“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..”
We pray these words every time we pray the ‘Our Father’, the prayer given to us by Our Lord when the disciples asked Him – “teach us how to pray”. Our Lord didn’t add these words without good reason. In our familiarity with this prayer, however, we might often say these words but perhaps we don’t always stop and think about what they really mean.
When we are wronged in any way, our human nature can lead us to hold on to feelings of anger and resentment; we then go over those feelings in our mind, deepening them and risking them becoming overwhelming and permanent. Unfortunately, anger and resentment are to the human heart, what arsenic is to the human body – poison. They are weeds in the garden and they will eventually strangle and kill the beautiful plants already growing there. So they need to be rooted out. But how do we accomplish this? Forgiveness is the antidote to this poison – it frees the human heart and liberates the soul.
Perhaps that is why the Lord put those words in the ‘Our Father’. In them, He has given us the answer to the question above. We need to recognise that we, too, are in need of forgiveness in one way or another. And if we seek to be forgiven for our wrongs – then we must, of necessity, forgive others their wrongs; “forgive us.. as we forgive those..”. There is a reciprocity there – forgiveness engenders forgiveness, but it also obliges forgiveness. And we will be forgiven to the degree to which we forgive others.
Remember the parable of the wicked servant who did not forgive his debtors, even though he had himself been forgiven –
“Then the master sent for him. ‘You wicked servant’, he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’.. And that is how My heavenly Father will deal with you unless you forgive each other from the heart.” (cf. Mt.18:32-35)
Here, the Lord adds something else to the subject – forgiveness cannot simply be words alone; it must come from the heart. If it does not come from the heart, then is it really forgiveness? It may well begin as nothing more than words – we all need to begin somewhere – but it must deepen and become real.
A Priest whose writings I read comments that forgiveness is an act of the will – that is where it begins. We make the decision to forgive. And we repeat that decision as much and as often as we need to, so that it really takes root within us, embeds itself within us and becomes much more than mere words.
For some people, the grace of forgiveness is already present in large degree – but for them, too, it begins with an act of the will, a decision to forgive. I wrote about some such people and their capacity to forgive in The Family That Love Built. I also touched on this subject in Fr Jacques Hamel, where I wrote –
“And so today, hard though it may be, we must ask the Lord for mercy for this world, so filled with darkness and hatred, asking that His grace and mercy transform the world and each soul, replacing darkness with His light, replacing hatred with His love, praying ‘that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent; but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself’.”
That particular post was written following the brutal murder of a Priest and the shock and outrage which followed in it’s wake. It is precisely at moments such as those that the risk of hatred erupting is greatest. Since then, there have been other events which have taken place and to which the world has reacted with both horror and hatred – the mass shooting in Las Vegas a few days ago being a prime example. On occasions such as these, while it is tempting simply to judge and to bear within us deep anger and resentment, we must do our best to forego this and, instead, pray for those who commit terrible acts of atrocity. Such souls are greatly in need of the prayer of others, that they might be open to the mercy of God, even if only in the very last instant of life.
Commenting on a different but equally shocking event recently, I had noted that we must use these atrocities as a vehicle for forgiveness and someone had responded (rightly) how very hard it can be to do so. But while that is certainly true, still we are obliged to forgive – and it is the Cross of Christ which compels us to do so, for precisely the reasons given in the parable of the wicked servant, and for the reason given by Our Lord Himself in those words from the ‘Our Father’ – “forgive us.. as we forgive those..”.
May the Lord grant us the grace to do so.
Main image: “Equal at the foot of the Cross, equally in need of mercy”
by Rebecca Brogan, used with kind permission of the artist.