UNITY IN THE SCHOOL OF CHARITY

Dom Amandus de Tegelen

I am flattered by the Father General's invitation to say a few words to you, this is already a sign that I am lacking in humility. It seems to me, however, that this invitation rightly implies it: without a notable lack of humility, no-one could accept a limit of 10 to 15 minutes for so vast a subject as unity, even if it is reduced to: forgiveness and reconciliation, integration of differences and healing of wounds. Fortunately, I still have a little good sense which tells me to curtail the subject relentlessly.

In the first place, I want to speak to you more specifically of the readiness to forgive. One can never sufficiently stress the importance and the place of this disposition in the spiritual structure.

And, in the second place, how and why it can come about that differences can be destructive of development and unity.

Only readiness to forgive can open the path of healing and of unity.

The Gospel, the preaching of Jesus, gives an outstanding place to forgiveness, but not so much to asking pardon, to confessing one's faults, to making satisfaction, as to granting pardon, to being ready to forgive.

Readiness to forgive is the theme of the dialogue between Peter and the Lord. How many times should we forgive? The response, despite the oriental style, is clear: times without limit. In the prayer "Our Father who art in heaven" the Lord speaks more in our style. After "Give us this day our daily bread" he adds immediately: "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Give us today, forgive us today - each day, always - as we too forgive, - each day, always.

On this theme of forgiveness, of readiness to forgive, Jesus spoke many parables:

There is the parable of the master who forgives and the servant who is pitiless, the parable of the prodigal son, which is rather that of the father who forgives, of the son who receives the superabundant forgiveness, and the son who does not wish to enter into this feast of forgiveness.

There is the story of the sinful woman who washed the feet of the Lord: she gave much, and because of this, much is forgiven her. It is a lesson for the host. And, finally, the story of the adulterous woman.

Is there any other subject that has been treated so fully?

This should not surprise us. Fundamentally, the Holy Bible, the history of salvation, is a history of forgiveness. From the very beginning, God has always been ready to forgive. Forgiveness marks the difference between the history of the angels and the history of mankind. Thus redemption by the Christ is therefore based on forgiveness. God loved us, said S. Paul, when we were still sinners. To love is to be ready to forgive and to want to forgive, to take the first step towards perfect and complete forgiveness on the one side and on the other. We should not be surprised that Jesus paid such attention to forgiveness, to the importance of the role of forgiveness in Salvation.

Jesus does not recount edifying stories, but the reality of his own life. One could even say: his own personal defence. He eats with sinners, and because of this he is criticised.

Jesus was familiar with interior resistance to contrition, confession, conversion; but he was also familiar with interior resistance to forgiveness.

Before speaking of this interior resistance, I would like to say something about differences.

The differences in nature, in God's creation, the diversity, the variety are perhaps the most remarkable element of God's work. This richness gives praise to the Creator.

On the level of mankind, there are also differences of all sorts: of gender, of temperament, of character, of culture, of intelligence quotient, of ability... etc., etc.

On the plane of religion and spirituality, a man can place more emphasis on experience than on revelation: be more impressed by the vertical or by the horizontal, more attached to dogma or more attracted to devotion; he can be powerfully influenced by canon law, liturgy, eschatology, history, the social context, by interest in visions, apparitions and prophecies, or by the phenomenology of sacramental signs. These differences can be richnesses for a community, deepening the unity of a community.

I do not wish to treat here of these differences from the point of view of the persons themselves, nor from the point of view of the manner in which their preferences manifest themselves, be it aggressive or anxious, emotional or rational, welcoming and engaging or provocative and disapproving, nor from the point of view of the strength, the motivation, the craftiness, the ill-timed zeal of these persons. Nor do I wish to speak of these diverse conceptions in themselves.

What I have in view, my only objective, is the other who clashes with these differences, who won't let himself be enriched by them, who won't accept differences, points of view other than his own. With him, we return to our theme: the importance of readiness to forgive.

The Lord spoke of unforgivable sins: referring to sins against the Holy Spirit.

There is at least one more unforgivable sin: the sin against justice of those who consider themselves to be just and - obviously - are not. We are speaking here of the sickness of the "just ones" who declare unpardonable every offence, every criticism, every threat to their alleged justice.

Who is immune from the germs of this disease?

There is in us a source that gives us a certitude of our own justice. Interiorly, we are certain that God sees things as we see them; we see creation, redemption, religion, sanctity, all the things of God with the eyes of God. We bitterly defend our theological territory. Whoever threatens, shakes our conviction, commits an unpardonable sin against us.

In the catalogue of differences there are plenty of possibilities to threaten and shake this false conviction of our spiritual equilibrium, our stability in virtue, our maturity and the perfection of our theological edifice, to say nothing of our orthodoxy!

The "sickness of the just" is a great danger to unity. This danger, in the subjective order, is graver than objective differences of any kind.

This sickness creates a situation which is bad for the community, but much worse for the person who cannot or will not forgive this sin against himself. On the one hand - it has to be said - each one needs certitude, self respect, but the sickness of the just draws this certitude from a hidden source, difficult to discover and to unmask; and on the other hand, every path, every possibility of change is blocked.

In this situation the only way out, the only direct remedy is forgiveness, that is, to forgive the unforgivable sin. Perhaps reluctantly at first, not knowing that this is the road of humility, the hesitant opening of the long road of humility.

Forgiveness is the opening, the key, in psychology as in theology; truly, forgiveness of the unforgivable sin is the key to salvation.

Appeasing one's hunger each day, always, with the bread that is available at the moment, one must at the same time forgive each day, always, the unforgivable sin against oneself. This is beneficial for oneself, for one's healing, for the salvation of the community.

In forgiving like this, one follows in the footsteps of God.