Every time we forgive, a certain amount of anger is removed from our heart.
A man and woman had been married for more than 60 years. They had shared everything. They had talked about everything. They had kept no secrets from each other except that the little old woman had a shoebox in the top of her closet that she had cautioned her husband never to open or ask her about.
For all of these years, he had never thought about the box, but one day the little old woman got very sick and the doctor said she would not recover.
In trying to sort out their affairs, the little old man took down the shoebox and took it to his wife's bedside. She agreed that it was time that he should know what was in the box. When he opened it, he found two crocheted dolls and a stack of money totaling $95,000. He asked her about the contents.
"When we were to be married," she said, "my grandmother told me the secret of a happy marriage was to never argue. She told me that if ever got angry with you, I should just keep quiet and crochet a doll."
The little old man was so moved; he had to fight back tears. Only two precious dolls were in the box. She had only been angry with him two times in all those years of living and loving. He almost burst with happiness. "Honey," he said, "that explains the doll, but what about all of this money? Where did it come from?"
"Oh," she said, "that's the money I made from selling the dolls."
Throughout all her struggles, I can just imagine the old woman praying: "Dear Lord, I pray for wisdom to understand my man; love to forgive him; and patience for his moods; because Lord, if I pray for strength, I'll beat him to death, because I don't have the time to keep crocheting. Amen."
It is generally accepted that there are three options for dealing with anger: denial, expression and forgiveness. In the imagined prayer, the old woman links understanding, forgiveness, and patience. Such a linkage usually diminishes feelings of anger, and only then can one really discuss the hurt of the disappointment that caused the anger initially. The context of prayer calms us down, strengthens the linkage and inserts us into the mystery of God love. Of course, this is especially the case with our greatest prayer, the Eucharist.
In our brokenness, we can come to Jesus at Mass and pray, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." Then we receive Jesus, and he fills us with healing grace. Through the forgiveness of our sins, we are healed of the wounds we inflict on ourselves and the brokenness we've received at the hands of others, by being strengthened and consoled. We're then sent forth into the world to share that forgiveness and healing with others.
That's why, when we're faced with the necessity of forgiving, especially when we find forgiving to be hard, we should come to Mass as often as possible.
At the end of mass we are sent forth: "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life." We're not sent forth alone, however. Jesus comes with us. He is our companion. "Companion" is derived from two Latin words: cum, which means "with;" and pane, the word for "bread." When we set forth to forgive, then, it is Jesus himself who is our bread for the journey; he gives us the nourishment to do what we need to do.
When the bread was brought forward in the offertory process, it represented an offering to the Lord of our very lives and livelihood, including our brokenness. That bread was then blessed and broken. But now it's no longer just bread. It's the Bread of Life. It's Jesus. He who was broken for us gives us broken bread that we might be made whole, as he was made whole. And then we go forth together, to share that gift with the world. Through love and compassion; through mercy and forgiveness.
It's especially important that we forgive for the sake of our families. Our failing to forgive a spouse, a son or daughter, a relative, or an in-law can shatter a family's cohesion or, if it's already been shattered, prevent some of the pieces from being put back together again. We force people to "take sides." We can so easily drive wedges between those who once may have been close. Holidays and big events like birthdays, weddings or graduations become occasions of anxiety and dread instead of togetherness and joy.
Children sense the tension and become agitated or withdrawn. We need to model forgiveness for children in particular, so they can grow into forgiving adults. Forgiveness doesn't come naturally to us. Like love, it needs to be learned and it best learned at home. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the family as the school of forgiveness.
Every time you and I come to Mass, we bring with us our particular burdens, struggles, and heartaches. We've hurt others, others have hurt us, and we've hurt ourselves. We come to Jesus around his altar in our brokenness, and at that altar we're reminded that Jesus himself knew brokenness. He was physically broken with nails, whips, fists, thorns, a cross and a spear.
He knew the brokenness of being abandoned and even betrayed by friends. In his love for us, Jesus allowed himself to be broken in many ways. We're reminded of this at Mass when the priest takes the consecrated host, the bread that's become the Body of Christ, and breaks it while the congregation prays, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world." One reason the host is broken is to remind us that Jesus was broken.
A small piece of the host is dropped into the chalice containing the Precious Blood. This signifies that while Jesus' body and blood were separated at the crucifixion, they were reunited at the Resurrection. In other words, at Mass we come before the once-broken Jesus who has been made whole again. This Jesus seeks to make us whole as well.
Every time we forgive, a certain amount of anger is removed from our heart. It's also probably faster than learning how to crochet dolls!
☩ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary