All of us suffer hurts in our relations with others; family, friends, associates in the workplace. Often it is because we have been grievously wronged by someone’s actions or it could be a word said in anger or perhaps an oversight, deliberate or otherwise. Whatever the cause, we are hurt. We suffer an emotional reaction that may be anger, shock, disbelief or profound sadness.
How do we respond? Do we demand an apology? Do we nurse a grudge for years? Or perhaps we follow the exhortation to “don’t get mad, get even,” and plan revenge or at least retaliation. We might even consider forgiveness, only, of course, if the offender asks for it.
For a disciple of Jesus, there is only one possible response; unconditional forgiveness. Recently Pope Francis addressed this situation in a homily at Santa Marta Church in the Vatican. The Pope’s answer is that, “We have to forgive, because we have been forgiven. This is in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us about it there. Human logic is incapable of fathoming this. Human logic leads us not to forgive, to seek revenge; it leads to hate, division. How many families have broken up because [they were] unable to forgive, how many families! Children separated from their parents, husbands and wives who have grown distant from each other … It is so important to think about this. If I do not forgive I don’t, it appears, have the right to be forgiven and I do not understand what it means that God has forgiven me.”
Forgiveness is difficult, and I might add that possibly it is most difficult to forgive ourselves, even though we believe that God has forgiven us. It seems appropriate to recall a famous quote from Catholic Poet Alexander Pope, who suffered oppression for his faith under the English penal laws. Pope wrote in his Essay on Criticism. “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
As we pray for the grace and the strength to forgive those who have offended us and to ask forgiveness of those whom we have offended, let us keep before us the words of Jesus as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
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