“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 one of the foundational principles 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 act 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 eternal death. What can be of help is if we can choose to be more mindful of our thoughts and actions. At the moment we experience discomfort from what someone says or does, instead of giving in to the temptation to react or to let our mind run with the offense, we need to take some deep breaths and relax our shoulders. As the negative thoughts attempt to rise again, don’t fight or feed the thoughts, just return to being aware of our breath and ask Jesus to help us be more understanding and forgiving.
Often we project onto others our own stuff, but we also rarely know what another is going through or dealing with. This is not a justification for the harm done, but a way to see a different perspective than our own limited point of view, and possibly bring us a few steps closer to being more understanding and supportive instead of defensive. In this way, we can provide an opportunity of healing for the one who has inflicted us.
We may struggle with being forgiving because we may not have sought forgiveness ourselves. Advent is coming. It is a season to prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our lives. This season provides a wonderful opportunity 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.
A good practice to engage in is to go to 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 and imagine a healing between each of you. 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 asking for the help of Jesus who has forgiven us, even if in the beginning we are unwilling, with time, reconciliation is possible. Depending on the hurt that has been inflicted you may not reach out to the other person as it may be healthier to stay apart. Forgiveness will help you to heal and not allow the person who has hurt you to continue to do so. In our willingness to forgive, there is freedom. Let us remember: “Forgive and you will be forgiven”.
The quiet of the morning is a good time to seek forgiveness and begin the day renewed. Photo from retreat a few weeks back at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center.