Forgive us as we forgive othersSister Regina McGarry OP
“Forgive us as we forgive others”
I’d like to begin this reflection with an extract from the interview Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ had with Pope Francis in August 2013. To Fr Spadaro’s question, Who is Jorge Bergoglio?, Pope Francis replied:
“I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner.
This is the most accurate definition.
It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
The pope continues to reflect and concentrate, as if he did not expect this question, as if he were forced to reflect further:
“Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances,
but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside
and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
And he repeats: “I am one who is looked upon by the Lord.
I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo
[By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”
Why do I begin with this?
Because…unless we recognize that we are sinners and receive the compassionate forgiveness of God, we do not know how to really forgive others.
It is easy as Christians to think we are not too bad, compared with the terrible atrocities committed by others, against innocent people throughout the world, and even in our own country. That kind of thinking, attitude, makes us complacent, a bit smug with ourselves. Complacent Christians should read complacent unchristian.
And what did Jesus have to say to the complacent religious people when he was alive?
The Pharisee and the Publican: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
We don’t dwell on our sinfulness, we trustingly turn to God in penitence and dwell on God’s loving mercy.
The Year of Mercy in 2015 highlighted, not our sinfulness, but God’s infinite mercy and compassion.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18.21-22)
Jesus goes on to say,
“You have learnt how it was said, ‘eye for an eye and tooth for tooth’. But I say this to you, offer the wicked man no resistance.”
He then tells the powerful parable of the unforgiving servant. (18:23-35)
For Jesus’ first listeners and for us this teaching is a mind-boggling proposal. Jesus is telling us to forgive constantly. The amount owed the king was beyond imagination. The amount owed by the fellow servant was tiny in comparison. This parable is about us!
So, what really helps us to forgive constantly, daily, is to live, as Pope Francis does, with the awareness that we are sinners whom God has looked on with great compassion and love. We can only forgive others when we live with this daily awareness. We can only learn to ‘turn the other cheek’ when we live in the love of having been forgiven by our gracious and loving God. It’s not easy, it’s a constant daily effort, a daily decision, a daily process. It is important to remind ourselves that forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a decision.
What stops us from forgiving are not feelings of anger or hurt, but resentfulness.
Anger can be righteous, but when we let it harden into resentment it becomes a poison. It blocks the grace of God from flowing into us and through us. Forgiveness removes the block.
Feelings of anger or hurt are natural reactions to being treated badly. It is right to be angry when injustice is done, it is natural to be hurt when we are treated badly. Anger at injustice helps us to take appropriate action to address injustices. Jesus was angry and hurt at times, but he was never resentful. He didn’t nurse his feelings of anger or hurt. That is what resentfulness does. It causes us to lash out, to wound as we have been wounded. When Jesus acted out of his anger at the buying and selling at the Temple he overturned the tables, he didn’t overturn the buyers and sellers.
Let us try more faithfully to follow Christ who, despite the mockery cruelty of those who nailed Him to the cross, cried out: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
About being a follower of his, Jesus says: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.”
Take up our daily cross – surely Jesus is challenging us to look at our attitudes to slights, at our daily living out of ‘forgive as you have been forgiven’ – to live graciously with people we have deep disagreements with. In her Christmas message Queen Elizabeth spoke about the importance of having respect for each other. Sadly, we witness a great lack of that in public life, both here and abroad.
A courageous prayer by an Australian tribal elder
Forgive each other
Those who abuse us, despise us, tear our children from our bosom in the name of God –
Those who rip us off, take all our possessions, our dignity, our land, the loved animals of our place – forgive them.
Those who call us savages, ignorant, pagan, inferior, primitive – forgive them.
Those who desecrate our values, and replace them with their own gods of greed, corruption, decimation – forgive them.
Those who hurt us to our hearts, savage and wound our every part so that we can never bring ourselves to forgive them – forgive them
For if we do not forgive then the same evil spirit will enter into us and take us over.
Forgive in the Spirit of the Cross of Life
Let us remind ourselves of one of the beautiful and helpful passages in St Paul’s Letters (Col 3:12-13):
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Have patience with one another and forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you.”
And some of Jesus’ challenging words to us:
‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’
‘Do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves’
‘Do not condemn and you will not be condemned yourselves’.
Rowan Williams in an article on The Our Father says: “Forgive us our trespasses” is in some way the hardest bit of the Lord’s Prayer to pray, because it tells us straight away that to pray is also to be willing to change.”
‘Forgive us as we forgive others’
Lord, we pray that these words will daily challenge us to change, and may we be open to your saving grace and help. Amen.