Sacraments of Reconciliation
Part 8 Exploring Forgiveness

Chapter r81 Interpersonal Forgiveness

Preliminary Questions



Introducing Forgiveness

Marietta Jaeger's Story

Ideal of Forgiveness


Morality of Forgiveness

Interpersonal Forgiveness

Anger and Healing

The Parable of the Two Monks

Forgiveness in Marriage

Forgivers and the Unforgivable

Forgiveness and Crime

Roman Justice

Forgiveness and Community

Forgiveness in Politics

Challenge of Forgiveness

The Two Wolves

Facets of Human Forgiveness / Divine Forgiveness

Facets of Human Reconciliation / Divine Reconciliation

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

1.  "An eye for an eye..." What does this mean?

4.  What is the difference between justice and vengeance?

5.  If forgiveness is impossible without punishment of the offender, what punishment does [God] impose on the "Prodigal Son" in Luke or the "woman caught in the act of adultery" in John 9?

6.  When is "penance" for the sake of punishment and when is it for rehabilitation?

7.  Why do we put people in prison?

8.  Is it ever impossible to forgive? Is it ever unwise (or unjust) to forgive?

9.  Bumper Sticker:  "Christians aren't perfect; they are forgiven."

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page


During the past 50 years a new science has emerged, the study of forgiveness. These studies examine the process and psychological dynamics involved in interpersonal forgiveness and the implications for corporate and communal forgiveness. The revision of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will not be fully effective until sufficient account is taken of these human realities. Currently these studies have had little influence on our celebration of the sacrament.

Wiesenthal, Simon.  The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.  Revised and Expanded Edition, New York:  Schocken Books, 1998.  ISBN 0-8052-1060-1.  Paper.  $13.00.

Arnold, Johann Christoph. Why Forgive? Plough, 1999. 176 pp. Hardcover $17.00

Enright, Robert D. and North, Joanna (Editors). Exploring Forgiveness. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. ISBN 0-299-15774-1. (=Enright)

Haughton, Rosemary Luling. Images For Change. Paulist Press, 1997. 176pp. ISBN 0-8091-0490-3. Hardcover $19.95

McCullough, Michael, Pargament, Kenneth and Thoresen, Carl (Editors). Forgiveness. The Guilford Press, 2000. ISBN1-57230-510-X. 317 pp.

Michael McCullough.  Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct.  Jossey-Bass, 2008.  ISBN: 078797756X  (Recommended by Krista Tippett on "Speaking of Faith"  November 7, 2008)

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page


Forgive  (verb)  ORIGIN:  Old English  1. stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offense or mistake. 2. excuse (an offense, flaw, or mistake).    (Oxford Dictionary, University Press)

Forgiveness -- it seems that "forgiveness" is used in two different senses:  one:  something that happens within the wrong doer, and two something that happens within us (whether the injured party or just "observers" as Harold Kushner's says:  "Forgiveness is not something we do for another person ... Forgiving happens inside us."

Atonement  (noun) ORIGIN at-one   1.  amends for a wrong or injury. 2.  (the Atonement) Christian Theology the reconciliation of God and mankind through the death of Jesus Christ.    (Oxford Dictionary, University Press)

Penance  (noun) ORIGIN Old French, from Latin paenitentia 'repentance'   1.  voluntary self-punishment expressing repentance for wrongdoing.   2.  a sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution.    3. a religious duty imposed as part of this sacrament.    (Oxford Dictionary, University Press)

Reconcile  (verb)  ORIGIN Latin reconciliare, from conciliare 'bring together.'  1.  restore friendly relations between. 2.  make or show to be compatible.   3. (reconcile to) make (someone) accept (a disagreeable thing).  (Oxford Dictionary, University Press)

Restorative Justice    "Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior.  It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.  Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:  1) identifying and taking steps to repair harm; 2) involving all  stakeholders, and 3) transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 1.  Introducing Forgiveness
Robert D. Enright and Joanna North


Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 2.  The Power and Reality of Forgiveness: Forgiving the Murderer of One's Child by Marietta Jaeger

As we study interpersonal forgiveness it is important that we do not jump too quickly into religion. Forgiveness is an important skill for every human being, whether God exists or not. Faith, it is true, adds a further dimension and motivation to this skill, and (I believe) Jesus adds even another dimension. But imagine for a moment that Marietta is an atheist. Should she not have come to the same conclusion simply as a human being? Would not the act "not forgiving" done the same harm to her and her family? -- I believe that this distinction is important because in our ministry as agents of reconciliation we will frequently be called upon to administer to people with no faith or little faith. We cannot tell them: "Go find Jesus and be converted, and then come back and we'll talk about forgiveness."


