The second phase of the healing process, as describe by Father Michael, is forgiveness.
Most people find this costly, painful and very difficult.
But we speak as if it is cheap and simple.
In fact it is often only the power of God that can do this, he said.
Forgiveness: which can mean being forgiven and it can mean forgiving someone else, is like a journey.
There are several parts to it, and together they make a ‘package’.
The first part Michael called a journey with myself. I have to ask for forgiveness.
This is what is so crucial about that thing we called ‘acknowledgement’. I have to come to the point, with myself, when I am able to say that something is wrong here, something has been done, that is wrong.
Maybe this is the hardest part: but then comes the next really hard step.
The second part of the journey of forgiveness is a journey with ‘the other’, that person who has been wronged.
This is where acknowledgement takes on its creative and redemptive power.
It means more than saying ‘sorry’. It requires a constructive and generous response to what has been acknowledged.
Father Lapsley then spoke very personally about the place of restorative justice. He advocateds restorative justice, rather than punishment.
If people have been deprived of livelihood, then restoration should be made.
But often it cannot: restitution can only occur when someone is still alive.
But also there has to be a person to whom you can say: ‘Come and sit with me. Tell me why you did this? Share with me the journey of restoration.’
For Father Michael, there has been no such person. He dreams of the day when he will meet the person who sent the bomb, a day when he can be reconciled with that person. But for now, he too must wait.
(This part of his story and sermon is deeply resonant with some ideas in Paul Fiddes’ book, Past event and present salvation. There Fiddes also speaks of forgiveness as a journey, himslef following the classic work and insights of H R Mackintosh, in The Christian Experience of Forgiveness. Fiddes speaks of the journey of discovery – like Michael’s journey with myself, coming to awareness; and then he speaks of a journey of endurance. The one who has wronged someone must endure the results of that wrong, including perhaps the hostility of that person. But also the person wronged, hurt and harmed, may have to endure the situation of not knowing their oppressor or not being able to relate to them. This too is a hard journey of endurance, which may never fully be resolved.]
So what then can bring the journey of forgiveness to its resolution? It is the one who is the perpetrator who is responsible for initiating journey of forgiveness; but often it is the victim who in fact does this. They say that they just need to be free. They want their life back. In fact there is a healthy selfishness, that wants to be free of the poisonous memories.
In concluding, Father Michael said that there is always the possibility of forgiveness. This is the hope and the faith of the Christian in all circumstances. This message has deep integrity, when spoken by a man such as he.
He also said that what he had described are steps ona journey: not a fixed formula, but an invitation to redemptive memory.
Forgive and forget: or is it, in a sense more like Paul Tillich’s idea that fogiveness is a special way of remembering, not forgetting?
In Australia, we seem not to have begun to remember. We are more and more resolute in our desire to ignore the sorry past of our treatment of the indigenur peoples, and also of so many others who came to these shore in search of a new home. Yes we welcomed many, so long as they conformed, abandoned their identity and culture, and became what they were not.
And now we lock up those who come in search of asylum. We call them ‘illegals’, a designation which is itself contrary to law.
And we are so consistently abandoning human rights, especially for peopel who are vulnerable, through our own succumbing to the politics of fear.
One day we will remember. We will come to our senses. Then we will have to listen to Father Michael and his wisdom. We will have to begin the journey of acknowledgement and forgiveness.