Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

On Forgiveness And Finding A Lost Heart

Published March 19, 2009

Published: March 19, 2009

A friend of mine once lost his wallet. We looked all through the house to no avail. We looked outside the house, went to a store where we had been the night before, stopped by a restaurant where we had dined the day before. We checked the car, the driveway, then went back and checked every room again in the house. I had grown weary of the search and leaned against the wall near the front door. I stretched my arm to rest it on a nearby shelf. My arm gently landed on a hat. My arm felt a lump. My arm found the wallet. It was there all along, and my friend’s relief was great. As an aside, perhaps for another story, the only reward I received was being able to enjoy what remained of the day.

What amazed me is how fine-tuned the human memory becomes when challenged by loss. We looked at places that had a vague sense of possibility in terms of harboring the wallet. It was astounding that every place we looked was a sure place that we had been the day before but had been retrieved with uncanny detail only because it held the promise of possible redemption in the return of the wallet.

Resentment can be understood as another kind of loss. Human hurt, especially when it comes our way from one we love, can cause the human and grieved—yes, enraged—memory to launch a retrieval system that is amazing in its capacity to marshal the weaponry of past grievances.

Incidents that may have been long ago and long forgotten are unearthed from the past and are armed and made ready for immediate firing. The accuracy of the launch can be deadly in its effect for we seem to have a remarkable capacity for knowing just how to score a direct hit.

If honing in on the weakness of another were a virtue, we would all be saints.

Lent offers a time of recovery. Not of wallets, or past woes, but of ourselves and those we love, those we work with, those with whom we worship, play, live, abide. Forgiveness is a prime commandment of Jesus. It is something about which he is quite insistent. He asks that we forgive not once, but seventy times seven—a symbolic number that transcends perfection. It is his way of telling us to not look back, to close those arsenals of past grievances, to disarm our memories and instead arm our hearts with forgiveness.

He is asking us to let go of the past and attend to the more pressing need of the present—to forgive. In other words, it is that important to Jesus that we learn the necessity of forgiveness by imitating him and doing it.

Every day the media carries tragic stories of lives ruined or done away with because of the refusal to forgive. It seems that if we do not learn the healing power of forgiveness we resort to behavior that ranges from petty vengeance to the horror of murder.

Forgiveness offers life.

The lack of it opens the way to death.

My friend’s wallet was always within arm’s reach—and we looked far and wide for it when all the while it was really never lost. It remained where my friend had placed it. He lost his bearings but never the wallet. It was there, somehow waiting to be discovered.

I think the same is true of what is of most value in the human person.

A lot of human misery comes our way when we lose our bearings and look for the wrong things to get back on track. Anger, retribution, vindictiveness and the like may seem like effective ways to settle losses. Sadly, when put to use, these things make us all losers. We lose heart. We lose each other. We lose the sense of what Jesus asks of us.

The human heart is always within easy reach, beating away right between your arms. You can seem to lose it with the need to exact a vengeance for some perceived hurt and you may go far to restore what was lost, and lose yourself in the process. Lent is an invitation to let it go, rest awhile and say a prayer for your seemingly lost heart. You will find it there, right where you left it, and when you take it to yourself again and forgive, the reward is knowing that you can better give it away, in loving someone you were ready to hurt.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at