Forgiveness is basically an act of the will, a decision. As Marietta says (North, p 11), "I made a decision to forgive this person." Forgiveness is a decision, but a complex decision. For example if I "decide" to play the piano, simply deciding doesn't make it so. The decision involves skill, forgiveness is an art. And as with any skill/art we need to practice, and we need to begin with the easy pieces.


Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 3.  The "Ideal" of Forgiveness: A Philosopher's Exploration 
Joanna North

In "Letting Go: Five Steps to Forgiveness" by Fr. Frank Desiderio, C.S.P. (12 25-Minute Topics on 5 CD Set,, the author gives five "steps" for learning/practicing forgiveness: L.E.T.G.O. The "L" stands for "Look clearly at the hurt..." This is a difficult step and is often impossible when the injury is so close that its emotional "glare" prevents us from looking at it clearly. -- As the course progresses, I hope that we each "work out" for ourselves some understanding of just how the "process" of forgiveness happens.

North's Nine Stages of Forgiveness

This table is taken from Joanna North's essay "The 'Ideal' of Forgiveness:  A Philosopher's Exploration," in Enright, Robert D. and North, Joanna (Editors). Exploring Forgiveness. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. ISBN 0-299-15774-1, pp 15-45,  The table is on page 30.  It is reprinted here under the "fair use" rule, presuming that those using the table have already purchased the textbook.

Injured Party's (IP) Perspective

Wrongdoer's (WD) Perspective

1.  IP experiences negative feelings.  Gradually recognizes and becomes aware of feelings experienced.1.  WD recognizes that he has done wrong.  Also recognizes IP's right to punish.
2.  IP demands justice/punishment/retribution.  Perhaps feels some lessening of negative emotions.2.  WD experiences "other oriented" regret or remorse for the wrong.
3.  IP willing to forgive, primarily to relieve his own feelings.3.  WD resolves to reform.  Undergoes a process of reframing in regard to himself.
4.  IP looks looks beyond himself to wrongdoer (WD).  Recognizes some form of impersonal claim on his forgiveness.4.  WD recognizes some measure of self-improvement.  Process of self-forgiveness under way.
5.  IP recognizes a personal claim on his forgiveness.5.  WD desires IP's forgiveness.
6.  IP experiences desire to forgive.  Feels more positive emotions toward WD.6.  WD asks IP for forgiveness.
7.  IP decides to forgive WD.  Undergoes a process of "reframing" which helps IP to separate WD from his wrong.7.  Some measure of self-forgiveness achieved.  WD now awaits IP's response.
8.  IP offers or displays some public form of expression of his forgiveness.8.  WD accepts IP's offer of forgiveness.  Self-esteem restored, at least partially.
9.  IP's negative feelings largely or wholly overcome.  Reconciliation now achieved or possible.9.  WD has overcome his negative feelings of self-hatred or disapproval.  Reconciliation now achieved or possible.


The "Reframing Metaphor"    

Webster's Dictionary defines metaphor as a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another. "My love is like a red, red rose."   The "reframing metaphor" is a figure of speech in which one thing (looking at an offender in a new way) is like another thing (looking at a picture which has been placed in a different picture frame).

For example:  You have a framed picture or photo hanging on the wall.   You see it there every day and you become accustomed to it and how it looks.  Then one day you, or someone, takes the picture out of the frame, and puts it in a new, different frame, and re-hangs it.  The next time you look at the picture -- while the picture is the same as it has always been -- now, in the new frame, the picture appears "different"; you see it in a new way.

"Reframing" in the process of forgiveness is "like" that. The "hurt" doesn't change; the offender is still the offender, but now we see the hurt and/or the offender in a new way, in a new "frame", in a new context.

