HomedotMagisReflectionsLenten Read-Along: Where Do We Begin with Forgiveness?

Lenten Read-Along: Where Do We Begin with Forgiveness?

The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness Lenten Read-Along - text next to hands holding heart image

Forgiveness can be complicated. I can think of times in my life when I wanted to forgive, but I felt “stuck” in something that stood in the way. For example, maybe I had a conflict with a family member when I continued to think that I was right and the other person was wrong. The obstacle to forgiveness was my need to be right and be validated in it! Sometimes I have been in conflicts when I knew that I did have a good share of the blame to bear, and an inability to forgive myself stood in the way to freedom. I did want to forgive, but I wanted other things too: love, acceptance, validation, an apology from another person.

One of the great gifts that I have received in learning more about Ignatian spirituality has been coming to understand that God wants to be with us exactly where we are in our process. So do good friends or spiritual directors. In fact, God is already right there with us; we just need to discover it.

Forgiveness is almost like going on a long hike. We have to pay attention to everything in the environment and look closely at the terrain in order to go deeper into the process. Years ago, my family went on a hike in the White Mountains over the course of a week, and we had to prepare for and negotiate changes in the temperature ranging from a hot June afternoon when short sleeves were a necessity to hail at one of the upper levels where we layered on our garments. It was one long path that we took to get to our destination, but there were many ups and downs along the way, and we needed patience and good companions to get us through.

One way that we can begin is to look honestly at our own desires. St. Ignatius advises beginning a prayer period in the Spiritual Exercises with two key elements: placing ourselves in the presence of God and asking for the grace that we desire. God truly cares about what we want, what we really desire, and not just what we think that we “ought to” want. That is how much God loves us.

We might start with a simple question: What do I want? Do I want to forgive, even a little bit? (The answer is probably yes, if one is still reading at this point.) Can I imagine being at a place later where I am freer, happier, more at peace, or more loving, even if I am not there yet? How do I feel about whatever has happened? Where is the hurt, anger, or whatever difficult feeling?

However we answer these questions, we can bring the real answers to God, because God wants a relationship with the real, authentic person. God is right there with us in whatever we are experiencing. We can start by telling our story to God and sharing what the lay of the land is for us, right here and right now. We can offer to God our desire for the grace to begin the process, even if we do not fully know the lay of the land ahead, because we know that God is our traveling companion along the way.

Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.


  1. Thank you so much Marina. WHAT do I REALLY want??? List is not very long, but the attaining of it? Seems quite beyond my capabilities and as the REAL friends are now few and family (?) far away , life has become very sad. Things are overwhelming for ME: one who hates to ask for help and finds it hard to find it these days. So of course I try to just ask God to stick with me; as unworthy as I am. Everyone has their own problems and I am sure that millions are worse off then Me. So I pray for them also. Thanks again to all who writ these reflections. God bless. I miss being able to get out and go to Mas etc. Mass online has become the normal for me now. I am grateful for that. A.M.D.G.

  2. Lent is a season for learning the art of forgiveness from the son of God, our dear Jesus. Saying the rosary and meditating on the sorrowful scriptural mysteries brings 2 mantras forth for ongoing daily reminders for me. First,
    “Increase our love oh God”. Second, “Fill is with Your Spirit and Truth”. This has been so helpful for me in my daily walk of life. The hardest part has been to remind myself to turn to Jesus, especially when triggered to just “react” in hurt or anger to provoked situations. When I just “react” I am hurting not just myself, the other person(s), but most of all, I am excluding the Holy Spirit in that given moment to guide me and remind me to take upon the yoke of Jesus! It’s been a real mindset change.

  3. Clayton, I can so relate to your struggle with self-forgiveness. I look around at all the good people in my life, and I wonder “what happened to me? How did I end up being such a sinful person? How could I have done those things?” The guilt is overwhelming at times. How do you get past that and forgive yourself? Maybe that’s why I still fear being unforgiven in God’s eyes. If I could truly experience His forgiveness, then maybe there would be some hope for forgiving myself.

