FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
Some among us are unable to forgive. Some others forgive but do not forget. Still others forgive but only when the offenders ask them for forgiveness. Moreover, there are others among us that do not forgive themselves. Fortunately, there are many among us who forgive always and all.
Forgiving others is a quality of true human and divine love (charity), and an essential quality of happiness. As Christians, in particular, we ought to love all with forgiving love: one who loves forgives.
Jesus invites us to the unconditional forgiveness the saints and martyrs witnessed (cf. Acts, 7:60). He says: “If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, neither your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Mt 6:14-15). We remember the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18:21-35). St. Cyprian comments: “The servant was forgiven by his master, but he did not forgive another servant who owed him much less; this was the reason why the earlier-received forgiveness was taken away from him by his master: in the end, he was not forgiven.” St. Paul asks Jesus’ disciples: “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13; cf. Eph 4:32).
Christian forgiveness is simply “the expulsion of hatred, the rejection of wishing evil to the other; it is hope in the conversion of the criminal” (E. Lasarre). Traditionally, forgiving entails forgetting, erasing the faults others commit against us. By the second half of the 20th century, some theologians began to prefer, instead of forgetting or erasing, remembering in another way. I like to say, remembering the offense of another as a healed wound.
One clear reason for the unhappiness of some people is their inability to forgive those who offend them. Unforgiving wounds the soul: the wound will be there until the healing medicine of forgiving is applied.
Being able to forgive others is a difficult challenge for many among us. It is not easy, and at times difficult, to forgive and forget, or remember in another way. Forgiving is usually a continuing process with different steps: not wishing evil to the offender, praying for her, wishing good, loving him.
1. “I forgive but I do not forget.”
Then you do not forgive. Not forgetting implies answering a wrong with another wrong: a sort of “an eye for an eye.” True Christian forgiving implies forgetting. How can I forget? I have a good memory! If one remembers the faults of others against us, he or she remembers them as he remembers a healed wound. God forgets our forgiven sins. The story of the woman visionary whose visions of God her parish priest did not believe. The priest told her: “OK, I will believe you if God tells you my secret sins.” In her next vision, the woman asked God. Later, she answered to the priest: “I asked God and he told me that he has forgotten your sins.” The Psalmist: “You [Lord] have put all my sins behind your back” (Ps 38:17). Christ forgave the tormentors who crucified him: He did not require them to ask him for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them…” – and He even excused them (Lk 23:34).
2. “I forgive if s/he asks for it.”
How do we forgive others? Do we only forgive them when they are sorry? Not so. We are not God, who forgives us always, when we are repentant. Do we doubt others when they ask us to forgive them? Try not to: Do we know their intentions? We may suspect! But suspicion, St. Thomas tells us, is wrong – morally.
3. “I do not forgive myself.”
All of us – sinners – make mistakes and commit sins through life. Thereafter, we blame ourselves: How could I have done this? I acknowledged then my sins, confessed them, and God forgave and forgot them. Some among us suggest to forget completely the forgiven sins: playing with dirt may make us dirty – again! Others prefer to remember their sins to be more deeply repentant. Still others prefer to underline not their forgiven sins but the mercy of God. St. Francis of Sales tells us that Mary Magdalene, after she was forgiven by Jesus, never looked back at her bad past. Our bad past is buried. We focus on the present and walk towards the future by steps of faithful and hopeful love.
What makes forgiving possible and even attractive? God’s love in us. Genuine love of neighbor entails forgiving all, including our enemies. St. Isidore of Seville said that perhaps not all can share something with the poor, but all can forgive.
4. We ask humbly for forgiveness from God and from those we offend
This petition helps us recognize our weakness, frees us from the slavery of sin, and makes our forgiving others easy. How about asking God to forgive the sins of our ancestors? it has become fashionable to ask forgiveness for the sins of the past by the Church, a diocese, a religious congregation. What matters most for us is to be sorry for our sins, to forgive others, and try hard not to commit today the “sins” (?) our predecessors committed.
We try honestly to forgive always: seventy times seven, Jesus tells Peter, that is always (cf. Mt 18:22). We forgive all but hate the evil they have done. Knowing our weakness, we need to pray. According to St. Teresa of Avila, prayer leads to forgiveness. As part of our night prayer, it is commendable and spiritually healthy to ask God and neighbor for forgiveness of our sins and to forgive those who offended us.
Daily, we pray the Our Father:“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” How may I pray the Our Father if I do not forgive fully– always and all? A card I received recently shouted to me: “To forgive and be forgiven makes every day a new day.” I read somewhere: “One who does not forgive has no future.”
Forgiving means a happy new day and a happy future.