As we forgive

Discipleship, Divine Mercy

As we forgive

Just as we are all children of the one, true God, so too we all at times disobey God’s will, and are in need of forgiveness. Jesus’ death and resurrection conquered sin and death and gave us the grace to be able to share eternal life with him. But because we are all sinners, we cannot enter his Kingdom if we bear grudges against each other.

In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples see Jesus in prayer, and, observing the intimate relationship he has with the Father, they ask him how to pray. Jesus gives them the “Our Father,” which gives God the praise he deserves and asks him for the essentials that we need:

Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test. (Luke 11:1-4)

Jesus is teaching us that God’s forgiveness is conditional, and will only be granted if we forgive those who sin against us. This commandment can be the most challenging Jesus makes of us. It becomes an easier commandment to follow when we remember that we are all sinners, and thus have no right to judge our brothers and sisters.

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so you will be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the splinter from your eye,” while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Most of us, I think, recognize that we sin occasionally, but we tend to minimize or rationalize our own sins, while magnifying the sins of others. We might concede that we get the occasional splinter in our eye, but we know for sure that it’s our brother walking around with the beam in his. This attitude puts us in a position where we feel we can judge them, when in fact we have no right to do so.

We must recognize our own sinfulness, seek God’s forgiveness, and amend our ways. Only then will we have the humility to approach our brother about his own faults, because we won’t be approaching him with an air of superiority, but as a redeemed sinner leading him back to the narrow path. This is what Jesus asks of us.

For me, if someone does something that upsets me, it helps me to put myself in that person’s shoes and think about why they may have acted as they did. It can be even more helpful to recall when I’ve done something similar. It’s hard to bear a grudge against someone when I remember that I’ve done the same thing myself.

It’s also helpful to realize how much anger and hostility can eat away at you. Why let your anger ruin a morning, or a day, or longer? Forgive and forget. To truly forgive means to forget, not to forgive for a time and then dredge up the old anger later. This is what Jesus meant when he told Peter to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21). In other words, forgiveness should have no limits, just as God’s mercy has no limits.

It is often the holiest and humblest of men and women who are most aware of their sinfulness and their need for God’s grace. Shortly after becoming pope, an interviewer asked Pope Francis to describe himself. He replied, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech… I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo (By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him), was very true for me… I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”

Likewise, Saint Pope John Paul II went to confession once a week. Was he more sinful than you or I? Of course not. Was he better than you and I at examining his conscience? Did he have a sharper awareness of even the smallest ways he had offended God, had slighted his fellow man? Did he have a keener sense that he was a sinner like all of us, and just as in need of redemption? Did he have a deeper feeling for the divine grace he received through the sacrament of Reconciliation? Was frequent reception of the sacrament part of his secret to becoming more holy, to drawing ever closer to the source of all goodness?

I think the answers to all of these are yes. We would do well to follow his path.

Michael Haverkamp

Michael Haverkamp is a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church. He is grateful to his parents for raising him in the faith. He resides in Columbus, Ohio with his amazing wife and three sons. By day he is a (usually) mild-mannered grant writer.

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