MADISON The Christian understanding of forgiveness does not resemble most people’s understanding of it — “moving on” after somebody has hurt you, telling that person, “It’s OK; let’s forget about it” or “getting over” the effects of the offense.
“None of these is what forgiveness is. These are superficial. Forgiveness goes much deeper,” said Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute in Madison, Wisc., who presented a retreat, “Father, Forgive Them for They Know Not What They Do: Forgiveness as Redemptive Suffering,” March 28 at St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Diocesan Center for Evangelization at Bayley-Ellard here. “You are not truly experiencing the forgiveness of God the Father unless you forgive others from your heart. Forgiveness is a moral virtue, unconditionally expressed as an act of mercy toward those who have acted unjustly toward the forgiver. The moral value of forgiveness concerns goodness toward the welfare of others and it originates inside a person as the will to good and is expressed as a good to others,” he said.
We experience love at its deepest, when we enter into Christ’s way of love, not only imitating him, but also uniting with him (John 17: 20-21), said Enright, also a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. It changes the meaning of what forgiving is. Forgiving is linked to one’s own suffering — the forgiver suffers for the other and his or her salvation. The forgiver is a gift of self to the other,” said Enright, who spoke as part of a seven-part monthly retreat series, “70x7: Faith, Family, and Forgiveness, Part II,” which started in December and will continue to June. It is sponsored by the Catholic Center for Family Spirituality at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, South Orange. “Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:14-15), contains Jesus’ expression on forgiveness — in a prayer focusing on forgiving — that it is tied to our own and others’ salvation.”
The daylong retreat on Palm Sunday weekend attracted 130 people for the latest part of this series of retreats that are held on Saturdays and focus on the topic of forgiveness. The retreat also included musical performances by Keaton Douglas of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Sandyston, who is an Immaculate Conception graduate student in theology and a professional singer and vocal and performance coach. Other sessions have been held at Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Parish, Cedar Knolls, which will host the next retreat Saturday, April 11, from 9 a.m. to noon, on “The Spirit of Forgiveness in Les Miserables and Anna Karenina.” Gregory Glazov, Seton Hall biblical studies professor and program coordinator of the center’s Great Spiritual Books, will present the talk with performances by Douglas. Mass at Notre Dame at 12:10 p.m. will follow the retreat.
Focusing on Christ’s redemptive suffering during his retreat, Enright said, “Agape love is bleeding for others, just as Jesus did for us and the forgiveness of our sins. Having mercy on those who have hurt you — it is not fair and not reasonable. Agape love is in service to others and can be sacrificial as the person gives to others even when it is inconvenient to do so.”
Enright said that forgiveness has three goals in the Christian context:
• To express agape love as an end in itself because this is a moral good regardless of what follows from its expression;
• To help change the offending other’s behavior so that he or she grows in the moral virtues, such as patience, kindness and love; and
• To unite in moral love without offending others.
“All presentations will be designed to be uplifting and inspiring, so as to give the retreatants an opportunity to experience, as Pope Francis encourages, ‘the joy of forgiveness,’” said Dianne Traflet, the School of Theology’s associate dean of graduate studies and administration; assistant professor of pastoral theology; and the center’s founder and director. “Each retreat has attracted a large crowd of enthusiastic retreatants who deeply desired God’s forgiveness, and the grace to forgive,” she said.
The retreat series has underscored “how important our undertaking was, and what a great responsibility we had in leading people on this journey of forgiveness. We were greatly moved by the stories of pain and sorrow of those in attendance. They told us of various forms of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional suffering through the years. We have witnessed the great transformation that can come through an authentic and prayerful journey of forgiveness,” Traflet said.
The series will conclude with two retreats by Traflet and Douglas: one on May 9 on “Love and Forgiveness: The Witness of Prisoners of Auschwitz” and another on June 6 on “Praying for Forgiveness: With the Mysteries of Light.”
“Enright not only taught us the meaning of and the ‘how to’ of forgiveness, he gently, yet powerfully, reminded us of God’s merciful love for each one of us. With touching references to the passion of our Crucified Savior, he gave us spiritual tools for journeying closer to the merciful heart of Christ, and to living lives of forgiveness,” said Traflet.
Lorraine Insley, a parishioner of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, Sparta, said, “Enright’s presentation moved me to a deeper understanding of forgiveness, and the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Jean Pankow, Notre Dame’s pastoral associate, noted that each talk “presents a different aspect of forgiveness, given by a different professor, each of whom draws from different experience and knowledge.”
“The result is very engaging. The amazing number of people drawn to the retreats says to us how powerful and resonant a concept forgiveness is. It touches everyone’s life,” said Pankow, who noted that the retreats include prayer, reflection and meditation and are designed for “people, who are serving God, making a living and raising families, who are seeking out doors of forgiveness.”
Information or to pre-register, contact Anna Capizzi at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 275-2440.