How Do I Forgive?
23rd Sunday Ordinary Time
September 6, 2020
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.’”
Jesus talks about the need to forgive others a lot. Often without thinking we pray the Our Father, perhaps without realizing that Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins is conditional on our (trying!) to forgive others. This is what we say: “….and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Then for emphasis Jesus repeats this part of the Our Father. So, what is forgiveness and how do we do it?
Forgiveness is not a feeling. I don’t have to like the person who offended me, or excuse what they did, or continue to be friends or engage in long conversations with them. Hurt feelings are a part of life. We need to pray for a healing when we receive communion and perhaps even seek therapy. Hurt feelings or anger do not mean we haven’t forgiven. Forgiveness is a series of actions.
Forgiveness means we pray for the person who hurt us. There are many ways to do this. For example, I have a prayer bowl in my chapel for peoples’ intentions, including names of those I have forgiven or am working on forgiving. Another example would be to put the name or initials on the back of a holy picture or statue and whenever we touch this image we are praying for this person.
Forgiveness means not telling everyone in town what this person did. When someone hurts us, the normal human response is often to tell everyone what was done to us except the person who hurt us, which is the exact opposite of what Jesus is asking for in our gospel today. This is usually the greatest offense: our tongue. I have seen nasty rantings on Facebook, for example, that lack charity. Or, we act nice when we see the individual and badmouth them behind their back. It is OK to have a confidant or two; but, otherwise, we must be careful not to drag someone’s name through the mud.
Forgiveness means avoiding passive-aggressive actions when we see this person. No one is asking you to like this person or seek out their company. Jesus does however ask that we show basic human decency when we run into them. Then we move on. We must not let the other person win. Keeping our composure not only demonstrates our Christianity but will often drive the other person nuts because it deprives them of the satisfaction of knowing they “got” you while at the same time pleasing our Lord who, after all, forgives everything we have done, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.