Learning to forgive by seeking forgiveness

What the World needs now

Rev José Mario O Mandía

Ten years ago, on April 2, 2005, at 9:37 PM, Rome time, Pope John Paul II went back to the house of the Father. Millions of people had been following the last days of his fruitful earthly life. Many were moved to conversion. It was not a coincidence that he gave up his soul on a Saturday, a day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and on the eve of the feast that he himself had instituted: the Feast of Divine Mercy.

The next day, on the feast itself, at the end of the Holy Mass celebrated for the deceased Pope, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, read some words from the late Pontiff. “I have been charged,” Archbishop Sandri announced, “to read you the text that was prepared in accordance with his explicit instructions by the Holy Father John Paul II. I am deeply honored to do so, but also filled with nostalgia.”

Part of the text reads as follows: “As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!”

Then a prayer. “Lord, who reveal the Father’s love by your death and Resurrection, we believe in you and confidently repeat to you today: Jesus, I trust in you, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world.”

On March 13, 2nd anniversary of his election as 265th successor to Saint Peter, Pope Francis announced that he is convoking a special Jubilee Year of Mercy that will commence on the 8th of December this year. He made this announcement during a penitential service, where he himself made his confession (as he did the previous year in a similar occasion) before hearing the confession of the faithful.

What was Pope Francis’ intent? He explained, “We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (cf Luke 6:36).”

Let’s work it backwards. (3) We need to be merciful, to forgive. (2) We learn this when we are forgiven, when we are shown mercy. (1) And we are forgiven when we have admitted wrong doing. Forgiving – being forgiven – admitting guilt. Pope Francis teaches that the first step, that “transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is ‘God’s gift’, it is ‘His work’ (cf Ephesians 2:8-10).”

Admitting guilt
Some years back, I was giving some classes on the Faith to a handful of secondary school students. One of them was habitually late, so one day I asked, “Why are you always late?” He bowed his head and in a solemn tone declared, beating his breast, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!” He got me there.

When the rebellious son in the parable came back to his father and admitted, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21), his father did not require any more proofs of sorrow. Right away, he embraced him and got him cleaned and dressed up and threw a party for him.

It is easy for us to fall into self-righteousness, so easy to justify ourselves, so easy to pray like the Pharisee, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of men” (Luke 18:11). It takes courage and humility to let the Holy Spirit shine on our souls so that we can face our faults and shortcomings and tell God that we have offended him.

Being forgiven
In his March 16 homily at Casa Santa Marta, the Pontiff reminded his listeners that God is in love with us. “Have you thought about it? The Lord dreams of me! He thinks of me! I am in the Lord’s mind and in his heart!”

Then he asks, “What must I do? Believe. I must believe that the Lord can change me, and that He has the power to do so.”

And he actually does so in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus is God, and God is Creator. He has power to re-create us. But he will only do so if we let him.

“How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!”

Forgiving
When I admit my guilt and receive forgiveness “seventy times seven” (cf Matthew 18:22), that is, as many times as I have asked God for pardon, I learn how to be forgiving. I have been forgiven so much more!

The parable of the wicked servant narrated in chapter 18 of Saint Matthew (verses 21-35) contrasts the debt of the first servant with the second. The first one owed his master 10,000 talents, which was equivalent to 600,000 days’ wages! How he accumulated such debt is difficult to figure out, but that is the truth about us. We are “daily debtors”, says Saint Augustine. A fellow servant only owed the first servant 100 denarii, which is wage for 100 days. Apparently, the first servant did not appreciate what his master had done for him and refused to forgive his co-worker.

CS Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (“Essay on Forgiveness”)

Now we understand why Saint John Paul said “How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!” Only when I have been forgiven many times do I see the need and find the strength to forgive, starting with those closest to me at home or at work. It is easy to have mercy on a destitute beggar in Calcutta, but difficult to forgive the annoying person who lives or works with me.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said, “I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion.”

 

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