By Joseph R. Baumgarten Jr.
Special to The Witness
It was the spring of 1990 when I first realized that my marriage was coming to an end. My wife of three years had fallen in love with another man. I was hurt, yes, but even worse, I was angry. How could she do this, especially given the fact that we had a baby at home that was only a few months old? Fast forward to the winter of 2017. I am in my ex-wife’s house with a small gathering of people waiting for my daughter to arrive with her boyfriend who will be popping the question. My ex and I are excited, happy and proud of the daughter we have raised. Others in the room are amazed at the amicability we can show each other, despite what we’ve gone through. How did we get there? It was a long journey of anger to forgiveness to reconciliation.
This wasn’t the first time that I made that journey in my life; it certainly wasn’t the only time, or even the last time. I, like all of you, have made that journey many times. Sometimes it was easy and fast, but, more often, it was long, drawn-out and painful. Sadly, there have been times when I never started or started, but never finished. Looking around, I see others that are on their journey. It inspired me to map the way to forgiveness with the help and guidance my Catholic faith provides me in the hopes that it will help them on their path.
The journey begins with anger. When we think about anger, we think mostly negative things, after all, it is one of the seven deadly sins. It can’t be a good thing if God condemns it, right? Not to disagree with God, but maybe anger gets a bad rap. Maybe it’s not always a bad thing — consider pain. It’s not pleasant; nobody wants it; but where would we be without it? It helps us to know when our body is sick or broken, and the desire to avoid it motivates us to make smart and healthy choices.
Like pain, anger is useful to help us know when someone has “done us wrong.” When someone does us a true injustice, we are justified to feel angry. So where does it cross over to the deadly sin zone? Things turn south quickly when you can’t move on; when you clutch your anger so tightly that you can’t let go of it; when you wear it on your shirt like a scarlet letter A.
The first step away from anger is forgiveness. How do we forgive? Let’s start with love. St. Thomas Aquinas defines love simply — but perfectly — as “willing the good of the other.” Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, tells us that “forgiveness is anger tethered in love.” Doing a little bit of sentence algebra, we get “forgiveness is anger tethered in willing the good of the other.” Wow, isn’t that interesting? Forgiveness is anger tethered in willing the good of the other.
We might have done the hard work to forgive, but our work still isn’t done. What can demonstrate our desire for the good of the other? What demonstrates our hope to bring them back into “communion” with us? Reconciliation. While reconciliation with God happens instantly, it is important to understand that human reconciliation is a process, and a sometimes lengthy one at that. Unlike the forgiveness that must come from the one who was wronged, reconciliation depends on the true repentance of the one whom has done the wrong. While it is up to the offender to reach out for reconciliation, we, the offended, are obligated to let them know we are waiting for them with an outreached hand.
Moving from anger to forgiveness to reconciliation is a journey. Like all journeys, the way may be tedious, long and difficult. You may take wrong turns, get lost, and need to find your way back to the trail again. It might all be done in a day. It might take you your entire life.
Like all journeys, it starts with a single first step. Turn to Jesus, Mary and your Catholic faith to give you the courage and motivation to take it. I have found this to be an invaluable help in my frequent journeys along the path. Like Robert Frost says, “and that has made all the difference.”
For more help in making your own journey from anger to forgiveness to reconciliation, please see my full paper here: http://bit.ly/2w1tyqN.
Baumgarten is a lifelong Catholic and a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Ames. He has spoken on various Catholic topics at events such as Man-Up and Christian Experience Weekend. He travels the United States doing software implementation and training.