What Forgiveness Means

hands help up in lightI have a friend whose family members hang onto grudges and slights. They are people who remember everything ever done to them, against them—and by whom. They just can’t let of the wrong that has been done to them and they carry it with them every day.

“Refusing to forgive someone who has wronged you,” he says, “is like taking rat poison and hoping the rat dies.”

Forgiveness is an incredibly difficult task, and for many whose lives have been so much more difficult then mine, perhaps a seemingly impossible job.

That’s why I was so struck by a brilliant passage in Loyola Press’ Thrift Store Saints by Jane Knuth. She writes about the customers she meets in her volunteer work in a St. Vincent de Paul store. One day a woman comes in for clothes, a woman whose life and body speak of manual labor, long hours on her feet and poverty. She chooses the clothes she needs and as she stands at the checkout counter, she begins to talk about her life.

“Some church people, they talk about forgiving all the time, but they don’t have any idea how hard it is to forgive because I don’t think they’ve ever had something really wicked done to them. I’ve had a hard time forgiving my dad. I left home when I was 15 because of him.”

She continues talking to Jane as the clothes are bagged. “Don’t get me wrong. Forgiving is the most important thing. If you can’t forgive, it eats you up inside.” She says she is now the only one in her family who speaks to their dad. Jane is stunned at this woman’s insights and asks how the woman how she forgave her dad.

“Well, you know how church people say you have to forgive because Jesus forgave the people who crucified him? They say he forgave them while he was hanging on the cross. I heard that over and over.”

She pauses and explains to Jane that what “they say” isn’t quite right. She looked it up in the Bible, she said. “What actually happened, what he really did say was: ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He was talking to God, not to them. He was praying for them.”

What a profound lesson from a streetwise theologian who apparently found the peace she was looking for. May we all find that peace and ability to forgive.

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Maureen McCann Waldron
Maureen McCann Waldron graduated from Creighton University with a degree in journalism and then spent 22 years in corporate public relations. After receiving her master’s degree in Christian spirituality from Creighton, she joined Andy Alexander, SJ, in Creighton’s Collaborative Ministry Office.


  1. I never thought of it that way. Something that helped me many years ago was a minister who said that when we forgive that in the spiritual realm it doesn’t exist anymore. Yes, we might have traumatic memories, but for me the more I have taken this perspective, the more I realize that the hurt and the pain don’t belong to me either. All things have become new!

  2. Thank you for this meaningful reflection.
    I believe this will make us learn how to forgive . Thank you for reminding us how Jesus prayed to His Father .

  3. Found this advice very helpful on a very trying day. Will have to remember this and think of it everyday. Thank you.

  4. A meaningful reflection. There is a lot of intentional meanness in my workplace, some directed at me. Meanness was directed at Jesus, too, that led to the Cross with two criminals (incl The Good Thief). Thank-you for reminding me of what Jesus said (and, tacitly, The Good Thief, too).

  5. I am a New Zealand citizen and we have just witnessed in our country the slaughter of 50 Musims at prayer. I have wrestled with forgiving the perpetrator of this horrific act especially when we were told that, although his face was blocked out during his first appeaance in court, he smirked. But with God’s grace I am able to pray for this person and those like him. His crime was one of hate but what he did has unleashed a tide of love in our country.

  6. I think the best advice I got was from a Franciscan Nun(spiritual advisor)who heard of my inability to forgive people that have hurt me in the past.Even better than advice from my confessor,ISister told me that I might not be able to forgive, but I had better pray for them.
    Even for an Irish Catholic suffering from “Irish Alzheimers Disease”-(forgetting everything but grudges),it was wonderful advice.

  7. “He was praying for them.” That is a key to being able to forgive, isn’t it? Thank you, Maureen, for the food for thought today.


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