A few weeks ago we had a young, visiting priest say mass. It turns out he grew up in our parish and his entire family was there to support him before he returned to Rome for further studies. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
His homily was long. And it was wonderful. He started out by going over the ten commandments, which seems odd but I’m pretty sure it was more than just a refresher for a lot of the people there, including me. I can name them all, I just don’t necessarily remember the order perfectly. They get a bit jumbled together toward the middle.
Anyway. His homily focused on what he felt is the hardest part of the Catholic faith – forgiveness.
And he made me view forgiveness in a new light. And it has begun to change my life in the few weeks that have passed since.
When we go to confession but do not let go the disdain, hurt and anger we hold toward others, we are not fully purging ourselves of sin. One of the most well-known aspects of Catholicism and Christianity is the tenet of unfailing love for others. But if we are loving others without question, we must also forgive.
Matthew 6:14-15 and Mark 11:25 both say we must forgive others in order for our sins to be forgiven. There are numerous other passages referring to the need to forgive others. And as Father Ted mentioned, we say it at every mass:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
We must forgive to be forgiven. And if we leave the confessional holding back our forgiveness, if we are accepting the Eucharist but have held back our forgiveness, we are not receiving the love of Christ to its fullest. We are missing out.
It is really quite easy to tell yourself you have forgiven all the people who have wronged you. But to actually forgive them is difficult. It is humbling and painful. I think often we tell ourselves we forgive and push our anger and hurt down, try to hide it. And I think that hurts us a lot more than it hurts whomever we are failing to forgive. That resentment creeps into our everyday life, masked as gossip and aggression. That just can’t cut it anymore.
We must forgive everyone. Period. We must forgive our parents for missing our band concert. We must forgive our siblings for not being everything we expected them to be. We must forgive our significant others for mistakes they made that impacted our lives. We must forgive our bosses, co-workers and friends. We must forgive everyone for everything.
And we must truly forgive, not just tell ourselves we do.
And, perhaps most of all, we must forgive ourselves. When we truly sit down and reflect on all the negativity, all the hate, anger and pain we are holding onto. When we sit in prayer and allow ourselves to absolutely forgive everyone for everything, including ourselves, we will experience a depth and fervor of love we have thus far been unable to obtain.
Father Ted was quick to point out there is a difference between forgiving someone and liking them. Just as there is a difference between liking someone and loving someone. We are called to love everyone just as we are called to forgive them. But we are not called to be close friends with everyone. It is our duty to love everyone insofar as to respect them as a human being, created in God’s own likeness. We respect their right to life, their right to make their own decisions, have their own thoughts and live the way they see fit. We love them because they are made in our Lord’s likeness. But we don’t have to make an extra effort to become their friends. It is okay to not like someone. We can love them for being a human, we can forgive them because they are human and we are not perfect beings, and we can still not necessarily want to be their friends.
Now I haven’t mastered this. Admittedly, I have held onto years of resentment and pain. But I am learning to forgive myself for making mistakes and I am learning to forgive my husband and my family for their mistakes. I figure if I can learn to forgive those whom I love the most, forgiving people I no longer speak to – old friends, classmates, co-workers – will be a piece of cake.
So while I may not be 100 percent there, I feel it. I feel a relief, a sense of peace, for the things I have forgiven so far. And I feel a wondrous sense of joy at the prospect of truly letting it all go.
Here are some saints’ thoughts on forgiveness:
He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart. ~St. Faustina
The sign of sincere love is to forgive wrongs done to us. It was with such love that the Lord loved the world. ~St. Mark the Ascetic
During mental prayer, it is well, at times, to imagine that many insults and injuries are being heaped upon us, that misfortunes have befallen us, and then strive to train our heart to bear and forgive these things patiently, in imitation of our Saviour. This is the way to acquire a strong spirit. ~St. Philip Neri
Please, pray for me, that I can find the peace and strength to forgive all those I have held back on. And I will pray for you.