" is. We should be saying no to things, getting raised eyebrows because of our choices, looking for alternative forms of entertainment, speaking differently from the average American, even dressing differently from the average American. If you look at this life as a burden, then I'm not sure what you thought your signed up for: we are to be little Christs. That doesn't mean we snark all week, watch provocative television, follow a political party line that's rife with grave sin, show our cleavage, tell racist jokes, cheat on our taxes, cheer rah rah for same sex marriage so everyone at the office likes us, and then go to Mass on Sunday and hope it all gets rinsed away like Jesus is running a big ole' car wash.
I'm not asking anyone to wear a hair shirt. Or give up electricity. And these words do not imply that the writer of said words is in an ivory tower, looking down at you all squeaky clean. We all have planks. Start pulling them out. In summary: Catholic up. People at your office, your schools, your clubs, the stores you regularly patronize, your Facebook page, your Twitter, your carpool, your hair salon, your racquetball team, your PTA, should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are a practicing, adherent Catholic. If you are a non-Catholic reader of this blog, these words still apply to you: the people with whom you have regular contact should know beyond question that you are an orthodox and adherent Christian. What they should not see you as is someone who it's super comfy to be around because you will endorse every sin and laugh at every off color joke. Nor should they see you as self-righteous and condescending. The middle ground is the formula laid out by our faith: forgive, obey, and thus be fishers of men. Maybe your life will be the thing that knocks some Saul off of his ride and creates the opportunity for him to be transformed into a Paul. You will never know if you are too busy grousing about the state of the world, marinating in resentments and pettiness, or acting out yourself to the point of passively aggressively persecuting your own Church.