Musings On The Significance of God’s Policy On Forgiveness: Letting Go and Letting God
Vatican News reported that in one of his Catechesis on the “Our Father” with the General Audience, Pope Francis reminds us “that we are forgiven in the measure with which we forgive those who trespass against us”. In the said gathering, the Holy Father told a story about a priest who went to hear the Confession of a lady who was on her deathbed:
The priest asked her if she repented all of her sins. Yes was her answer. The priest also asked her: “‘Do you forgive others?’ And the lady, at the point of death said: ‘No.’ The priest was distressed. If you do not forgive, God will not forgive you.” (End of story)
We don’t exactly know what transpired next, we’re not sure if the dying lady was convinced by the priest to forgive her friend or those people who have wronged her. Hopefully, it was a happy ending….
The 2nd Sunday Gospel Reading for this month is about God’s policy on forgiveness. When St. Peter approached our dear Lord Jesus Christ and asked Him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Our Lord God answered him, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times”.
Some of us who have not undergone spiritual formation, or haven’t taken up religion or theology classes or probably haven’t heard/read about the aforesaid conversation at all, Jesus response might be mistakenly interpreted in its literal sense, that there is a limit to the forgiveness of God. But no. Our Lord Jesus response has a deeper meaning, it symbolizes God’s infinite forgiveness of our sins – similar to His immeasurable love, mercy and compassion for us all. It only means that God’s forgiveness is limitless. However, while God will forgive us infinite times, we are also bound duty to grant the said forgiveness to others with no limits as well. Note that in the said Gospel reading, the Master showed mercy and generosity to one of his slaves, however, the latter was insensitive to the unfortunate situation of his fellow slave which made Our Lord Jesus upset. God forgives regardless of our inequities and transgressions, if we sincerely ask forgiveness from Him. But we are expected to understand and forgive others too. If we forgive others their trespasses, our Heavenly Father will forgive us. But if we will not forgive, we will not be forgiven as well. That’s what we’ve learned from the Gospel today.
Probably, almost everyone has been hurt by other people, could be those close to us (family or a best friend) or not. Being hurt particularly by someone we love and trust can be very challenging and burdensome on our part – mixed negative emotions will engulf the positive ones, and sometimes these negative feelings (anger, animosity, hatred, etc.) can be buried deeply in our hearts. A case in point was that of the dying lady where at the end of the day she still had not forgotten the people who have wronged her. We have no idea what she had gone through in the process. In situations like this when someone we care about hurt or took advantage of us so badly, what would we do? How do we forgive them? Do we let go of grudges and embrace forgiveness or do we hold on to anger?
Yes, forgiveness does not always come easily particularly in cases of violence and irresponsible action which results to injury or death. In fact, some of us may find it even equally difficult to grant forgiveness to people who have mocked and insulted us even among family and friends, particularly if we’re the type who holds grudges dearly. But what would we do if the anger and resentment reside in our heart? Will that other person be the one who suffers or is it us? Both suffers actually, but the one who harbors hatred in their hearts suffer the most. By embracing forgiveness, we can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy, and ultimately can lead us a happy disposition in life.
But how can we be more closer to God when we are currently faced with various issues in our personal lives? How can we spread the Good News and be of help to others when we are hurt and suffering and when there are old wounds still lingering in our system? How do we correct that? Do we have to fight back at the person who have wronged us, who treated us unfairly?
Sometimes we have to be aware of our nothingness to make us realize and understand the very depths of ourselves by humbly acknowledging wrongdoings, asking for forgiveness, and accepting the truth that without God we are nothing. The Holy Father once tweeted about forgiveness: “We pray to God for the courage to ask forgiveness and to learn how to listen to what he is saying to us”. When we pray to God, beg for forgiveness and know how to clearly listen and obey to what He says, we can actually feel His mercy and compassion for us. If we converse with God regularly and intimately, He will surely enter into our minds and hearts, giving us comfort and peace, and we will grow closer to Him in the end. When we forgive a person, it frees us from those negative feelings which undermine our inner peace and joy. However, we cannot abuse the infinite mercy and forgiveness that God has for us. We can’t keep on sinning, we should put an end to the habit of committing the same sins all over again.
Forgiveness in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is being tied together with the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation where the sins of those who were baptized under the Church are forgiven after confessing them to bishops and priests. N. 1452 of CCC states: “When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ – contrition of charity. Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.” Such that during this pandemic for instance, the Holy Father stated that in the event there is no priest available, we can speak directly with God and ask for pardon with all our heart, with the intention to go to Confession thereafter.
As they say, forgiveness is easier said than done. When a person does something bad to us, we may find it difficult to let go and move on with our lives. There is always that natural tendency to get back at the person who have hurt and insulted us. But is that the right attitude, on how we should react to a situation like this? Harboring ill will or resentment towards someone will only make matters worse. It will not only prolong the agony (the pain and hatred) we have been holding in our hearts and minds but it will also affect our physical, emotional and spiritual being. We have to let go of any negative emotions and hurt feelings we have been withholding in our hearts and let God handle it all. We can pray to God for the person who have hurt us and for us as well, to grant us peace. As Pope Francis said, if we have problems forgiving others, we need to ask the Lord to help us to forgive. This is the significance of God’s never-ending forgiveness; that asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness is possible with the help from God, no matter what.
Dear Lord God, we are sinners in need of Your mercy. Grant us the grace of repentance and forgiveness. Help us to forgive the sins that others have committed against us, and may we also be forgiven by those we have wronged. Lord, please cleanse us from our sins and banish all guilt and desires of it from our hearts. Make us your obedient child for us to be better persons, to be more loving and honoring you. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.
(this article is also published in a Filipino Catholic magazine abroad authored by the blogger herself)