Ask a Priest

How do I really forgive someone?

Feb 23, 2016

Dear Father.

I’m a 17 year old student, and for the past three years now I have had an incredibly hateful teacher who seems to have no shortage of hatred for me since I am Catholic. There is no limit to the amount of jokes he has about priests – even making them in Church/during Mass – despite being sexually/morally disordered himself. He is quick to make jokes about the Saints, the Pope, and others. Whilst most of what he says is too vulgar to repeat, an example is “the Bible is the best comedy,” as well as “Christianity is worse than ISIS.” Considering that he also constantly refers to me as “retard,” I believe I would have a serious legal case for religious discrimination (although I don’t plan on pursuing that).

It’s one thing to read comments like these (and trust me, they’re at the bottom of the kind of stuff he’s said – I can’t even write most of it), but it’s another to have them said to your face, and another to have the class around you laugh at his comments in agreement. At one point I came very close to crying in class, and he apparently smiled (I had my head towards the desk).

I’ve tried praying for him. I’ve gone to confession over hating him. I can say I forgive him in my mind, but I know I still hate him. I know I can’t wait until the end of this year when I will have finished my HSC and will be done with him. I know I can’t wait until the end of the year when I give my principal a sheet with a list of things he’s said that I’ve stored up and – if he has any sense as a principal of a Catholic school – get him fired. But I also know that I “know not time nor hour,” and it is my duty as a Catholic to forgive him, because Jesus has forgiven me. C.S. Lewis said that “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Great. But how do I actually do that? I can usually forgive someone if they’re sorry for what they did, but I know he’s not. I know he’s quite proud of himself. And saying “I forgive you” doesn’t take away all of the pain. I can’t suddenly forget all of the times I wanted to avoid class; I can’t suddenly forget everything he’s said.

And I’ve never had to forgive someone who’s affected me personally in a large way. And I don’t know how to do that. And to be honest, a large part of me doesn’t even want to forgive him in the first place.

Like any milenial, the first thing I did was google ‘How do I forgive someone’. But it’s mostly just generic ‘try and let it go’ nonsense. Maybe when I’m out of school, I can try that. But currently, I’m still suffering under him.

So… in summary: I have a teacher who has been absolutely horrible to me, and is continuing to do so. I don’t have a clue how to really, truly forgive him. I know asking him to stop wont change anything – he’s rather obsessed with insulting Catholicism (I pretty certain it’s his way of justifying his own beliefs and actions). And I don’t even know if it’s the ‘right’ – or ‘Christian’ – thing to do to get him fired, as much as he deserves it. I guess as a priest, you’re probably used to forgiving people by now, so I’d really appreciate any advice, since I don’t really know what to do at all.

Asked at 06:43 am on February 23rd 2016

Hi Ryan, well you know better than I do what so many Christian martyrs must have felt like. I remember a student I had who’d grown up in a very anti-Catholic part of Northern Ireland saying what got her down wasn’t what people actually said, but the experience of contempt she had to live with even walking down the road. Another girl in then very anti-religious Czechoslovakia putting down on the forms they had to fill in that she was ‘religious’ – which meant she could never get much of a job – in fact after her getting a Masters in 2 foreign languages, her first job was working as a farm labourer. Both of these had to develop the inner toughness of those martyrs we read about in ancient Rome, 17th century Japan, 18th and 19th century Vietnam and Korea. And you’re doing just great, even to bother to ask the kind of question you’ve asked.

How to deal with forgiving that teacher? Remember when Jesus was on the cross and he said, ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing’? Someone suggested to me that maybe, as man, Jesus was so hurt that he wasn’t able to work up to forgiving them at that very moment, and asked his Father to do it instead. I don’t know if that’s theologically on the ball, but I still find it helpful to think of it that way, and it’s close to your experience.

So why not try something like this: send an email (ok, a little prayer) to Jesus and to Mary saying, ‘Hi Jesus and Mary, I’m not able to forgive this teacher for all the pain and harassment he’s giving me and will continue to give me, so will you forgive him for me?’

I think if you can manage that, you’ll have done all that’s necessary. And if you keep up those emails, one way or another you’re recognizing the truth of what Jesus says, that his Father sends rain on the just and on the unjust – in other words, no matter what we do, he still regards us as his children. As is that teacher, who for I’m sure very complicated reasons, doesn’t know this. Who knows but your prayer may eventually lead to his conversion.

