I am a raised-Catholic, Irish/English elder woman. Although I lived in the United States for the first five years of my life, I have lived in England since then.

In the Catholic Church we were taught about forgiveness. However, due to the rigidities we were taught, I could not really do forgiveness for much of my life. I remember at age four deciding to never forgive my father for his mistreatment of me. And from age seven to eleven, the sexual abuse from my oldest brother (ten years my senior) changed me from a trusting, adoring sister into a revengeful, unforgiving sister.

When I was thirty, my marriage broke up with the father of my children. I then left the Church and became a lapsed Catholic, and my husband became an additional man I could never forgive. Shortly after this I started RC, and I worked hard on my distress in the hope of finding my true self.

It was not until two years ago when I attended a Catholic workshop in England led by Joanne Bray (the International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics) that forgiveness became a real option for me. Joanne gave me a direction: “I refuse to die having not forgiven my brother and my father.” I decided in that session that I would commit to working on this and move toward forgiving my brother, who had cancer and had about two years to live.

I knew I could not just simply forgive, so I decided to “decide, act, and discharge.” Taking action meant that I would reach out to my brother and try to get close to him, and that would bring up lots to discharge in my sessions (which is exactly what happened).

I wanted our first meeting to be useful for both my brother and me, so I asked my husband and my brother’s wife to join us. I decided to go with an open heart and leave my distress out of the room—to be there with a loving attitude, fully in the present and fully my true self. My brother was a practicing Catholic and in the last few years of his life, with the help of his local priest, had been able to deal with his distresses. It had been real for him—he had become humble, loving, and full of gratitude.

Deciding to forgive meant that all my sessions were productive (lots of discharging, working on early hurts, and making sense of things). It meant that my mind was not in hate but in love, which I’ve found is a far more preferable state of mind. I’ve begun to love this state of mind in which I am open and loving and accepting and grateful. It has had far-reaching effects on many areas in my life. All my relationships have improved. How I treat myself has also improved. I have more confidence being myself. I am more relaxed and less afraid to speak my mind (important for an Irish Catholic living in England). I do not take things so personally. I am less shut down, more open, and have more of my attention out and in the present. There is less of the “good” Catholic girl living in a straitjacket and more of the honest me.

As a child, before the sexual abuse, I adored my brother in a true, honest, open way. After discharging, the feeling of loving him returned. He was the oldest of nine children. I began to remember how important he had been to me all my life as a great big brother. He was a truly good person, who made my life better.

He and I had several meetings after the first one two years ago. He got to talk to me about the sexual abuse, which helped him to forgive himself. I was able to say that it was nobody’s fault, when oppression and how he and I had been set up [predisposed] were taken into consideration. I was able to tell him that he had been a wonderful big brother and that I was okay now since I had discharged so much and cleared up much of the distress.

Then this year, after a short period of ill health, my brother died. But before he died, I had a lot of time by his bedside. We were together as he went in and out of consciousness. When he was conscious, we got to talk about our relationship and were able to tell each other that we loved each other.

He had written his Catholic funeral service in the two years before he died. He had wanted everyone to be included in the service, so he’d requested that Taizé songs be sung. These are simple chants that people can pick up [learn] easily. While he was dying, my sister and I practiced them at his bedside, and at the funeral we took the lead in singing them. They are sung over and over again. It becomes a loving and meaningful meditation with everyone able to join in.

My brother had been active in his community and had a knack for bringing [a special ability to bring] people together in good ways, including people from different backgrounds. At his funeral the church was packed to overflowing. A Muslim family told me that they loved my brother and were deeply saddened by his death. They came to the graveside, and as the Catholics were burying my brother in the traditional Catholic way, his Muslim friends were praying in their traditional Muslim way.

Through this whole process I have found more of my true self in which love, understanding, and forgiveness abound. I am grateful to my wonderful Catholic heritage, to myself, to my brother, and to RC for playing such a big part in the process.

I would love to hear from any of you about the human benefits of forgiveness, or perhaps where forgiveness was not the most intelligent option for you. I am also interested in how, as a Catholic, you have used the discharge process to achieve forgiveness.


Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Catholics

(Present Time 191, April 2018)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00