Question: I am a contractor who did some work for some cousins. They cheated me out of a significant amount of money. Strangely, I still get invited to family functions by them as if nothing happened. But I don’t want anything to do with them. Does forgiveness require me to accept invitations and be friendly?
— Name, location withheld
Answer: Forgiveness involves letting go of the need to change the past. Through forgiveness, we are able to let go of our resentments, our desire for revenge, and wrathful anger that often accompanies hurts or injustices we experience. In most cases, forgiveness does permit us to resume or stay in relationships with people. In many situations, the hurts are slight, and the issues are more of the moment rather than involving ongoing and very unhealthy aspects of our relationships with others.
But there are times when it is simply not wise to continue in relationships where there is ongoing sin, injustice or harm. A woman may forgive her husband for the repeated physical abuse he has inflicted on her in the past. She may understand that his anger comes from the fact that he himself was abused as child. She may, by the grace of forgiveness, harbor no anger or resentment. But it does not follow that forgiveness means she should resume a common household with him. This might further endanger her and her children. It might also deepen the husband’s pathology and delay him getting the help he needs.
In your case, there may be reasons for you to stay clear of the family members who cheated you. You would not be rude or wrathful to them, but it does not mean you are required to be jovial and pretend that nothing happened. On the other hand, what is to prevent a forthright conversation between you all about what happened? Too often, enough effort is not made to find greater understanding.
I cannot say what is best for you. I can only communicate the principles that forgiveness does often mean that the parties involved share this gift in order to further and deepen the relationship. But as stated, there are exceptions to this and forgiveness does not always require resuming unhealthy situations that really benefit neither party.
Truth in religion
Question: Are all religions equal?
— Sister M. Gemma, Versailles, Kentucky
Answer: No, they are not. Religions and faith traditions other than that of the Catholic Church are deficient in two possible ways. First, by the defect of incompleteness. While they may have elements of the truth, they do not possess the whole truth revealed by God for our salvation. As such, they are less helpful than Catholicism.
Second, they can be deficient by the defect of error wherein they teach false and erroneous doctrines or promote an erroneous understanding of Scripture and revealed truth.
While it is popular today to say that all religious traditions are but different and equal ways to the same God, this violates many rational principles such at the principle of noncontradiction. For example, it cannot be simultaneously true that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is not Lord (but only a good man). That Jesus is Lord is true, and all other claims to the contrary are false. Now what is true is of value and what is false is not. Thus, all religions are not equal.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to email@example.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.