I got sued last year. The details aren’t important, except to say a manufacturer I represented terminated our contract in April. Both sides filed motions, and after two days of evidentiary hearings in business court, on a Friday afternoon in July, the judge upheld their motion while denying mine. His court order read, in part, that I was “enjoined from selling any person anywhere in the U.S any products [the client] sells (as indicated on its website) or otherwise compete with [the client]”, for approximately seven months, and both parties were ordered to go to arbitration to determine who breached the contract.
Naturally, I was beyond pissed off. I was angry at the judge, who had rewritten his ruling in chambers after the hearing had adjourned, making it more restrictive. I was angry at the client who, for all intents and purposes, had lied while under oath, impugning my reputation and character. The ruling had the potential to put me out of business (spoiler: it didn’t). My lawyer was confident we would prevail in arbitration (spoiler: we did. Actually, we settled prior to arbitration, so in the end, we won), but at that moment in time, on that Friday afternoon in July, I was hotter than a six-shooter in a Texas saloon. And not because it was July.
On the subsequent Sunday, I went to Mass, and hung around after hoping the priest would hear my confession. I waited after Mass while the priest spoke with the exiting parishioners. Once everyone had gone, I asked him if he had time to hear my confession. He said yes, and we entered the confessional.
After confessing my sins, I said, “Father, there’s one other thing. I’m really angry towards two men who have treated me unjustly,” and briefly recounted the hearing. “I know I have to forgive them, as Jesus told us, and pray for them. And I don’t want harm to come to them, or wish them ill. But right now, all I’m capable of is asking for the grace to get to the point where I can eventually forgive them. I’m asking for that grace.”
The priest nodded, and said, “Let me ask you a question. Do you want these two men, at the moments of their deaths, to be in Heaven or in Hell?”
It was a simple, unexpected question. I blinked. “Well, in Heaven, of course.”
“Then forgive them now, because you don’t know the day nor the hour.”
He said it with such compassion and conviction, that I was compelled to do it.
“I forgive them.”
The result was immediate. The burden of the court order, all the thoughts of what will I do next, lifted off my shoulders. I knew that God would provide, in His way and in His time. The dark clouds of anger dispersed as if a wind had raced through my heart and soul. Clean, pure air filled my lungs, and it was as if I was breathing for the first time in two days.
The priest gave me absolution and penance, and because I hadn’t received Holy Communion during Mass, he offered it to me afterward. I left the church a completely different man than when I had entered. Jesus Christ and his sacraments had performed a miracle that day. He had made possible in an instant what I thought would have taken much, much longer.
This is why Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive those who have wronged us. He wants to perform miracles in us, through us, and for us. I’ve read and heard His words so many times, that I think I grew complacent – not just as to what those words mean, but as to how those words change us. Putting those words to action conforms us to Christ. Like so many things Jesus said, it’s easy to nod and say, oh, such wise and beautiful sayings!, and then go on our way. But they are the ideal to which all us Catholics must strive. Whether it’s the Beatitudes, or the works of mercy, or the entire Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ words are meant to be lived. Forgiveness of our enemies – especially if we are unjustly wronged – takes grace, and we must be humble, and we must abandon the desire for vengeance. Forgiving our enemies allows us to love them, so that they might see Christ in us, and thus possibly be converted to Christ. We are changed so that they might be changed. If we live Christ’s words in everything we do, we become more conformed to him, and thus are free to become who we were created to be.
We see our Christian brethren in the Middle East being persecuted, or those in Asia or India suffering for their faith, and are inspired by their ability to forgive and love their enemies. Make no mistake, those people are being persecuted for their faith. Churches have been bombed, priests and nuns have been abducted, Christians are being killed. But just because our lives aren’t being threatened, it doesn’t mean we aren’t persecuted in some way. Just because we live in relative safety and peace, it doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies. Not all enemies are enemies of faith. But keeping enemies destroys our faith.
As time went on, I noticed other effects. With no anger consuming my time and energy, I was able to prepare for arbitration with clarity and purpose. I kept my business running with calmness and peace, open to new opportunities that saved my business. Uncertainty and fear didn’t weigh me down – there were still times when such thoughts crept in, because my client still wanted to drive me out of business. But I wasn’t overwhelmed. To sum it up in one phrase: forgiving my enemies allowed me to trust more deeply in God’s providence. God cannot dwell in an angry heart. The two cannot co-exist.
The lawsuit taught me many things, but the most important thing I learned was why we must forgive and love our enemies.
It’s said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison, and expecting your enemy to die. You’re the one who’s harmed, not the other guy. Forgiveness – loving those who persecute you – is like wounding yourself with a sword, and hoping your enemy will live. After all, isn’t that what Christ did for us upon the cross?