The E-catechism: September 1998
Each month the team working on this catechism presents you with two texts, and we hope that with your help and cooperation they will improve. Any suggestions you may have would be most welcome, as would ideas on subject matter.
We look forward to hearing from you.
But can one forgive when crimes are committed against humanity, when children are raped and assassinated, when blind terrorism strikes down innocent victims ?
Remembering the words that Jesus spoke to the executioners who were crucifying him, one wants to say that those who do such things do not know what they are doing. And Jesus went on to say : "Father, forgive them".
Forgiveness is a pitiless universe! One could savour the expression as a pleasing play on words or perhaps see in it nothing more than a brutal exploitation of paradoxical feelings. But the reality of forgiveness lies precisely in the fact of its being non-negotiable. Herein lies its power and its grandeur, and also the difficulty of bringing it about. For there can be no half-measures, no false complacency where forgiveness is concerned. Forgiveness can only be cashed; it is real only when one does not allow some tiny credit balance of rancour to lie smouldering in a far corner of one's brain or one's heart.
Forgiveness is a huge and solid block. A block of granite, which cannot be carved into thicker or thinner slices depending on whether the joint is tough or tender. One forgives without holding anything back, with no reservations and no nuances.
And it is all the more difficult to embark on the road to forgiveness because it is a road that excludes all amnesia. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. First of all because the offences we forgive are the ones that we cannot efface from our memory; but also because there are some offences which are so serious that it is necessary to remember them in order to prevent them from recurring. In that sense we have a duty to remember.
Forgiveness cannot be injustice; it is a summons to go beyond the injury.
Those who ask for forgiveness have already themselves travelled an immense distance. They have recognized their fault without seeking to make excuses for it, and have accepted the wound that this recognition has inflicted on them. Now they are ready to take a further step. They want to build a bridge between themselves and their "victim". Between the past and the future.
Those who grant forgiveness have also overcome the obstacles that had at first been so conspicuously placed in their way. They have mastered their anger, their rancour, their spirit of revenge, in order to find another way : the way of understanding and generosity. They can then venture to offer their trust to those who had betrayed it, and so rehabilitate them by proving to them that they are better than their fault.
In this sense, forgiveness is a formidable exchange. It is also and above all a free gift of the future. It is hope. It is life.
In spite of these separations and manifold rearrangements, the family continues to be a value in society. The crisis places at risk a traditional type of family which dates from the 19th century and which constitutes our point of reference. Such a family is characterized in particular by the strict division of labour between the man and the woman, making the woman dependent on her husband. One cannot make this into an absolute ideal. What we are seeing today is not the end of the family, but the coming into being of a plurality of families. "People continue to believe that the family constitutes one of the ideal means of achieving happiness and fulfilment" . The home continues to be the warm place of intimacy, unconditional love, renewal and fulfilment. All the new types of family settings tend, with more or less success, to realize this ideal. The crisis in the family is not due to a rejection of all values, but rather to the emergence of new and important values such as the strong demand for autonomy and liberty. Not only has each person, whether man or woman, been fashioned by his or her own particular social and family links; each one also aspires to create an autonomous self. Each one is seeking freedom of action within a context of social constraints. This is a value which must not only be respected but also promoted as being a true human value. The advances in medicine, with the power they give over life and, to a certain extent, over death, have made it possible in some cases to escape from the inevitability of fate and to live more responsibly. There has been a qualitative change in the way people behave. The movement of peoples around the world, and the use we make of time, which has both speeded up and been prolonged, imply personal trajectories that have not been determined in advance and that offer many more opportunities for much greater variety in people's lives, or parts of their lives. At the same time, the values of adaptation and creativity are being developed.
A couple's yearning for happiness and self-fulfillment in their union is not to be decried in the name of a certain realism; it needs, rather, to be deepened. A capacity for love is one of humanity's precious gifts.
Then, too, women's desire for greater equality in the marriage relationship and for a fairer distribution of the household tasks, and the wish some men have to escape from their social role outside the home are conducive to the kind of partnership needed to construct the families of today. These aspirations also put in question the all powerful economic value of work to the exclusion of relational values. One can only respect the emergence of these ideas and work to develop them. This respect goes hand in hand with a willingness to trust human beings in their ability to discover new solutions and to manage their lives responsibly.
Civil and religious institutions are perceived as being confining and obstructive. If they really wish to place themselves at the service of the necessary stability of couples and of families, both these institutions must integrate and develop a conception of life as an on-going and evolutionary story.