Mercy and Forgiveness

Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of forgiving others:

Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who plot revenge.” He calls “blessed” those who forgive and do so “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven. All of us have been looked upon with divine compassion. If we approach the Lord with sincerity and listen carefully, there may well be times when we hear his reproach: “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33) (Gaudete et exsultate, 82).

Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need for us to forgive one another. He taught us to pray in the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;” he also warned us: “for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15) while giving us a parable of the unmerciful servant who is condemned for not forgiving the small debt of his fellow servant (see Matthew 18:23-35).

Jesus also gave us a wonderful example from the Cross: as his persecutors taunted him he said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When St. Stephen was being martyred— stoned to death—for preaching Jesus Christ, he imitated our Lord, “knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60).

Children learn forgiveness in the home, seeing parents forgive each other after differences. Mothers remind us to “say you’re sorry” after we have hurt a sibling or playmate. As we experience forgiveness for offenses we have committed (hurting others) unnecessary quarrels, as well as injustices (unfairness, favoritism, and neglect), we learn to forgive.

Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it (CCC 2227).

A child finds it particularly hard to forgive when he has not experienced forgiveness at home, when he witnesses one parent holding on to past hurts, or one “punishing” him with uncontrolled and irrational bursts of anger, or by periods of silence that seem forever, or by constantly reminding the child of his past misdeeds. Such experiences produce resentments that end up defining our attitude towards another person. While self-giving love, mutual affection, and service should define our relationships, how often it is hurt feelings and resentments that do instead. We must let go of these and forgive them so that we can receive God’s forgiveness for our trespasses.

Forgiveness is the best hope to receive eternal life because when we go before the Judgment Seat of God, we can say: “Lord, you promised us that you would forgive us if we forgive others, and I forgave this person… and that person…” Then we will hear his sweet words: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) and “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

The Holy Spirit will turn injury into compassion and purify our memory, transforming our hurt into intercession (see CCC 2843). Let’s take advantage of this wonderful grace.

Fr. John Waiss,