By: Kayla Faherty
In August, my husband and I took a pilgrimage with our Church to St. Anthony Chapel in Pittsburgh. The Chapel is home to 5,000 Saint relics, the largest collection outside of Rome. We rode a school bus to the Chapel, listened to a presentation about the many relics, had time to pray and venerate the relics, received holy water, visited the gift shop, and stopped for dinner on the way back. While I am sure everyone who participated in the pilgrimage had a good time and received spiritual graces, I want to share how God’s seeds of forgiveness came to fruition during this pilgrimage.
My father and I never had a very close relationship. We butted heads quite frequently and generally didn’t get along. I was a bit of a sensitive child growing up, and I added each new wound to my growing feelings of anger, bitterness, and even hatred toward my father for the things he had said and done during my childhood. He hurt me more than I would like to admit. When I was a senior in high school, my father and I rarely spoke. Sure, we lived in the same house and passed each other quite often, but we didn’t talk much. I had been avoiding him for quite some time, and our relationship deteriorated further when I went to college. During my freshman and sophomore year, I talked with him occasionally, but usually it was to let them know I was coming home for break or that my car broke down. We had a strained relationship. Then in April of my sophomore year, my father took his own life.
I blamed my father for just about everything. For every thoughtless word, or unkind action, for my own sense of never being good enough, and especially for leaving me, that I would feel unwanted and unloved. It had been ten years since my Dad committed suicide, and I still held it against him. I was wound up so tight in my ball of bitterness, anger, and hatred and it came spewing out into my own life, generally towards myself. I was very near death several times since my father’s death, and almost made shipwreck out of my life as a result of my unforgiveness. It became a part of me, of who I was, all of this unlove. Of course life had moved on after the first couple of years following his death. There were graduations, moves, new jobs, children, and other major life events. Even though life had moved on, my heart hadn’t moved forward. I was still deeply affected by my old hurts and ultimately my unforgiveness.
So when I found out about the pilgrimage the Church was taking, I was initially interested in the chance to visit the Chapel and see so many relics. While preparing for the pilgrimage, I learned more about the particulars of gaining a plenary indulgence during the Holy Year of Mercy. There were several requirements in order to be granted this indulgence, and you could choose to receive it for yourself, or for someone who has passed away, and God laid it on my heart to choose my father. It was the first time I had ever truly prayed for my Dad. And in order to pray to God that He would welcome my father into heaven, my heart had to soften. The Holy Spirit whispered to me to let it all go. To forgive my Dad for everything, even for taking his life. My Dad was not well, and God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy is greater than any sin he had committed. Realizing that the Lord loves my Dad more that I could ever comprehend, I began to extend my own mercy. Being reminded of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, that He chose to give His life as a sacrifice for my father, I knew that surely I could forgive him as well. And that is when the real healing began, a true change in my heart. Through the Blessed Mother’s intercession I am now free of the bonds of unforgiveness. To God be the glory!
There is so much life in forgiveness. I have been given a new life exactly because of forgiveness. I have the hope of heaven, the promise of eternal life. Forgiveness of my father was the first step towards my forgiveness of others, God, and myself. Knowing that I am able to truly forgive my father, to not hold any wrongs against him, it is so much easier to forgive others who hurt me. It is easier to forgive God, and to stop blaming Him in the first place. And it is becoming easier and easier to forgive myself. This type of total forgiveness leads to the best kind of love for others. It is hard to fully love your husband when you are holding on to a mistake he made yesterday. It is hard to be a good neighbor when you are holding on to ill feelings over an insensitive comment made last week. It is hard to love your friend when you are holding it against them that they forgot an important event last month. It is hard to accept God’s unconditional, unfailing love for myself when I am begrudging myself of my weaknesses. Of course this kind of transformation is a process, and when I am called upon to forgive it comes more quickly each time. Forgiveness is freeing, it allows you to open yourself up to God’s love, and the love He shares with others for you. Forgiveness brings new life.
So in September, when we had a miscarriage, my heart was better prepared to forgive. Giving Quinn back to God is the hardest thing I have had to do, and if it wasn’t for my forgiveness of my father, it would have been so much harder to forgive during this time of suffering. I could have easily blamed so many on my hurt, and lashed out to those who were just trying to help. But instead I forgive them all, I forgive God, and I forgive myself. Because when I say forgive I really mean love. I learned to love each and every person who is part of our journey. I love my husband so much more deeply than I ever thought possible. I have been shown how much God truly loves me, and will never leave me. I love myself, for the daughter of God that He created me to be.
In Saint Paul’s lyrical passage of love, we learn that true love forgives, it keeps no record of wrong, is not resentful. Perhaps you are holding on to old wounds. Perhaps someone has hurt you. It is not too late to forgive. You can choose to love again. We can all be who God has called us to be. And the Holy Spirit can help show us God’s love poured out through Jesus Christ. We can practice forgiveness. We can get up a little more quickly each time we fall down in unforgiveness. We can bring the peace that can only come from the Lord to those in our lives and accept it for ourselves. John 8:36 tells us that “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Are you free today? Have you accepted the truth of God’s love for you? Let’s put it into action. I will live this forgiveness, this freedom, this love. Will you join me?
You can choose to love again. We can all be who God has called us to be.