A Word #163| 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time| September 17, 2017

Sep 14, 2017

Peter approached Jesus and asked him: "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: "If you really want to love, we must learn how to forgive." Forgiveness is not foreign to love rather it is intimately connected to loving. If we love we also must be willing to forgive. Yet how often do we get caught up in believing or convincing ourselves that we cannot forgive. In a recent tweet, I wrote: Forgiveness is not just the right thing to do but the human thing to do. "History has shown us that when forgiveness is lacking so too is our humanity." This is so true. Look at all the wars and insurrections that have begun because we can't forgive! If we are unwilling to forgive, then we contradict our own humanity.

I have shared on several occasions that I have experienced folks in the confessional who tell me or other priests that they cannot forgive this person or even themselves. They are often surprised when I or another priest tells them that if they cannot forgive then they shouldn't be asking God for forgiveness either. Simply put, if we cannot forgive then we have no business asking God for forgiveness for our own sins! If God can forgive unconditionally then what is our excuse? Are you more powerful than God? Or is God the fool? Let's be honest, none of us are God and we are all fools if we want to deny anyone forgiveness. If God is in the forgiveness business then we too must be about the business of forgiveness since we all have been made in His own image and likeness.

Nevertheless there are sins that if they were ever committed against ourselves or those who we love we may find it hard to truly forgive. I can think of physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, destroying another's reputation and good name, or murder as some sins we may think are "unforgivable." Indeed such sins and others like them are grave and can leave lasting scars to those affected, yet we must still be able to forgive. Forgiveness does not eliminate justice or restitution that is due nor does it mean that everything will go back to the way things were before, forgiveness frees us from the hold that the offense or perpetrator has over us. Forgiveness liberates us from the slavery of resentment, hatred, and the need for revenge. Forgiveness doesn't require us to return to where we were hurt or injured before but rather directs us towards the horizon of healing and restoration. Forgiveness makes us vulnerable to be healed and open to love again. Forgiveness restores us our humanity that was taken from us from someone or something that wanted to deny our humanity. 

In the Gospel, Jesus sets the record straight on forgiveness. Following Peter's question about when there is a limit to forgiveness, Jesus teaches that there is no limit now or ever on the amount of times you must forgive. In fact, Jesus attaches a "pay it forward" amendment to the act of forgiveness through the parable of the wicked servant. As much as we approach God to be forgiven, we must equally offer forgiveness to others. 

Like love, forgiveness is never one-sided but two-sided. It’s directed to the other before the self. That's why the prerequisite of true love is true forgiveness. As much as we find it easy to say: "I love you," we must also find it easy to say: "I forgive you." What is needed is a better understanding of what forgiveness truly means. If we can begin to see the link between forgiveness and love and how it is not the right thing to do but the human thing to do, then we will want to forgive often and unconditionally.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. John