  4. One thing I found helpful in a challenging situation I learned from a book entitled ‘Soul Care’ by Dr. Rob Reimer. When I am feeling unforgiving towards someone or resentful or any of those yucky feelings, I ask God to bless the other person, and I feel a slight shift inside my heart. It feels as if my ‘load is being lightened’ inside of me; perhaps because I am including God in it all. It’s a lovely way to respond to hard situations.

  5. 19years ago I had an experience which affected me in an incredible way. I couldn’t find words to describe it and spent the first 3 days in a blur, then the following time needing to be horizontal suddenly losing myself in a constant prayer, on a different level of consciousness going between sleep and wakingness.
    Afterwards I reached out to people close to me but none were available. Then different people came into my life who helped me to make sense of it. I had experienced a fullness of love flowing through me. In it there was a forgiving. Forgiving describes what it felt like – it was a continuing wholeness of forgiving and the flow felt never-ending.
    It didn’t come from me and yet it came through me. I was unable to speak about it for a long time, except to those who appeared in my life. I had no theological background or specific faith at the time. Now when I see people holding onto being unforgiving I try to help by finding a way to show the idea of how the process can be allowed to happen.

  6. This week’s focus on consolidation and desolation was a reminder for me to do the daily examin. I found the book, God’s Voice Within a couple of years back and it really resonated with me. As I look deeper into myself, I’m realizing the hidden resentments that I’ve been harboring. It’s a beginning and I have some work to do. On another note, I really like what you said about letting God lead in my lent. It is the second time I heard it. It must have been worth repeating.

  7. I’m Jan. I decided to join this read along after yet another fight with my twin sister. I decided that during Lent I need with God’s help to reach down deep into myself and seek healing, forgiveness, and clarity going forward. The wound between my sister and I started early in life and has continued into our later years. The wound heals over, we become close, then abruptly the healed over scab gets clawed at and becomes raw again. The dance of past memories, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and back to hurt arises more often than the seasons. I don’t have this pattern in any of my other relationships and I’m hoping to gain more clarity about what God is calling me to do in this struggle. Maybe it’s just to keep forgiving and keep struggling. I just realized that if I can picture God being with me in this struggle, it would be healing. I will try it.

    • That image of seasons is striking. Close relationships do go through many seasons, don’t they? Thanks for sharing that image with us.

  8. The read-along is one of my Lenten practices for this year. Forgiveness is something I struggle with. I have not forgiven a family for how badly they treated me. This book is giving me a new perspective on how to forgive not only others, but myself.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Diane. It can be a struggle and yet I appreciate the courage involved in the struggle.

  9. I came to Lent this year feeling unprepared and unsure how to ‘enter in’. I had no plan for what I would give up – just a sense of wanting to journey with Jesus through this season, rather than make my focus a single sacrifice. I decided just to come in my brokenness, and then I read your words, “Within each person too, God loves everything that is gifted and beautiful, and everything that is broken and flawed” And I knew He had accepted me!

  10. My Irish Catholic family were long on grudges and short on forgiveness. As I got older I realized that forgiving is a gift we give ourselves. Carrying all of the anger and hurt just eats us up inside. I used to call it the “anger tumor”. I prayed for years for God to help me find my way to forgiving a family member. Once I finally did so, it was incredibly liberating. We healed our wounds and became very close until his death. I’m grateful.

  11. I am (and have been for 4 years) seeing a therapist for PTSD. My biological family has done unspeakable things! (I took care of both my parents when they refused to help in any way.) My husband passed two months ago…and family (his and mine) have again done things that make people drop their jaw (some of it at his grave). My goal in therapy is forgiveness…to set myself free of it all. I need this.

  12. We do sometimes tenaciously hold onto anger, resentment and bitterness towards others. sometimes those feelings are ‘justified’ in that others have harmed us in some way. Forgiveness requires an act of understanding and generosity on our part. Responding to hate and hurt with generosity leaves US in a better place. At times I find myself reliving old hurts and resentments, like running my tongue over an aching tooth. Much better to let these feelings go.

    Better still: trying to understand the motivations of the person who hurt me. Understanding can lead to compassion. This last lives with me better than does nursing a grudge!

    • I like the emphasis on generosity, which comes from a place of strength and knowing that we have and are “enough” with God.

