Harry was a practical man. Pragmatic, calculating and very very logical. He always thought things out thoroughly and his conclusions were logical and well worked out.
One day he asked Father Ignatius if he could spare some time for a chat. The always approachable priest took Harry to his office in the Parish House and after a cup of coffee and biscuits he encouraged him to speak.
“It’s something I’ve had on my mind for years Father,” started Harry, “I’ve never actually confessed it at Confession, which might be a sin in itself I suppose, but it still keeps niggling me at the back of my mind. So I’d assume this chat is a Confession in itself.”
The kindly priest smiled and nodded to encourage him to continue.
“Years ago,” Harry said, “someone hurt me very badly. It totally changed my life, and even today, my circumstances and my life are the result of that person’s action towards me.
“That person then moved on to another town far away and we haven’t seen each other since.
“I believe I have forgiven that person. Truly and honestly forgiven them in the sense that I do not seek any retribution, revenge and nor do I bear any ill will whatsoever towards that person. Even though, as I said, my life is still affected by what that person did. I even pray for that person sometimes, would you believe Father!”
The priest smiled and said nothing.
“But I tell you in all honesty Father,” continued Harry, “I hate that person. I don’t wish that person bad as I said, but I don’t like that person at all. I still get angry at times, thinking at what has been done to me. Even though I forgive again deep in my heart I still hate.
“That person never asked for forgiveness. And the likelihood is that the person doesn’t even care for forgiveness.
“Does my private hate negate … wipe away my forgiveness?”
Father Ignatius said nothing for a while; then, cautiously he said.
“When we forgive, our forgiveness should be total. Without any conditions and given in love.”
“Yes I understand that. And strictly speaking Father I have forgiven totally. But how can I possibly love a person who has totally changed my life for the worse; and that of others too?
“My hatred, as I call it … my anger towards that person … is a private hatred and a private anger within me. The person does not know about it and is not harmed by my personal feelings in any way.
“That person has moved on to another life and doesn’t even care about forgiveness.
“How can a personal feeling, which technically speaking does not harm another person, be considered a sin? Surely God can’t accuse me of harming that person?”
Father Ignatius waited a while and then replied, “You say the person does not know nor cares about your forgiveness, and is therefore not harmed by your private thoughts and feelings towards them.
But … is your sin against God perhaps. In that your forgiveness is not total since you hold some hatred back?”
“But Father …” Harry continued, “I have done my utmost best to forgive totally in that I wish that person no ill-will whatsoever.
“I just can’t help disliking, and sometimes hating that person.
“Surely God knows how I am made up as a human. He created me and He gave me all these emotions we humans share.
“Dislike and hatred are such emotions. God knows very well that my hate is borne from anger and perhaps unhealed hurt and a sense of injustice within me. God gave me all these feelings and He can’t possibly blame me for reacting naturally to what’s happened to me.
“If my hatred resulted in harm and revenge towards the other person, then I understand it’s wrong.
“But my private hatred hurts no one. Neither that person, nor any one else, knows about it so how can it possibly hurt them or be a sin?
“If anything, the hatred is hurting me as it burns inside me … but I can’t help it. It’s the way I’m made.”
The priest prayed silently for a few seconds. He understood that the man was still hurting badly and yet, Harry used his impeccable logic to reason that his private feelings were no sin towards man or God.
“Let’s look at it another way” said the priest calmly, “you’re right Harry in saying that your private hatred is not physically or in any other way hurting the other person.
“You’re also right in saying that your hatred is an emotion given to you by your Creator together with all the other emotions we have as human beings.
“But God also gave us the emotion and power to love. In fact Christ told us clearly to love one another; especially our enemies.
“So by hating the other person, however privately, you are denying them your love. You can’t love and hate at the same time.”
“So is it a sin?” Harry interrupted again, “because I can’t help how I feel about this person. No matter how I try. I bear no ill-will as I said, but I just can’t like or love the person as you suggest!”
“I understand …” Father Ignatius said gently, “the world has seen many evil leaders do many evil things over the years. It is not always humanly possible to love them and forgive them as Christ did on the Cross.
“He is God … and we are not.
“But at the very least we should try as best as we possibly can to forgive wholeheartedly, even though, in human terms, our hearts can’t always genuinely love as He commanded.”