Everywhere in Chains: A Novel by James Casper, published by Ignatius Press
This post contains spoilers:
Penelope is a teenage girl who has never known her father who is in prison for arson. She is not allowed to ask questions about her father or associate with anyone from his family. Penelope begins a journey of her own where she meets people who allow her to learn the secrets her mother wants to keep hidden. Through her journey, she discovers her father is in prison for burning down a church. Penelope wants to understand her father and discovers he was sexually abused by the priest from that church. Towards the end of her father’s life, she is able to offer him empathy, compassion, love, and understanding so she can be with him while he dies. This journey ultimately draws Penelope toward a religious vocation.
The character I found most intriguing in the book was the mother and how she chose to deal with her husband’s crime. She was unaware of her husband being sexually abused as a child, but she never tried to understand his crime. Her response was to avoid the topic and anything related to him altogether. I never understood why the mother responds in this fashion, given this was her husband whom she should have unconditionally loved. This lack of forgiveness has implications for her daughter as it created a household environment that seemed very cold to me. How should we respond when someone sins against us? Matthew 18:15-17 gives us guidance:
If your brother sins [agains you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
The mother should first have gone to her husband to discuss the crime he committed against the community and against her family. What would he have to say about his crime? If he told her the turmoil he was going through (the priest was about to baptize his daughter) would she have understood and offered him understanding, compassion, and mercy?
This verse calls us to tell people when they have sinned against us. This verse also specifically tells us how to deal with someone who continues to sin against us: treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. A Jew avoided Gentiles and tax collectors. St. Paul gives similar advice in 1 Cor 5:13, to “Purge the evil person from your midst.”
Even if we “purge” these people from our lives, how do we deal with the hurt, anger, or bitterness that remains? The person even refuses to acknowledge the hurt they have caused. They are not asking for forgiveness nor are they repenting. Do they even deserve our forgiveness?
A very common saying is, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
We don’t forgive someone to make them feel better. We forgive to make ourselves feel free the sins committed against us. There is nowhere in the bible that states we should forgive those who have asked for forgiveness or repented. In the bible no one ever asked Jesus for forgiveness, and yet he offers it every time. The ONLY stipulation given with forgiveness is that we forgive, in order to be forgiven.
Mt 6:14-15: If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18:21-35) also details this “strict requirement” (CCC 2838) that we will only be forgiven to the same capacity as we are able to forgive.
The questions arise on how can we forgive someone who has hurt us and yet never repents or even acknowledges what they did to us? The answer is we can’t. The bible clearly states in both the Old and New Testament that only God can forgive sins. We have to embrace as human beings that we are the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), then we can offer what is only of God to others.
2 Cor 5:17-20 – So whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.