Reflecting on forgiveness and reconciliation

By Father Chris Thomas

During the Second World War, my mum and her family were bombed out of a large terraced house not too far from the city centre. They very soon found a smaller terraced house and settled into their new home. Their new neighbours were Catholic and went to the same church, a mother and a daughter.

The daughter was a lovely, gentle, kind woman. She said very little but was always approachable and easy to get on with. She and my mum became life-long friends. Sadly, she was completely dominated by her mother who was her complete opposite.

The mother was an aggressive, embittered person. She fell out with people regularly and never had a kind word to say about anyone. Maybe it had something to do with the early death of her husband or the cards that life had dealt her. Whatever it was, she was a very difficult person to deal with. It would have been easy for my mum to not bother with them once she had married and moved away. However, she never lost contact despite the mother’s best attempts to push her away. They came to our house at Christmas and New Year and for most family gatherings.

As the years went on, the mother got older and older but no less acidic, alienating people even from her hospital bed. Eventually she died and at her funeral there were just four mourners – her daughter, my aunty, my mum and myself. I often wondered what it was that kept my mum going back for more. I did not understand then, but I hope I am more aware now. It was all about healing and reconciling.

Richard Rohr says: ‘The spirit within us creates an unrelenting desire toward forgiveness and reconciliation. The entire Gospel reveals the unfolding mystery of forgiveness; it is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Gospel’s transformative message.’

It is never easy to follow the path of reconciliation. For Jesus it led him to the cross and the same is true for us. To know we are reconciled in Christ and to become a reconciler in turn is a hard road to travel. We’re invited to get in touch with the truth that God’s heart has always been softened toward humanity and desires that we experience and share with others deep reconciliation.

That process challenges who we are and how we live. It demands that we drop the ways in which we blame and scapegoat others. It invites us to be forgiving and merciful. It invites us to be filled with compassion toward those who suffer and so allow Christ’s ministry of reconciliation to continue in the world.