For example, today (January 17, 2011) on the radio I heard a fine example of "reframing".  On January 8, 2011, a gunman in Tucson Arizona killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). A picture of the alleged gunman soon appeared on the cover of Time magazine and in many news reports, with his head shaved, smiling like a madman, with stories accompanying the picture speaking of the heated rhetoric of our current political debate which puts public figures in the cross-hairs of an assassin's gun. This frames the situation in a particular way. Today on the radio I heard the mother of a boy who is bipolar and schizophrenic explain how her boy behaves when he is off his medication. To think of the alleged assassin as someone who is ill frames the situation differently. And when the picture is framed in this way, it elicits a different response.

Note: Reframing is only one element in the very complex process of forgiveness.

In ministry we are often called upon to help people reframe.

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 4.  The Metaphysics and Morality of Forgiveness
Keith E. Yandell



Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 5.  The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness
Robert D Enright, Suzanne Freedman, and Julio Rique

Psychological Variables Involved When We Forgive

Table 5.1 Psychological variables that may be involved when we forgive (Enright page 53)

Uncovering Phase

1. Examination of psychological defenses (Kiel 1986).
2. Confrontation of anger; the point is to release, not harbor, the anger (Trainer 1981).
3. Admittance of shame, when this is appropriate (Patton 1985).
4. Awareness of cathexis (Droll 1984).
5. Awareness of cognitive rehearsal of the offense (Droll 1984).
6. Insight that the injured party may be comparing self with the injurer (Kiel 1986).
7. Realization that oneself may be permanently and adversely changed by the injury (Close 1970).
8. In sight into a possibly altered "just world" view (Flanagan 1987).

Decision Phase
9. A change of heart, conversion, new insights that old resolution strategies are not working.
10. Willingness to consider forgiveness as an option.
11. Commitment to forgive the offender (Cunningham 1985).

Work Phase
12. Reframing, through role taking, who the wrongdoer is by viewing him or her in contest..
13. Empathy toward the offender (Cunningham 1985).
14. Awareness of compassion, as it emerges, toward the offender (Droll 1984).
15. Acceptance and absorption of the pain (Bergin 1988).

Deepening Phase
16. Finding meaning for self and others in the suffering and in the forgiveness process.
17. Realization that self has needed others' forgiveness in the past.
18. Insight that one is not alone (universality, support).
19. Realization that self may have a new purpose in life because of the injury.
20. Awareness of decreased negative affect and, perhaps, increased positive affect, if this begins to emerge, toward the injurer; awareness of internal, emotional release (Smedes 1984).

Note: This table is an extension of Enright and the Human Development Study Group (1991). The references shown here at the end of each unit are prototypical examples or discussions of that unit.

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 6.  Anger and The Healing Power of Forgiveness: A Psychiatrist's View
Richard Fitzgibbons

The Parable of the Two Monks

Once upon a time, long ago, in a land far away, there were two Buddhist monks who were on their quest, begging for food for their monastery.  They had been begging for several days and now they were returning to their monastery, carrying with them the provisions they had begged.  It was the rainy season in that land, and on their journey home the two monks came to what had been a stream when they left for the quest.  But now, after many days of rain, the stream had grown to a swift flowing river.

As they prepared to cross the stream-now-a-river, they saw a young woman standing by the river bank; she looked terribly worried and distressed.  She said to the monks:   "Brothers, I need to get home to my family.  I do not know how to swim.  I am afraid that if I try to cross this river alone, I will be swept away and drown! Can you help me get across?"

One monk, the younger of the two, said, "Yes."  The young monk entrusted the packages he had been carrying to his brother monk; he lifted the woman upon his shoulders and entered the river. The water was up to his neck; but he struggled across; he put the woman down on the other side of the river; and then he came back for his packages.  Two monks crossed the river together and continued walking on the journey toward their monastery. But now --- formerly they had been conversing fraternally together --- they walked in a cold silence.

Finally, after walking several miles, the older monk said to the younger:   "My brother, we need to talk."

"What is it, my brother?"  replied the younger monk.

"My brother, you know that when we are on the quest, we are not allowed to talk to women.  And you spoke with that woman!   You not only spoke to her, you touched her!    You not only touched her, you picked her up and put her on your shoulders!  How could you do such a thing?"

