Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Works of Mercy: Forgiving Offences Willingly

So, as I was just saying eight weeks ago… yeah, it seems a little weird to just pick up the series I was doing before Lent began, way back in early February.  In case your memory is a little shaky, Wednesdays on the blog I had been going through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, all part of helping us understand what we’re supposed to be doing in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

As I thought would happen, it seems to me that we don’t hear too much about the Year of Mercy lately. We human beings have such short attention spans—for many people it seems to have been a ‘two months of Mercy’, and then let’s move on to something else. Like, I don’t know, Donald Trump or something.

But the Year goes until Christ the King, so let’s try to keep mercy at the forefront And here we are in the very heart of the year, with Mercy Sunday just around the corner. And this whole Octave of Easter is all about celebrating the victory of mercy, the victory of God’s love in the world, lavishing life in the place of death, shining light into the innermost recesses of darkness and gloom, and above all pouring out God’s forgiveness of sin upon all humanity. Mercy has been given us, and it has been given us by the Risen Lord Jesus.

And so we come to the spiritual work of mercy that is most divine in nature of all of them: to forgive offences willingly. It is more than appropriate to contemplate this work of mercy in the very Week of Mercy, the week when we all are basking in the joyful fact that God has forgiven our sins through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

It is a formula so simple and logical that a small child can understand it: what has been done for us, we must do for one another. God sees us in all our un-glory, all our warts and open wounds, all our roughness and sharp edges, all our deliberate choices to not love, to not obey, to not do what is good and right. He sees all that, and His response is to extend mercy to all humanity. We have to accept that gift, and the acceptance of that gift is our repentance, our contrition, our prayer for forgiveness. 

But let us be very clear—the offer is made, the gift is extended, mercy is real and is there for every human being no matter how wretched and corrupt their life has become.

What God is for us, we are to be for one another. It is that simple. So we must forgive one another—we must, absolutely. Forgive one another in the small things of life—the little annoyances, the hurtful comments or thoughtless acts. And forgive in the big things of life, too—the deep wounds others have inflicted on us either culpably through malice or selfishness, or through some incapacity, blindness, or negligence.

The small things are easier to forgive, but not always that easy. It is easier to store up resentments, to keep a close account of just how crummy this person is treating me, just in case I decide to strike back at them at some point. You know, present them with how big an account they’ve run up, and demand payback.

Forgiveness in the small things is a work we have to continually choose. Letting one another off the hook, as God lets us off the hook. With the big things, it is again a work, but it is a much deeper and more difficult work, one that extends over time and is part of a whole journey of healing and integration.

One cannot simply paper over a deep wound of life—abuse, say, or some terrible act of violence or malicious harm—with a facile “Well, I forgive that person.” You cannot put a Band-Aid over a severed artery, and you cannot blithely ‘forgive’ those major hurts of life.

But forgiveness must happen, in time, a necessary and vital part of the healing process. And I think that even as other things are happening—as one gets the help one needs to be healed of such wounds—that we can start nonetheless by praying for the one who hurt us, by choosing forgiveness insofar as we choose to return a blessing for a curse, good for evil.

There is much to say about this—more than I can say in a blog post. But in this fundamental choice we truly are acting as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, truly embracing the immensity and beauty of our royal dignity and stature. And in that, declaring that our life is much bigger, that we are much bigger, than the wounds and hurts inflicted on us, the harm done to us by the other person.

And ultimately in this, both the small everyday acts of forgiveness and the commitment to the big acts of forgiveness, we are choosing to have our life be about making manifest the love and mercy of God in the world. And this is Christianity, this is what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. So let’s do the best we can today, and show forth his mercy by being very merciful to everyone we meet.


  1. A wise Monsignor once told me, "To forgive is perfection. To want to forgive is beautiful. But if all you can do is WISH you wanted to forgive... Well, I think God will take note of that, too."

    1. Mercy is an act of God and benefits the recipient. Forgiveness is a human act and benefits the forgiving not the forgiven.

  2. Well, my daughter and I and a friend had a long conversation about this just last night. Having read this reflection and having prayed about it thru the day...helped me. So, thank you friend.
    We are dealing with some very serious wrongs/ offenses. The difficulty is that the offenses persist (to a lesser degree) despite attempts to address them in proper channels.
    They are serious offenses causing pain and impairing healing for my daughter. Last night she was struggling hard with foregiveness. "That is what Jesus would do". " I want to be like Jesus".
    We talked about how sometimes we can be hurt much more deeply than we are able to humanly forgive. Sometimes all we can do is call for Jesus, ask for his prescence in the mire and mess and trust. That does not mean hanging on to hurt, anger or fear.
    Perhaps, it is just hanging on to mercy. Mercy is a gift that must also be given to the one who was sinned against.
    i think of Jesus who while nails were pounded thru his hands into the wood of the cross said "forgive them father for they know not what they do". Its the know not what they do part that is important here. I mean, he is talking about people who are genuinely ignorant. Maybe, foregiveness does not really work when people DO KNOW what they are doing. True foregiveness happens when the offense - the full report of the evil done is brought into the light- so justice can be applied, the persons involved restored, as the sins are forgiven in full.
    As I watch my daughter struggle in this- and know of my own struggles- i see that it is Healthy and probably right to feel angry, hurt, even afraid. These are natural responses in the face of such evil and right according to the degree of the the offense.
    I finally came to this: the right to forgive belongs to the victim. People heal at different rates and I will love her as long as it takes to get over this. Probably much longer.
    I can't/ we can't urge the those wounded by serious offenses to forgive...its arrogant. For example- I can forgive The bombers for whatever grief or anxiety or sadness they caused me for the atrocities Paris and Brussels...but my experience is in no way similar to those actually in the streets of Paris, those in the theatre, those parents of children in the playground, the people in the airport...and it is just ridiculous to compare that. So we pray for foregiveness for others- but I do not think we can fore give on behalf of others. That belongs with the one wronged and to Jesus who has taken this all upon Himself.


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