“Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive those who Trespass Against Us”

A Reflection on Mercy and Justice
By Chris Creo

I HAVE been reading the blogs of two deacons in the US (which inspired me to start my own blog) regarding two issues happening there about the same time. Both of these issues are linked to the concepts of sin, mercy and justice.

The first one was about the reaction of people regarding the dismissal of a teacher from her teaching job in a Catholic school because she got pregnant out of wedlock. The second was about whether the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman should be given a Catholic funeral since some believed that the actor was a “grave public sinner.”

mercy2Then I had this discussion with our catechumen and his sponsors during our regular RCIA gathering on the same concepts. We were actually discussing the Lord’s Prayer and I was trying to explain to them the meaning and significance of the prayer in our lives as Christians; as Catholics.

The discussion was going OK. Then I noticed an increase in interest and participation level when we came to that line in the Lord’s Prayer that says “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I was telling the group that by praying that part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are not just acknowledging that we are sinners who need redemption and forgiveness but also proclaiming God’s abundant mercy through His Son. God willed to redeem and save us even when man was still in a state of sin–God did not wait for man to repent. Instead He sent His Son to communicate His love and His mercy.

However, I also added that we can only feel this grace; the feeling that we have indeed been forgiven, if we for our part have forgiven first.

“Ah!” exclaimed one of the participants following with the question: “So will I only be forgiven if I forgive? What if one does not ask for forgiveness or even refuse to acknowledge his or her wrong doings against me? That would not be fair.”

A valid question. In fact, I said, that was also my question before. First, I answered that indeed it is hard to forgive. Because what is involved is not just a notion that something was broken; that something unfair has been committed. It is not just a “head” thing. More importantly, it involves emotion; feelings of anger and hurt. Oftentimes, it is hard for us to forgive because we are angry and hurt.  But I added that our anger and our hurt are also manifestations of our love to that person “who trespass against us.”

The more anger, the more hurt we feel corresponds to how we actually love that person. That is why, I said to the group, it is harder to forgive family members than any other person because we naturally love family more. Indeed, anger and hurt are part of our lives because relationships are part of our existence.

However, forgiveness does not mean we should forget about justice–that sense of fairness or giving “what is due to God and neighbor.” For we are all called “to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good (Catechism, 1807).”

mercy1True, Jesus told the adulterous woman that she was forgiven (Jn 7:53-8:11). But he did not let the woman off the hook either. Instead he said “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” We are all given the gift of forgiveness but we are also called to make restitution and to conversion. For forgiveness or pardon without repentance or restitution negates the notion of fairness and the very sense of justice.

To the question: “Will I only be forgiven if I forgive first?” My answer was that we were already given that gift when Jesus became man like us, died on the cross and rose from the dead. The thing is we can only feel that grace if we truly repent for our sins and if we experience how it feels to forgive. And as one of the sponsors shared, that feeling of being forgiven whether after the sacrament of reconciliation or after reconciling with somebody is palpable; as if something heavy has been lifted off from our shoulders.

Yes it is hard and it takes time but maybe the first step is to try freeing ourselves of the hurt; let the actions or the event that injured our feelings not hurt us anymore. Then when the hurt is gone, anger will also fade away until such a time that we can open our hearts once again and be ready to forgive when forgiveness is sought in order to restore harmony and relationships once again.

Related article/blog: http://billditewig.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/rush-to-judgment-sin-and-lifestyle/

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