The younger monk replied: "My brother, yes, I spoke to that woman. Yes, I touched her. Yes, I put her on my shoulders and carried her across the river.   But I put her down on back at the river bank.   It is you who have been carrying her for these last several miles!" 


We usually think of forgiveness as something the "offended party" gives to the "one offending."  But forgiveness benefits, first of all, the offended party! 


Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page


Chapter 7.  The Process of Forgiveness in Marriage and the Family
Paul W. Coleman

Five Phases of Forgiveness

Taken from Paul W. Coleman, "The Process of Forgiveness in Marriage and the Family" pp 75-94 of Robert D. Enright and Joanna North (Editors) Exploring Forgiveness, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998. ISBN 0-29915774-1. [Paul W. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in Wappinger Falls, NY.]

Phase 1:  Identifying the Hurt
This is not a simple task. All hurt comes from loss
Loss of love or lovability
Loss of self-esteem
Loss of control or influence
Someone who experiences a traumatic loss, injury or betrayal discovers that many of the beliefs about life once held dear no longer have meaning.
Refusing forgiveness is a way to regain the perception of control. This is not a good long-term strategy.

To identify the hurt:
Visualize the person who harmed you as sitting in front of you.
Say the phrase "I forgiven you."
Chances are this will be followed by a thought such as "But what you did was unfair."
Repeat step ii.

Pay close attention to the thoughts and feelings that immediately follow. These are strong clues about what the nature of your hurt is. 

Phase 2:  Confronting
By letter (which may not necessarily be mailed) or face to face.  /  Not confronting minimizes the hurt.

Phase 3:  The Dialogue to Understanding
The meanest form of suffering is suffering with no meaning.
Making sense of suffering is important in the healing process.
If we can learn why the other person harmed us it can be easier to forgive.

Phase 4:  Forgiving

Phase 5:  Letting Go


Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 8.  Forgivers and the Unforgivable
Beverly Flanigan

The authors suggest that there are three basic assumptions that comprise an "assumptive set" namely that, 1) "the world is benevolent, 2) the world is meaningful, and 3) the self is worthy" (99)

Is Hitler in heaven?  What "does it take" to end up in hell

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 9.  Forgiveness and Crime:
The Possibilities of Restorative Justice
Walter J. Dickey

Why do we put people in prison? (Joanna North, 15)

1. To punishment: a socially sanctioned form of public retribution to satisfy justice.

2. To deter others from similar crimes.

3. To protect the public from the criminal.

4. To rehabilitate the offender.

Why does God put people in Hell? To punish them? To deter others? To protect the public? To rehabilitate the deceased?


Our sense of "justice"

Some years ago I was studying in India with a Eastern Catholic theologian of the Syro-Malankara Rite, Rev. Dr. Jacob Thekeparampil. One day when he was particularly exasperated at my being "hopelessly Roman Catholic" he explained to me that the message of Jesus, originating in Palestine, was carried to Syria and then directly to the East. St. Thomas the Apostle went immediately to India following Pentecost. The gospel Thomas preached in India was the gospel of Jesus.  We "Romans" on the other hand and in contrast, received the message as it went from Palestine up through Greece -- and was mixed with a hearty helping of Greek philosophy -- and then continued on to Rome and on that journey was severely diluted with Roman legalism. (One of the best theories as to the origin of the priestly stole is that it was the sign that the person wearing it was a lawyer; and as so many lawyers became priests it became a sign of priesthood, but I digress.) Anyway, my friend went on to explain that as a consequence of this history his faith was that of Jesus. Whereas my faith (Roman Rite faith) is a mixture of 3/10 Greek philosophy, 6/10 Roman legalism and 1/10 the gospel of Jesus.

This may seem to us Romans as being a bit prejudiced (!) but it explains why we are so taken with righteousness and justice. Perhaps this explains why some passages of the Gospel are so hard to preach. For example the parable of the laborers in the vineyard -- some work all day and some work only a little bit and they all receive the same pay. Where's the justice in that? How can this describe a righteous God? Where is the justice of the father of the two sons who lets the one son waste half his property and then gives him a party when he comes home? Where is the justice in that?

These are questions that are only answered "under the iceberg" in the subconscious.

