“If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (Lk 17:3-4).
Forgiveness is a cornerstone of our faith tradition as Christians. If we question or struggle with the degree of forgiveness we engage in, we are in good company with Peter, thinking he was being generous, Peter asked Jesus how many times should he forgive, seven times? Jesus responded, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (cf. Mt 18:21-22).
Luke records the exchange of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. He taught them the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer. While reciting this prayer often each day or multiple times each day, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” or “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:11-12).
One of the barometers of being a faithful disciple of Jesus is that we are people who practice the sacred art of forgiveness. To forgive does not mean in any way that we justify the offense or even necessarily forget. We are to hold people accountable and lead them to respect our dignity and the dignity of others.
Holding on to grudges, seeking revenge, being unwilling to forgive, can be incapacitating, debilitating, and can lead to a premature as well as an eternal death. What can help is to resist reacting to the offense and instead assume a posture of understanding, as we do not know what another is going through or dealing with. This is not a justification for the harm done, but a way to release the pain and possibly to bring support and healing to the one who has inflicted us.
We are also not expected to forgive on our own will power alone. Jesus himself on the cross sought the aid of his Father: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
We may struggle with being forgiving because we have not sought forgiveness ourselves. Advent is coming. This season as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our lives, it is a good practice to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Forgiveness is a healing gift of God’s grace. Once we have felt the healing balm of forgiveness, we might be more willing to forgive others. Then we can begin to call to mind someone you have not forgiven.
Find a place of quiet, ask God to help you to forgive, even if your prayer begins, “God, I cannot forgive, I hurt too much, but help me to let go, please help me to forgive, (insert name).” Return each day until you can bring yourself to say, “I forgive, (insert name).” Visualize yourself saying that you forgive the person face to face. If the opportunity presents itself you may want to say that you forgive the person directly, send an email, or write a letter – even if you do not press send or mail it.
With the intent to forgive and the help of Jesus who has forgiven us, even if in the beginning we are unwilling, with time, reconciliation is possible. Let us remember: “Forgive and you will be forgiven”.
Photo: One of my quiet places to pray at home and seek forgiveness.
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, November 12, 2018: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111218.cfm