I recently read an article about a talk on forgiveness given by Beth Johnson, one of my professors from graduate school (See the National Catholic Reporter “Theologian Elizabeth Johnson: ‘Drench Anger With Forgiveness’” by John L. Allen Jr., August 4th 2008). Beth is a prominent feminist theologian at Fordham University. I took a class on Christology from her which made a profound impact on my personal, spiritual and theological outlook. Since that class I have seen the Christ in a different way, a human who fully realized the Divine potential within and a human who points the way for the Divine potential within all of us. What was fully realized in Jesus is possible for all of us!
In this article, Beth spoke of the reality of anger and hurt within church and society. How do we deal with that? How do we let go and live freely, despite what the powers to be may be saying? This past year has been a year of letting go and dealing with unexpected hurt and anger. This very week I look back at one of the last times I spoke to a person who was one of my best friends. The hurt that I experienced was one of the greatest blows in my life. How does one let go when one is hurt, betrayed or put down?
I was struck by an example that Beth gave, which illustrates a way we can deal with our anger and hurt and go on with life. She spoke of another one of my great professors of graduate school days, Charles Curran, probably one of the greatest intellects in the field of moral theology. Charlie was silenced by the Roman Catholic church and fired from his position while I was in graduate school. Beth described the aftermath of his meeting with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and how debilitating this was for Charlie. The next day, in Rome, his professor and mentor, Bernard Haring, celebrated Mass with him and six others that Charlie had brought with him. The Gospel was about the Prodigal Son. Bernard compared Charlie, NOT WITH THE PRODIGAL SON, but with the father in the story. It was the church who was the prodigal son, silencing and squandering a treasure of gifts and talents! The challenge was this: as the father in the story welcomed back his prodigal son, can you still welcome those who hurt you?
I was very much struck by the twist that Haring placed on this story. Of course, the prodigal son was sorry as he returned to the father. I have not heard of or experienced any sorrow from my friend, or from the church. But the image of looking upon them as the prodigal son is helpful in itself in letting go. It opens a door of compassion within, which leads to a greater sense of forgiveness and freedom.
We may never hear “I’m sorry” from those who have hurt us, whether in word or action. We may never change the political, economic or religious structures that oppress us, silence us and reject our giftedness. But in seeing them as the prodigal and we as the father or mother, can we look at them with compassion, and get on with what we have to do in life. As Beth says: “Forgiving does not mean condoning harmful actions, or ceasing to criticize and resist them. But it does mean tapping into a wellspring of compassion that encompasses the hurt and sucks the venom out, so we can go forward making a positive contribution, without hatred.” See National Catholic Reporter “Theologian Elizabeth Johnson: ‘Drench Anger With Forgiveness’” by John L. Allen Jr., August 4th 2008.