Perhaps this also explains why in the Roman Church we are more concerned with issues of justice in explaining what happens to us after death, whereas in the East, Christians are more concerned with Theosis.  [The theology of Theosis has recently begun to be reintroduced into mainstream Roman theology but I find many Catholics who are not yet familiar with this concept.]

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Chapter 10.  Forgiveness in the Community: Views from an Episcopal Priest and Former Chief of Police
The Reverend David Couper

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page


Chapter 11.  Is There Forgiveness in Politics? Germany, Vietnam and America
Donald W. Shriver, Jr.


Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page


Chapter 12.  Expanding Our Options: The Challenge of Forgiveness
Joseph W. Elder

The Two Wolves:

An old Cherokee Grandfather said to his grandson who came to him with deep anger at a friend who had done him an injustice......  "Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." 

He continued...... "It is as if there are two wolves inside me.  One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. He saves all his energy for the right fight. But the other wolf, ahhh! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger changes nothing. Yes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"

The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."  [Author Unknown]

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Facets of Human Forgiveness / Divine Forgiveness

FacetHuman ForgivenessDivine Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a decisionHuman forgiveness is a decision, an act of the will. We decide whether we are going to forgive or withhold forgiveness.God has already, once and for all, made that decision. Our sins are forgiven.
Forgiveness is an artHuman beings have to learn how to forgive. We have to start with the easy pieces and work up to the big hurts.The Divine Artist can "play all the pieces" and doesn't need to "practice". 
Forgiveness is a processHuman forgiveness is a process. Depending on the severity of the hurt and the abilities of the offended party, forgiveness may take weeks or even years.God lives in eternity, in the eternal NOW. All our sins have (already) been forgiven.
Reframing Human forgiveness is often difficult because we do not know all the circumstances of the offence and motives of the offender. We have limited insight into why the person did what they did. Often when we get more insight into the offender and are able to "reframe" the act, forgiveness becomes possible.God sees everything.  God knows everything. God never needs to "reframe."
The Ability / Capacity to ForgiveSometimes human beings have been so injured by the offense that they are (at least currently) incapable of forgiving the offender.  There are situations where a person can come to forgiveness only with the help of a skilled counselor or spiritual director.God is always able and ready to forgive.  God is never so "injured" by an offense that that God is unable to forgive.

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Facets of Human Reconciliation / Divine Reconciliation

Human Reconciliation

Person #1 harms Person #2.

Person #2 (the offended party) may or may not engage in the "task" (work/process) of forgiveness.

Person #1 (the offender) may or may not engage in the task of recognizing that his/her actions caused harm and take steps to "fix it" (apology, pay money to fix the damage, etc depending on the offence) with Person #2.

If Person #2 (offended party) is successful in their task (forgiving), and Person #1 is successful in their task (restoration), then reconciliation is possible.

Divine Reconciliation

Because any offence against another person is an offense against God (God's command:  "Love your neighbor as yourself"), when Person #1 harms Person #2, Person #1 offends God.

God is always ready to forgive (indeed, has already forgiven).

Person #2 (the offended party) may or may not engage in the "task" (work/process) of forgiveness.

Person #1 (the offender) may or may not engage in the task of recognizing that his/her actions caused harm and take steps to "fix it" (apology, pay money to fix the damage, etc depending on the offence) with Person #2.

If Person #1 (the offender) is successful at their task (restoration), Divine Reconciliation is achieved whether or not Person #2 (offended party) chooses to forgive and/or is successful in their task.

How this reconciliation is caused and celebrated by the Sacrament of Reconciliation is discussed in Chapter r70 Overview

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

To Think About

How can you use this information to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation more fruitfully? 

Why is it that the Roman Catholic Church realizes that children and adolescents simply do not have enough knowledge or willpower (free will) to do anything that is so bad that would cut them off from communion with the Church (Canon 1323 #1)  and yet some Catholics feel that God is much more strict than we human beings are, for God is ready to "excommunicate" [send to Hell] children and adolescents when they do something "really bad" [mortal sin]?

Why is it that the Roman Catholic Church realizes that capital punishment is simply not an option in this day and age and yet some Catholics are willing to believe that God sentences people to capital punishment (Hell)?  Are human beings compassionate than God? 

Return to   Top of This Page   Reconciliation Index   Home Page

Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 02/20/11.  Your comments on this site are welcome at