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Perspective: Power of forgiveness

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By Ricardo Márquez

Interacting with human beings — in the family, on the job, in the parish, in the world – continually exposes us to wounding each other emotionally with biases, snubs, humiliations and abuse due to race, gender, and differing political or religious beliefs. We frequently hurt each other and are oblivious to the territory where our hurtful words or actions fall.

In an encounter I once had with a prison inmate, I noticed the way he presented himself: “My name is Armandito,” or “Little Armand.” When I asked him where that name came from, he responded: “From my grandmother. She was the only one in my house that loved me and took care of me, and she lovingly called me Armandito. From my parents, the only thing I heard was: ‘Armando, you’re careless, you’re dumb, you have a bad character.’ I gave myself that new name because it reminds me of my grandmother, who still believes in me, and her love, which sustains me.”

If we were aware of the constructive and destructive power of our words, we would be more careful in using them. Some of our words have had a destructive effect on people for years, sometimes for a lifetime.

To forgive assumes an internal process of transformation, it’s something very personal and takes time. Each person reacts a different way to offenses. It has a lot to do with the model set by our parents, and the way conflicts were handled in the family or neighborhood.

In my country of Venezuela, I had the opportunity to attend an anniversary reunion of Jewish prisoners who had been liberated from Auschwitz. Two of their testimonies called my attention.

One survivor shared the need to forgive two Nazi soldiers who had abused and murdered his family members. The profound pain of those memories, his powerlessness to get justice and his wish for revenge were asphyxiating him, didn’t let him sleep, made him ill. Only when he became aware of the damage that he was causing himself did he decide to let go of the hatred and to forgive. When he connected with gratitude of having survived and what he could still do for his children, he found purpose in his life. It was like climbing out of a hole and finding his way. A vision of what he could do with his life gave him new eyes and allowed him to leave behind the emotional blindness caused by his past.

“When we’re unable to change our world, we’re invited to change ourselves,” the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl tells us in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Another survivor expressed with moving honesty, “Don’t ask me, you who have not lived that experience, to forgive. I can’t forgive …” I perceived a profound pain, I dropped my moralizing and connected with empathy and compassion. Respect, time and accompaniment were the best I could offer him.

To forgive will always be a personal decision, a characteristic of the freedom we have to choose the attitude with which we will face our suffering.

The person who forgives and the forgiven enter a space of mutual awareness of their dignity, both see each other with another perspective, transcendent or supernatural; they mutually liberate themselves from emotional chains and experience peace, acceptance and joy generated by the gratitude of the forgiven and the love of the one who has forgiven.

It’s what Jesus invites us to do in the “Our Father,” a way to live in advance the joy of the “Kingdom” in Heaven, when the word “kingdom” indicates a state, not necessarily a political one, rather an emotional one of the joy created by fraternity, forgiveness and solidarity.

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