|Eduard Veith: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
I've heard people say, "I cannot forgive this person but I do not wish them in hell." What they may not understand is that this is the spiritual reality that underlies not forgiving others, the condemnation of the person, and this is why God warns us about it over and over in the Bible. The refusal to forgive is your personal "judgment" on the soul you withhold forgiveness from. When you don't forgive you are in essence saying that your judgment holds more water than God's. We align ourselves with the accuser instead of the God of mercy whom we claim to trust.
I am not being harsh in my assessment of unforgiveness. In the Bible, Jesus himself makes this very clear to us numerous times (see below). The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say regarding
"forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" :
2840 Now - and this is daunting - this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father's merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.
"Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible" - this statement says so much. Who are we harming by our refusal to forgive? The entire Body of Christ, that's who. Everyone. And mercy cannot penetrate our hearts if we refuse to forgive. Daunting, for sure. Thank you, Lord, for Confession, that beautiful Sacrament that lays bare our hearts so that we can be healed.
2841 This petition is so important that it is the only one to which the Lord returns and which he develops explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount. This crucial requirement of the covenant mystery is impossible for man. But "with God all things are possible."
. . . as we forgive those who trespass against us
2842 This "as" is not unique in Jesus' teaching: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"; "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful"; "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." It is impossible to keep the Lord's commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make "ours" the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then the unity of forgiveness becomes possible and we find ourselves "forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave" us.
2843 Thus the Lord's words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end, become a living reality. the parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord's teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." It is there, in fact, "in the depths of the heart," that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.
2844 Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies, transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to his Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God's compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. the martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another.
Reading this section on forgiveness from the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes me very grateful to be Catholic. What a treasury of wisdom we have at our fingertips!
Here are two links on unforgiveness that I also found helpful:
Unforgiveness is the cause...
Human Defenses Against Forgiveness