If he’s obsessed with attacking Catholicism, there may be sufferings he’s gone through in his own life that have pushed him to being so obnoxious to you. It’d be great too, if you had some friends who are Catholics you can share this with, so you don’t have the feeling you’re all on your own. Or think about getting funding so you can go to the next World Youth Day in Krakow, where you’ll come across thousands of other great Catholics like yourself.

Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 06:35 am on February 24th 2016

Hello Ryan,

Though forgiveness is at the heart of this question, I would beg that you not wait until the end of the school year to report what is happening in your classroom. I am stunned to hear you say that this is a Catholic school – and even if it were not – this is firmly in the realm of verbal abuse and his superiors should know about this as a matter of justice. The rest of the students need to see that this is not OK and you need to be taken care of as a student by the adults around you. Be not afraid: let the adults decide about firing or not – but out of love for him and love for yourself, do your part to bring this injustice into the light.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us…

Replied at 01:30 am on February 26th 2016

Hi Ryan,

I join Fr Brendan in prayer and admiration for your suffering great persecution for Christ- being a ‘fool for Christ’ (1Cor 4:10). Remember that you will rejoice with the saints in Heaven (see the Beatitudes, Mt 5:10-12). But part of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is pointing out to someone when they are either ignorant or willfully on the wrong path. This is done as an act of love, not in spite or hate, so you are also doing the right thing by following Jennifer’s advice. Think how many others you might spare the same pain. Think of the scandal caused by this teacher that you might have a hand in stopping by making this known to the Principal (who has a duty of care to you and all the other students). This is the Year of Mercy and this teacher may be in great need, like we all are, of repentance. Perhaps letting the Principal know now and letting him/her deal with it will be the grace that is needed for all right now. Pray to St Stephen, the first martyr. I will also pray for you.

Replied at 03:54 am on February 29th 2016

Dear Ryan,

I agree with Jennifer. What this teacher is doing amounts to bullying – something that should never be acceptable in the classroom – and especially from a teacher. The teacher’s attitude runs completely counter to the mission of the school (because it is a Catholic school). Your motivation for this includes: the good of the offending teacher (because he is not any closer to salvation by permitting the behavior to continue; the good of your classmates (who need to understand that society should not encourage bullying); and the good of the school (whose mission it is to bring the Good News to all of the students in the school). I believe that doing this – with the appropriate mindset, will make it that much easier to forgive this teacher from the bottom of your heart. My prayers go with you. Blessings, Mark

Replied at 04:50 am on February 29th 2016

As a priest and a teacher, I encourage you in doing what you can to forgive this teacher and in what you can to remedy the siutation. Ask Jesus to lead the way, for he had teachers and religious leaders who were out to get him. You may not be only the one who is feeling your teacher’s misuse of his position. No teacher in a Catholic school should degrade the Church OR any other faith. The teacher clearly has a problem, and likely has other problems that are not so clear. God might be working through you as an instrument of grace for those problems that are public, evident and repeated. Ask God about what you can do to be an insturment of grace regarding these. Your teacher may not know how to get out of his pattern. Bully’s do not stop until confronted by a higher power. These higher powers come in differnet persons, but go to your principal and tell what you have experienced, asking for help for you, the class, the school AND and the teacher. This is the spirit of forgivenenss. If you don’t feel that spirit, ask for the grace to want that spirit- God won’t withhold it. With prayers –

Replied at 10:28 pm on February 29th 2016

Hi Ryan,

I really feel for you, what you’re going through is inexcuseable and I’ll be praying for you. I agree with all the previous posts – ask Jesus, Mary and the martyrs for help and inspiration, and DEFINITELY report this to the Principal. It is absolutely unacceptable that this would happen in any school, let alone a Catholic school. It is unlawful to vilify anyone on the basis of religion, and the teacher and school have duty of care which is a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to protect students from harm. If the Principal doesn’t intervene to stop the abuse, report it to the Catholic Education Office.

Jesus experienced abuse and injustice from the leaders of the time, but he also spoke out against it. As stated in previous posts, one of the works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. Jesus said if someone sins and they don’t listen when you tell them, to get witnesses to confront them with you (Matt 18:15-17). You’re doing the right thing by speaking out against the injustice, for yourself, the teacher, the other students and the school.

Will pray for you and the situation.

Replied at 12:33 am on March 04th 2016