Jesuit’s challenging book on forgiveness

June 5, 2012 in 2009

Myths about forgiving add to the burden of suffering for victims, says, Brian Lennon SJ, in his new book, So You Can’t Forgive …? Moving Towards Freedom, launched by psychologist and broadcaster Marueen Gaffney.

The myths noted by Fr Lennon in the book include the ideas that forgiving removes the need for punishment and that it minimises wrongdoing.

‘Forgiving does not mean any of these things’, Fr Lennon says. Rather, he suggests that it is a process in which people can reclaim their freedom by slowly letting go of their desire for revenge and separating themselves in their mind from the wrongdoer. Other stages may follow, such as wishing the wrongdoer well.

Fr Lennon suggests that while increased media attention to the experiences of victims has led to greater recognition of their hurt, there is a danger that we may be creating a culture of ‘victimhood’. He argues that there is a great danger in being trapped forever as a victim, because there is a heavy price to be paid for this.

He explores the great difficulties involved in forgiving someone responsible for harming or murdering someone we love. But he suggests a series of practical tasks which can be undertaken which may help someone to move from being trapped in victimhood towards freedom.

According to Rev John Dunlop, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland,“This book is sensitive and compassionate but tough at the same time. Brian Lennon explores what forgiveness does not mean and having cleared the ground, invites victims to consider the road which God invites them to take towards freedom and a future in which they are not chained to preoccupation with guilty offenders and their own experiences of being hurt”.
Reviewing the book Dame Nuala O’Loan, former police ombudswoman in Northern Ireland said,“For those who seek to forgive, this little book will provide a path which they may follow, in gentle stages, possibly over many years.”

And according to Denis Bradley, the former priest who acted as a go-between, between the IRA and the British during the Troubles,“This book is both timely and substantive. Personal and communal forgiving is important to the health of any society but it is vital to a community finding its way out of conflict. Although not restricted to our place or time, those of us from N. Ireland will find this book challenging, persuasive and, if heeded, wonderfully healing.” –

A Dublin-born Jesuit, Brian Lennon has spent many years in Northern Ireland working with people affected by the conflict there. So You Can’t Forgive? draws on his experience in Northern Ireland but touches also on suffering arising in other contexts – for instance, as a result of violent crime, domestic violence, family and workplace disputes, sexual abuse in childhood.
So You Can’t Forgive …? Moving Towards Freedom is published by Columba Press.