Forgiveness scholar opens up on role of faith
Feb 28, 2011
Today, at least 1,000 academic researchers and "countless therapists" specialize in forgiveness studies, Enright said, but at the time, a library search turned up not a single piece of scholarship on the subject in any of the social sciences.
Enright found himself drawn to the area and began leading a seminar on forgiveness at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he was a tenured professor. Among the assigned readings for the seminar were selections from the scriptures of various religious traditions.
Those texts raised questions that led Enright back to back to Christianity: first to what he describes as a liberal Methodist church, then to an evangelical Protestant congregation, and finally back to Catholicism.
A major turning point in both his spiritual development and his understanding of forgiveness, Enright said, was the death of his wife Nancy from kidney cancer in 2002. That ordeal, which left him a single father of two young boys, taught him the power of redemptive suffering.
"Forgiveness as Redemptive Suffering" is the working title of a book that Enright will be writing with his son Kevin, 23, a recent college graduate who plans to pursue graduate studies in philosophy. The book will be Enright's first major statement of how religious faith has informed and expanded his understanding of forgiveness.
"The Catholic Church and only the Catholic Church can tell us what forgiveness really is in the fullest sense: a uniting of your suffering with Christ's suffering, which we bear on behalf of those who have hurt us, for their salvation," he says.
The church has traditionally emphasized the sacramental aspect of forgiveness as something granted by God, Enright said. But over the last three decades, especially under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he's seen a growing emphasis on "person-to-person forgiveness."
That emphasis has inspired a vision that Enright calls "The Church as Forgiving Community," which is also the title of a forthcoming book he is editing, with essays by psychologists, philosophers and theologians.