Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 11, 2005
Forgiveness melts pain's sting
Confront a wrongdoer, but take care not to destroy their dignity
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Christ redeemed us through his suffering and can help us when we experience pain. Like Christ, we should learn how to forgive those who cause us pain, recommends Pallotine Father Wes Blaszczak, a psychologist and professor at the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.
Blaszczak spoke on the suffering that comes from experiencing harm to about 60 people at St. Dominic Savio Parish March 29.
The talk, Addressing Pain in Our Families and Communities, was the last of four talks on the spiritual and psychological perspective on pain that the Polish psychologist gave in Edmonton from March 21 to 29. In his presentation, Blaszczak related the suffering in the modern world to the suffering of Christ.
Although revenge against those who cause us harm can help us regain our sense of safety, it can also lead to more trouble, the priest warned. "Aggression creates aggression and if we can get revenge on someone that is stronger, we can also display the same behaviour towards the one that is weaker," he said.
"Revenge creates a circle of aggression. After a short time all sides in the conflict feel that they have the right to get revenge. Personal disagreements turn into local conflicts, and local conflicts can often lead to war."
Silence in the face of aggression is not good either. The conviction that we can lead a normal life although we have been hurt gives us a sense of safety, but it can also lead to depression, the priest said.
So what can be done to cope with harm? Forgiveness is the only way, Blaszczak said, noting forgiveness depends, among other things, on the level of development of society as well as our personal development. "Could it be that being Christians we are not mature enough to understand and accept the teaching of Christ about forgiveness?" the priest asked.
He referred to a biblical account to explain Jesus' teaching about forgiveness:
"The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, 'I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the Temple, where all Jews come together, I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them, they know what I said.' When he had said this one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand saying, 'Is that how you answer the high priest?' Jesus answered him, 'If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong, but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?'" (John 18:19-24).
Jesus was hurt by the soldier hitting him unjustly. But he did not stay silent, reacting immediately to what happened.
"In the face of injustice, Jesus was not and is not silent," Blaszczak stressed. "In his preaching on the Mount he confronted the injustice of the Pharisees and the learned in law and pointed out to how they hurt common people. Seeing how the Temple was desecrated, Jesus chased out the traders. He criticized the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the learned in law, calling them whitewashed graves."
But as the Polish psychologist explained, every time Jesus expressed his point of view he did not offend. "He is not aggressive. He gets angry at what he sees in human beings, but does not destroy human dignity. He articulates his pain. (The) reaction of a normal person in such a situation is a sense of guilt. Jesus does not protect us against that sense of guilt, but he also does not create an unreasonable sense of guilt."
Guilt is like pain because it helps us discover the source of the illness and as a result healing can begin, the priest said. "Hurt experienced this way does not put in motion the vicious circle of revenge. It ends up the feeling of hurt, ends up the way evil perpetuates itself."
The first phase in the process of forgiveness is confrontation with the encountered injustice. It is worth consciously acknowledging what happened to us, Blaszczak suggested. "The more we understand where the aggression leads us, the easier it will be to move from aggression to anger.
"Anger helps us put in motion the defence mechanisms that, in opposition to aggression, do not lead to hurting another person. In this phase we should reflect on how to regain our losses and avoid similar hurt in the future."
To find answers to these questions we just have to search the Gospels. "A big part of morality presented in the Gospel shows us mechanisms to defend ourselves against injustice," he said. "We have to find a way to live in this world, look how God wants us to live in it. Who knows this world better then God himself?"
Besides anger we should also experience pain, the psychologist stressed. "Experiencing a sense of sorrow in a situation of injustice is something natural."
After confrontation with hurt, giving it a name and experiencing it, it is time to move to another phase. "Now is the time to make a decision," the priest said. "Forgiveness requires a great effort. Forgiveness is a process that we have to learn all the time."
Act on forgiveness
"A decision to forgive is then a decision to change ourselves. It is not enough to say we forgive. It won't happen by itself. We have to act upon it. After confrontation with injustice there is a time to confront the wrongdoer," as Jesus did with the Temple officer.
"The goal of this confrontation is not to change the person we are confronting but to regain our sense of worth and our sense of safety."
Confrontation can start the dialogue but the best response of the wrongdoer is to say "I am sorry" and attempt to fix what was done wrong.
"The decisive factor in confrontation is the inner change of the person that was wronged," Blaszczak stressed. "If behind the said words stands an authentic desire to defend ourselves and openness to reconcile, the confrontation has an incredible power. If it is, however, only a form of revenge, even the most carefully chosen words will not be able to hide our intentions.
"Similarly it works in the case of the wrongdoer - if behind his words stands an authentic sorrow and desire to fix what was done wrong and willingness to reconcile, a lot can be achieved. If it is not the case, the indifference and cynicism will only deepen the conflict. "
Everybody who tries to forgive stops the perpetuation of evil, Blaszczak said. "We alone cannot stop evil. If Christ would not take the burden of evil on himself we would not be able to exist, the world would not be able to exist."
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