So Forgiveness… what is why is it important and what does it mean for our Faith? In recent months this has been something I have thought about a great deal.. Particularly when praying the Our Father – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..” these words resonate on my tongue as I pray. Forgiving wasn’t always something I was very good a, but holding on to our hurts is never healthy and bearing grudges is not exactly in line with Catholicism or Christianity in general. As has recently been made very clear to us all in homilies, not only from our own priest but also from religious figures throughout the globe, we cannot pick and choose what parts of our faith we adhere to..
Jesus makes frequent calls to forgive our enemies, even as he was crucified he cried:
In the Lord’s Prayer , we we are challenged to offer the same loving forgiveness we ourselves are given by God to both ourselves and others. To live this forgiveness is a powerful thing. We are all made in the image and likeness of Christ and as such, our ideal reality is to be as much like him as possible. Yes, we are human, yes, we make mistakes, but we need to strive for this, if we focus our hearts, minds and bodies on Christ, on attaining the goal of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven, this life becomes somewhat more attainable.
The teachings we receive as children and throughout our growth as young Catholics (and often throughout our adult lives, is often of a very Sacramental focus. Learning about forgiveness is often limited to us receiving God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Sacrament is a special blessing to us all and an example of Christ’s love for us. However often the challenge of human forgiveness and the expectation that we should be practicing this is neither learned nor understood!
I believe that God’s forgiveness is unconditional, constant and eternal. We believe this collectively as a Church. We also need an understanding that forgiveness is first a decision and we must allow the processes that come with it: letting go, working through hurt, anger, resentment and desires for revenge. We must ask the graces to do these things. The grace for healing, without which it is difficult to accept God’s forgiveness, forgive ourselves and offer this forgiveness to others.
So, How do we do this? Most of us are aware that we make a decision to forgive, this is the start of the process. Usually once we make that decision there is still a struggle with memories and feelings. Perhaps the best way to respond to Jesus’ teaching is to take the first step towards making peace, then offering our gift.
Throughout the process we are called to pray. To ask for the grace to want to forgive, to pray for the person who has hurt us. Sometimes all of that takes time. God does not abandon us in these times, he is ever present , waiting for us, carrying us on these difficult journeys that we take to follow his commandments.
So what is the nature of forgiveness? It is not what is frequently quoted “forgive and forget” Shakespeare, King Lear. If we have been deeply hurt, it is simply not possible to forget about it completely, this is not what the Biblical teaching is, perhaps we would better placed to use the mantra “Remember and forgive” – Remember the Mercy of God so that YOU can forgive others.
We find this approach in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23-35). The servant who has been forgiven an enormous debt refuses to forgive another servant who owes him a small amount. The unforgiving debtor is punished for not remembering how he has been forgiven and, in turn, for not forgiving his debtor.
Whilst the ideal is that we forgive and be reconciled with the other, this is not always possible. Reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness. This is also a common misconception and therefore an obstacle to forgiveness. In fact, in order to forgive we do not even need a request from the offender for forgiveness. The forgiveness comes from within ourselves, our part in it is to complete the work required of us to be released from the pain of unforgiveness. Perhaps the person that requires forgiveness is deceased, has no idea how much they have hurt you or does not even want to be forgiven.
Remember and Forgive.
Remember God loves you unconditionally, he also loves the person that has hurt you unconditionally. “Forgiven so that I can Forgive” (Majesty, Delirious) Trust in God’s love, “love is mercy’s second name they are one and the same” (Fr Stan Fortuna) on every step of this journey we are carried in our Heavenly Fathers arms, enfolded in his merciful love, learning to forgive to enable our forgiveness and having the hope for a Reconciliation is the expectation of us all.