Dear Bros & Sis in Christ,
As per Oxford Dictionary the word forgive means cease to feel angry or resentful towards someone and pardon. Forgiveness, is a small word, but it carries a lot of responsibility on the part of man. It is a skill, which we human beings require a lifetime of practice. At times we may be tempted to abandon our pursuit and allow vengeance to creep in our lives.
I am sure all of us have been hurt many times, in our lives, in our childhood, adult life, either sexually or physically abused by someone or may have been the victim of rape or robbery. Others, who go to office, may be hurt by their employers or office colleagues, people who have grown up children may have been hurt by their children, children too may be hurt by their parents and so everyone has been hurt at some point in their life.
As painful as the experience may have caused the hurt in your life, there may be so many of us who have compounded this pain by letting bitterness, anger even hatred into their life against the person who caused the hurt.
Jesus has taught us to forgive others and as a Christian or Catholic we must learn to forgive. Much of the problems in relationship can be resolved if we only practice the virtue of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that God gave His children to use when needed. We should be humble enough to grant unlimited or infinite forgiveness.
Today, in the western world, most prisons operate on the central lock system. You may have seen this in western movies, where you hear a buzz, followed by the clanking sound of all the cell doors automatically opening. In the same way, today, many of us are in this prison of hurt and pain. I hope and pray with the help of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and through the intercession of Mother Mary, that this talk will help you to unlock this door and set you free from the bondage that you have been carrying until now.
The key to unlock this door is forgiveness. Though it may sound simple, as mentioned earlier it carries a lot of responsibilities and so it is one of the most difficult things to do. Why? Because forgiving some one who has hurt you deeply is the hardest thing to do in life. You cannot do it on your own and that’s the reason why I asked for the support of Jesus Christ and the intercession of Mother Mary. You can forgive anyone and everyone, only and only with the strength and grace that you receive from the Lord.
During the time of Jesus and before, it was the practice of the Jews that a brother will forgive a repetitive sin few times beyond which there was no forgiveness. Therefore Peter asked our Lord Jesus Christ how many times he should forgive his brother and Jesus emphasized that they should not set a limit on the frequency of forgiving one another. Instead forgiveness should be unlimited, i.e. seventy times seven. It implies unlimited and wholehearted forgiveness.
Our sinfulness affects not only our relationship with God but also with men. God forgave us so we can be restored in our relationship with Him. In addition, he wanted us to practice forgiveness to one another. Why did Jesus want this ? Because sin destroys relationship and forgiveness restores them. Jesus set an excellent example, which we should always follow, and practice. When Jesus was crucified on the cross nearing death, he asked his father to forgive everyone. An unrepentant person should follow the example of our Lord and pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
The forgiveness we received and experienced should be shared with those who wronged us. God forgave us far more than we will ever forgive. He forgave all our individual sins. In the same way, we should grant forgiveness to others. We, humans, because of our judgmental attitudes, our egos, we hesitate to forgive others, which is not right.
Now, why is forgiveness so difficult :
1. Most people due to the density of hurt hold grudges. They tend to remember things that have hurt or wounded their lives.
2. They want to get even. Their ego is hurt. You hurt me so I’ll hurt you. You spread bad mouth about me, so I’ll say something about you. Or sometimes it is like he/she has hurt, I’ll be quite now but I will strike when the time is ripe. So, we are determined to get eve or one up on someone that has hurt us.
3. We long for justice rather than forgiveness. Just last week, I received an email from my friend, which is very apt for this talk. It goes to show how small kids also long for justice but will not forgive.
So you see, how this quality of getting even is there in small kids. We want those who have wronged us to pay for what they have done. Holding on to resentment only hurts the one who holds on to it.
So, forgiveness is hard and it’s not always easy to do the things that God has commanded us to do, which is why we must learn to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit as it help us to mould into what we are called to be. It’s not always easy to choose to do the right thing when our emotions want to do the opposite, which is why we must rely on the strength that God gives us. It’s not always easy to forgive the person, which is why we need to see them through the eyes of God.
If we claim to be Catholics, we must learn to forgive as it does not come naturally, it comes from love and love comes from God. Remember when we forgive, we are not forgiving the person for what they did, but for who they are – a unique human being created by God. It is because we acknowledge that they are human just like us, fallen, sinful and imperfect.
Realize that we are simply channels of God’s forgiveness – forgiveness did not originate from us but God. Remember that as we forgive others we are actually expanding an environment of peace and order in our society.
Forgiveness is not just vertical between us and God. He makes it very clear in the Bible that His Forgiveness must also extend horizontally... between us human beings.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another, whenever anyone of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.”
Again, St. Paul tells to the people of Ephesus, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God...” How do we “grieve” the Holy Spirit? Paul explains by giving us a list of things we are to get rid of in our lives: “bitterness, fury, and anger, shouting and reviling, along with every form of malice.” Think about it for just a minute. All of those behaviors are the result of not forgiving someone. And it grieves God to see us living this way. It grieves Him just like it grieves an earthly father when his children refuse to forgive and live in peace with each other. So Paul encourages us to get rid of that sinful behavior by being “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Forgiveness will wipe out the mean and hateful attitudes in our lives.
