Releasing the Poison of Unforgiveness

St. Philip Neri tells us, “If a man finds it very hard to forgive injuries, let him look at a Crucifix, and think that Christ shed all His Blood for him, and not only forgave His enemies, but even prayed His Heavenly Father to forgive them also. Let him remember that when he says the Our Father, every day, instead of asking pardon for his sins, he is calling down vengeance on himself.”

Calling down vengeance on myself? Yes! This is the sober truth of the danger of unforgiveness. Failure to forgive routinely tears asunder families, neighborhoods, nations, and the Church. Failure to forgive is a major human problem manifested in the dire daily news. I would propose that the inspired Jubilee Year of Mercy initiated by Pope Francis is God’s spotlight on the world of unforgiveness so that it may stop escalating to the point of war and destruction. We ardently implore the reign of God’s mercy in our hearts, families, friendships, work, Church, nation, and world.

Scott Hahn explains the consequences of unforgiveness:

The love of God does not abide in an unmerciful heart (1 Jn 3:17), and the mercy of God will not penetrate into the human heart if we fail to forgive those who have trespassed against us (Matt 6:14–15) (CCC 1847, 2840). Thus, according to Pope John Paul II, “mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ. . . .” His disciples and followers understood and practiced mercy in the same way. Mercy never ceased to reveal itself, in their hearts and in their actions, as an especially creative proof of the love which does not allow itself to be “conquered by evil,” but overcomes “evil with good” (cf. Rom 12:21) (Dives in Misericordia n. 6)Releasing the poison of unforgiveness can be a creative process.

It requires a new level of trust in God and others. When we are traumatized, betrayed, abandoned, or hurt by others, our ability to trust can be broken. Do we desire our wounds to define us, or do we want to be healed? We can forgive others and ourselves through the sacred wounds of Jesus.

Unforgiveness Is Costly

Unforgiveness afflicts a person with spiritual darkness and makes him vulnerable to increased spiritual warfare. I see this often in the deliverance ministry, wherein demons try to thwart forgiveness in order to hold the soul captive.

Unforgiveness has a negative effect on mental, emotional, and physical health. A general consensus among mental-health professionals is that the common characteristics of unforgiving people include:

  • increased anxiety symptoms
  • increased paranoia
  • increased narcissism
  • increased frequency of psychosomatic complications
  • increased incidence of heart disease
  • less resistance to physical illness
  • increased incidences of both depression and callousness
    toward others

The common characteristics of forgiving people include:

  • less anxiety and depression
  • better health outcomes
  • a greater ability to cope with stress
  • increased closeness to God and others

The common characteristics of forgiving people include:

Forgiveness does not take us back to where we were before we were hurt. It might be a diversion of two paths, but both can move forward freely. Forgiveness is growth in knowledge and understanding of ourselves and others.

Profile in Mercy: St. Peter

Christ was obviously perturbed when He said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Matt. 16:23). Can you imagine how Peter felt when Jesus called him Satan? Certainly Peter is not Satan, but Satan used Peter as a mouthpiece of demonic temptation when he spoke, “God forbid, Lord!” in response to Jesus’ saying that He “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21, 22). Like Peter, we sometimes become the mouthpiece of the deceiver when we speak to another according to merely human concerns, not God’s.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” But Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me”(Luke 22:31–34). Afterward, Peter fell asleep in the Garden of Olives instead of keeping a prayer vigil as Jesus agonized and sweat blood. Then Peter denied Jesus three times to save himself. At Calvary Peter ran from the Cross. Peter was Christ’s right-hand man. Peter betrayed, disobeyed, and ran away. Did Peter’s actions hurt Jesus? Christ had a human heart, experienced human emotions and pain. Yes, the heart of Jesus would have been hurt by the denial of His close friend. Did Christ replace Peter or change His mind about the person to whom He entrusted the leadership of His Church? No. Christ had a perfect plan. Jesus accepted Peter’s repentance, affirmed him, and raised him up. Jesus loved Peter and used Peter’s weakness to glorify Divine Mercy. Peter was crucified upside down: a martyr of love.

After Peter’s transformation at Pentecost, he would never repeat his mistakes. He was able to receive God’s forgiveness. He became transformed by Divine Mercy. Jesus gave Peter a second and third chance. We believe in a God of second and third chances. Jesus never gives up on a person.

Personal or Group Spiritual Exercise

The Teaching of the Word of God
Read Luke 23:39–43: The Good Thief

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Questions for Group or Personal Reflection

1.) How does God’s mercy for the repentant thief speak to your heart?

2.) Think of a time when you received mercy instead of condemnation. What lesson did you learn about God, yourself, or others?

3.) Think of a time when you had great difficulty in forgiving yourself or someone else. Can you identify the root cause of the unforgiveness?

4.) Consider your three biggest disappointments or mistakes. Offer them up to God’s mercy. Say a prayer to let go.

5.) Ask Jesus to release any poison of unforgiveness from you. Be a vessel of mercy; pray for those who hurt you.

Applying God’s Mercy

God’s Letter to You

Be not afraid of your Savior, O sinful soul. I make the first move
to come to you, for I know that by yourself you are unable to
give yourself to me. Child, do not run away from your Father; be
willing to talk openly with your God of mercy who wants to speak
words of pardon and lavish his graces on you. How dear your
soul is to me! I have inscribed your name upon my hand; you are
engraved as a deep wound in my Heart.

My child, do you fear the God of mercy? My holiness does not
prevent me from being merciful. Behold, for you I have established
a throne of mercy on earth — the tabernacle — and from this throne
I desire to enter into your heart. I am not surrounded by a retinue
or guards. You can come to me at any moment, at any time; I
want to speak to you, and I desire to grant you grace.9


This article is adapted from a chapter in God’s Healing Mercy by Kathleen Beckman, which is now available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.

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