      • yes, as you say, generosity comes from a place of strength. And then, that strength comes from God-in-us. I’m still working on being “enough” with God! My weakness, God’s strength.

  13. Forgiveness came in stages or levels for me. Minor things are easy to forgive. Grave things took years. On a superficial level – I forgave because I must. But it took years to feel it in my heart – a deeper level.

    I felt like I needed to understand the “why” first. But it stirs up anger and anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering – my suffering.

    Ask for God’s Grace – let go – trust in God and learn to live in the moment. God will take care of the rest.

    • The book has a section on anger. I’d have a look at that and see whether it resonates with your experience or not. Blessings to you in your explorations of this sometimes difficult process.

  14. Forgiveness is the path to peace and serenity. I like that it is explained as a journey of sorts in the book because I do believe things do not come easily but it must start with a desire to forgive. It is with God’s help that we are able to do such things I believe.

  15. Asking the question, “what do you (I) really want ?” Resonanted with me. I have several family relationships that have unrelated challenges. 1.Events generated from parents in my childhood that I never thought would bother me suddenly seem to elicit resentment and sorrow of loss 2. My adult son and I have a very strained relationship. 3. family members who have chosen to become atheists make me defensive and more distant. I tell myself that I forgive all of them, but on another level looking for validation and love. Realization that I’m simply feeling sorry for myself is not where I want to be. Asking Jesus to help me end the pity party.

    • That resonates with me. Our relationships with our family members mean a lot to us, and so of course they raise strong feelings. I like your idea of asking for God’s assistance as you recognize wanting to be in a new place with these feelings and relationships.

  16. I myself personally find it easier to forgive others but difficult to forgive myself. Whenever I do something “wrong” even the slightest mistake I keep Beating myself up for not being a good Christian. I do pray as you mentioned by placing myself in the presence of God and asking for his grace and even if I know that God has already forgiven me sometimes it’s still difficult to come to terms with forgiving oneself.

    • Self-forgiveness can be a challenge, can’t it? I know for me placing myself in God’s presence and seeing myself as God sees me can help, and it takes time to absorb and to know it.

  17. This really hits home! I am praying to make peace with family members that I have hurt years ago. I wished I could take all my actions back. I am praying the Lord will open up their hearts to give me another chance.

    • This situation can be so hard, since we can’t really control how others respond. I know when I have wished for a different response from others when I have acted poorly, that it is still a comfort to pray and to let God know how God loves me, as I am, and how much God appreciates whatever conversion of heart I have had. I will offer prayers for you and your family.

  18. Traumatic and difficult events change us. In that scenario, it’s not a question of ‘going back’ but journeying forward as a person who has changed. God is our constant companion, however I still ask for His companionship. Forgiveness is part of that asking.

    • Pam, This really rings true to me. Suffering and trauma change us. I take comfort in considering how Jesus also went through trauma and also resurrection, yet carried his healed wounds even after the Resurrection.

  19. Fogiveness from God began with my conception through the present minute of my life—a life of gifts from my God–Father, Son & Holy Spirit! Amen!

    • It is a gift, isn’t it? I often find myself grateful for different experiences of giving or receiving forgiveness even many years later.

  20. I’m Cathy. I’m a nurse by education currently working in Patient Blood Management when I’m not caring for my father-in-law with dementia. I lost my mom in 2019 after suffering with dementia and Parkinson’s disease for many years. This book is leading me to work on forgiving the members of my family who haven’t helped with the care of either of these two.

    • Cathy, it is always hard when family members appear to not be pulling their weight in the care of a loved one. Our family went through a similar experience with my husband’s parents needing care. We never know how much someone is really able to give in this way. Accepting people’s limitations can make getting along a lot easier. Not everyone can give in the same way as hard as that is when we need the help.

    • Cathy, it sounds like you are a “giver” by nature and have a lot on your plate. It sounds like a challenging situation. I know that when I have been overextended, whether in the present or in the past, it helps me to pray and to talk with God about what I need for myself, and to see how God responds.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Loretta Pehanich
Marina Berzins McCoy
Tim Muldoon