The renowned English poet Alexander Pope stated: “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” How true this statement, but how difficult it can be! Holding on to resentment indeed is interior slavery. Whereas, to forgive is truly imitating God Himself, but also setting the captive free and that captive is me!
Frequently and in unequivocal terms Jesus has reaffirmed the indispensable obligation of all to forgive those who hurt us, to pray for our enemies, and to do good to those who hurt us! Once again, easier said than done! Actually, without God’s grace to forgive those who have wounded us and to love and pray for our enemies far transcends and supersedes our natural powers. In sum, we need Gods’ grace to forgive our enemies.
Jesus is our example in all, in absolutely all we say, do and even think in our daily lives! Indeed, He said it clearly: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus first begun by doing and then by His preaching. First actions, then words!
His very demanding teaching on forgiveness, He lived to perfection at every stage and moment of His earthly existence.
What are some of the teachings of Jesus on mercy and forgiveness? Meditate on a few! “Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” In response to Peter’s generous willingness to forgive seven times, Jesus upped it a notch or two: “No, I say to you to forgive seventy times seven.” This is hyperbole for the imperious obligation to forgive always, without limits or reservations!
Then Jesus made a Liturgical/Mass allusion. He said that if you have come to Church to present your offering and you know that your brother has something against you, to simply leave the offering at the foot of the altar, reconcile with your brother and then return to offer the gift. In other words, to celebrate worthily the Liturgy we should strive to be at peace with our brothers and sisters, and not be angry and resentful towards anybody.
Then the most famous prayer in the world, the Our Father, Jesus inserted this very important command: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In other words, forgiveness from God on our part is a two way street. If we want to be a recipient of God’s forgiveness, then necessarily we must forgive those who have hurt us!
Finally, the most eloquent witness of Gods’ forgiveness for all of humanity and for us individually was when Jesus hung upon the cross after having been scourged, crowned with thorns, spat upon and mocked, forgotten and abandoned by His loved ones, derided and mocked incessantly. What was His response as He hung on the cross ready to breathe forth His spirit? These words: “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Following are five short and concrete suggestions to help us on the pathway to forgiveness and mercy!
- BEG FOR THE GRACE. To forgive our enemies, to pray for them and to love them goes far beyond our fallen human nature. We desperately need God’s overflowing and abundant graces. Saint Augustine says that we are all beggars before God. Therefore, we should beg for the grace to forgive when we are put to the test. God will not deny us this petition and important grace!
- FORGIVE IMMEDIATELY. When we are offended, often the devil works on us right away fostering in our minds thoughts of revenge. Such ugly and vindictive thoughts can easily surface: “Get even!” “Teach him a lesson.” “Give him his own medicine.” “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” Finally, “Do not let him get away with it this time.” In a certain sense we might feel, as a Protestant preacher once put it succinctly: “We desire to forgive but only after we see him squirm like a worm in hot ashes, at least for a while.” All of these thoughts and feelings are diametrically opposed to the teaching of Our Merciful Savior and we must resist them and reject them as soon as we become aware of them. Therefore, if we respond to God’s grace of mercy and forgive immediately there is a very good chance that the victory is ours! In sum, be quick to reject vindictive thoughts and even more rapid to forgive!
- HUMILITY. Another efficacious spiritual weapon that we have in our armory is that of HUMILITY. How? In this way! If forgiveness proves laborious and near impossible, then call to mind your worse sin or your most embarrassing sin and the fact that God forgave you of this as soon as you begged for His mercy and forgiveness. Most likely the offense that was leveled against you is minimal in comparison with your most grave or embarrassing sin. This can prove a very powerful tool to open up your heart in mercy and forgiveness!
- MERCY IS A TWO-WAY STREET! Next, remember that receiving God’s mercy is not a dead-end street, but rather a two-way street! Meaning? Jesus said: “Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful… and forgive…” Therefore, if we want to experience God’s infinite mercy in our lives, we must extend our hand in forgiveness towards those who have offended us. The Our Father teaches us the same lesson: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Saint Faustina Kowalska in the “Diary of Divine Mercy in my soul” asserts unequivocally that the greatest attribute or virtue in God is His infinite Mercy. Followers of Jesus the merciful Savior must practice this sublime but very demanding virtue. Mercy is God’s love forgiving the sinner. We deciding to forgive our enemies is a clear sign of the victory of God’s grace and mercy in our lives!
- JESUS BLEEDING FROM THE CROSS. Possibly the most convincing motivational force to compel us to forgive those who offend us is the serene but serious contemplation of Jesus hanging on the cross, shedding every drop of His most Precious Blood to save all of humanity, but in particular my own immortal soul. After being hurt and maybe not willing to forgive, lift up your eyes to contemplate Jesus as He hangs from the cross. Remember what He has already gone through: sweating Blood, scourged at the Pillar, crowned with thorns, denied by Peter, betrayed by Judas, condemned being totally innocent, nailed to the cross, and shedding every drop of His Precious Blood. What was the first word/short sentence/ that issued forth from His most Sacred Heart? Look, listen, contemplate and pray! “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!” Meditating upon these words, coupled with the contemplation of His bitter Passion, hanging from the cross and shedding of His most Precious Blood, should be the most efficacious tool/hammer to crush the hardened heart that is apparently unwilling to forgive! Finally, beg Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of mercy, for the grace to forgive. Nobody ever suffered more than Mary—aside from Jesus Himself! Still, as she heard and witnessed her only Son suffer and die on the cross, brutally mistreated, she forgave from the depths of her Immaculate Heart. May Our Lady attain for us the grace to forgive, be merciful and merit the title to be truly the son of God the Father, brother to Jesus Christ, and friend of the Holy Spirit in time and for all eternity! Amen.
Father Ed Broom, OMV, is Associate Pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church in Hawaiian Gardens, California. He is a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and was ordained by Saint John Paul II on May 25, 1986. Fr. Ed teaches Catholic Ignatian Marian Spirituality through articles, podcasts, a radio show, retreats and spiritual direction.