We all sin, don’t we, and that too every day, ‘N’ number of times, be it big or small – and then what do we do, some of us go for the Sacrament of reconciliation or confession, while others who do not have the time or do not feel the need to go for confession, ask God to forgive you, because you know, you have a forgiving God and you also have the assurance of forgiveness in his Word. This ought to humble us as Christians. Take for example me. It makes me ashamed to think of the sins that I have repeated over and over again. For the life of me, I can’t even begin to comprehend how God can be so patient and kind to me. But I have confidence that every time I ask Him to forgive me... He does!! Without hesitation!! He forgives me totally out of His Divine Grace. So how can I even THINK of not forgiving someone the way God has forgiven me??
Sacrament of Reconciliation is a precious gift that God has provided for us to unload our sins and we Catholics should make use of this wonderful gift. Many Catholics today, think that there is no need to go to a priest for Confession and that they can confess directly to God. This doubt may have been sowed in their hearts by the Satan himself or by our Protestant brethren, who do not believe in this, saying that it is not given in the Bible. My dear friends, read John 20 : 21-23 which goes like this : Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." This is the authority that God has given to the priest. You read of this breath only twice in the Bible. God breathed on the first man and gave him life; similarly as Adam's life came from God, so now the disciples' new spiritual life with the task of forgiveness comes from Jesus.
Unforgiveness is a sin and an act of disobedience to God. Those who deliberately deny others of forgiveness will suffer the consequence of this behavior. It will yield to other sins – anger, critical spirit, bitterness, and indifference. It also leads to various illnesses.
I remember two old sayings on forgiveness. “To err is human, to forgive is divine” and “Forgive and Forget”. But I don’t know if that’s possible for us sinful humans. Can we ever really totally forget when someone has hurt us... especially when they’ve hurt us deeply? I don’t believe it’s possible. But it IS possible to choose not to remember that hurt or nurse resentments from it. That’s what God does when He Totally forgives us. What does Psalm 103:12 tell us?? It says: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our sins from us.” God knows our many sins against Him. But He willfully chooses to put them out of reach. And He promises that once those sins are forgiven, He will never bring them up again.
Is it possible for us to do the same?? I believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we CAN choose to no longer remember an offense that has been forgiven. I can tell you from my own life that this has to be a conscious effort where you turn to God in prayer whenever you feel those thoughts of resentment building up inside you. Ask God to take them away from your mind. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that this is what true, Godly Love does. He says “it keeps no record of wrongs.” Why would someone keep a record of wrongs? Don’t we do this because we think we might just need to bring this list out someday? We want to keep this list in our minds to use as a weapon against them if necessary. I’ve heard people with this attitude say, “I can Forgive... but I can never Forget.” Like I said, we might never be able to truly forget, but what this person is really saying is, “I Don’t WANT to Forget... and I’m not going to even try to put it out my mind.”
Friends, that’s not how God forgives us. And that’s definitely NOT how He wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to totally forgive the person and wipe their record clean.
There are three principles of forgiveness. They are
• Principle 1: Forgive those who sin against us.
• Principle 2: Forgive and be forgiven.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
• Principle 3: Do not forgive and you will not be forgiven.
If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.
We have the responsibility to practice and promote unlimited forgiveness. Forgiveness is a not an option but a decision that we must follow.
If you have a need to grow in forgiveness, or if you need help in forgiving someone, come to the altar, come in front of the Blessed Sacrament and seek that help from God; he is waiting to give you the strength to do this. Some of you have been deeply hurt in ways that have left scars on your very soul. You have been hurt in unimaginable ways. You have been hurt by those you loved and trusted. These things are affecting not only your life, but your relationship with God and others. Quit trying to bear this cross yourself, bring it to God today and ask him to help you.
At this juncture, I would like to tell you a story about real forgiveness.
A father was sitting with his son in the intensive care facility at a hospital. He knew his son would die, just a matter of time before he passed away. He was concerned about his son’s faith, so he began to talk to him about Jesus. But his son interrupted and sais. Dad, I need to tell you about a dream I had. Quietly the father said OK and sat listening to his son as he related his dream.
He said Dad I dreamed I was in a library filled with file cabinets, and out of curiosity I opened one and took out one of the file cards and read it. On the card was written a sin I had committed a long time ago and I had forgotten it. Then I pulled out another and another and in each file were card after card of sins I had committed. Disheartened and afraid I sat down and started to cry for I knew I would never get to heaven. Then a man came and I recognized him. It was Jesus. I was so afraid that I couldn’t look at him. He started pulling out the files one after another and with tears in his eyes he wrote something on the cards while I watched in horror. Then he turned to me and smiled and then disappeared. After a little while I got up and went to the files and opened it and took out one of the cards, then another, and another. On every card was written the words, This Sin is Forgiven. Dad, I know where I am going, so don’t worry about me, I’ll be OK!
Then he quietly passed away.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is forgiveness. And it happens over and over. We are a sinful people, intentional or not we commit sins over and over again and God forgives us over and over again, provided we are really sorry and he asks us too to forgive like him. And you know, there is joy in forgiveness. There is peace in forgiveness. There is contentment in forgiveness. When we forgive we know we have done the right thing. We have done what God has asked of us and that will give us peace. Then we can pick up the pieces and go on.
My dear people of God, we should thank God daily for this wonderful, amazing grace. His forgiveness is our only hope of achieving our goal of heaven. AMEN.