Editor’s note: Missioner Hannah Hagarty currently serving in Kingston, Jamaica reflects on what it means to forgive after the injustices she’s witnessed while serving overseas so far.
Children born with HIV. Children that have been abandoned by their families because they were born with a physical or mental disability. Women and men in my close network that have been physically assaulted, robbed, or murdered. These are just some of the injustices I have witnessed while being a lay missioner in Jamaica. Accompaniment calls for empathy. Empathy can sometimes lead to heartache.
As I was preparing to write this blog on forgiveness, a TEDx talk came across my Facebook feed. I clicked on it and it happened to be a woman talking about her process of forgiving a young boy who broke into her home and murdered her brother and her mother. It was a very powerful, moving video that you can find here. She emphasizes that we cannot offer forgiveness for things that did not happen directly to us. She could not forgive that boy for killing her mother and brother, because she was not the one who was murdered. She could forgive him, however, for all the pain, sadness, and brokenness he caused her to feel. Her testimony reminded me of the injustices I have seen in Jamaica which are not mine to forgive. I am not the direct victim.
This is Stephen who lives in an inner-city home for children who have been abandoned by their families.
I have felt the need to forgive parents of Stephen and others who have abandoned their children. I am not the one who was abandoned. I can however, forgive them for the heartache I have felt. The more time I spend with these children, the more I see that they are content, they are beautiful, and they are alive. As a Franciscan Lay Missioner, I share love and find peace in knowing that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Pope Francis reflected on this sentence from the Lord’s Prayer, noting how difficult it is to forgive.
“ There is just one condition, however, without which no one can ever forgive. You will only be able to forgive if you have had the grace of feeling forgiven. Only the person who feels forgiven is capable of forgiving. “
When someone has wronged us, the only way that we could possibly forgive him or her is if we have felt forgiven. This could be that we have felt forgiven by God or another person, but we have to know the feeling of being forgiven. It is a completely mutual process. One absolutely cannot happen without the other.
As we are waiting for the coming of Jesus during this Advent season, my prayers are that we all remember God’s unconditional forgiveness, that we find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves, and that we are able to forgive those who may be in need of our forgiveness.