We find ourselves now well into that lengthy liturgical period termed Ordinary Time. For some of us, there is a tendency to take this season at its name, to treat these weeks as a ho-hum, colorless gap bridging the feasts of Corpus Christi and Christ the King. Give us Lent and Advent, when we can focus on the tough stuff!
I would suggest that we can challenge ourselves to make something much more meaningful of this time in the liturgical year. How about livening up this “ordinary” season by taking on a real toughie?
Ready? Are you up to tackling the prickly subject of – drum roll! – forgiveness?
The need to forgive someone who has hurt us certainly is nothing new to human beings. A look at Sacred Scripture for insight into this subject proves that its thorny nature extends far back into antiquity.
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the Lord? Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins?” From the Book of Sirach (28:2-4), written about two hundred years before the birth of Christ, these words set us up for a sincere, thoughtful look at those hurting places where the need for forgiveness dwells in our own lives and the possible consequences when forgiveness eludes us.
Probably all of us can name one person who has hurt us grievously at some point – a family member, neighbor, co-worker, or friend. The damage may have been done by word, action, or omission, and possibly so long ago that we can scarcely recall who said or did what to whom. No matter the time gap, the wound remains, its pain as deep and searing as if it had happened yesterday. When all we can feel is the hurt, we’re not likely to focus on forgiving the offender.
Yet forgiving the offender is exactly what Jesus expects us to do. He understands human nature, that we can be the most loving of creatures but also the most cruel and hurtful. Perhaps that explains the numerous references to the need to forgive in His words recounted in Scripture. A look at just a few may offer some valuable insights to ease our way to sincere forgiveness.
Mt 5:23-24 – “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” We are asked to attend to the attitude we bring with us when we approach the altar to worship and praise God; He will be much happier to see forgiveness and understanding, not grudge-holding, when He looks into our hearts as we worship.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” This familiar teaching from the Beatitudes repeats the idea of mercy being granted to those who manage to show mercy themselves (Mt 5:7). The challenge remains the same: find a way to move beyond your very human capacity to be hurt, and forgive those who hurt you.
In a 2018 address, Pope Francis spoke on this familiar petition we make every time we recite the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). Pope Francis stated, “Forgiving the people who have offended us is not easy; it is a grace we must ask for; ‘Lord, teach me to forgive as you have forgiven me.’ It is a grace. Through our own efforts we are unable: to forgive is a grace of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Father’s words are a reminder that we are never alone in our struggle to forgive. The Holy Spirit is always there to bolster our efforts with the unlimited power of His divine grace. All we need to do is to ask Him.
Numerous Scriptural examples of this directive – so problematic, even seemingly impossible at times – could be cited. Sometimes, though, a start to the solution can be as simple as voicing a heartfelt prayer for the person who has offended us. If we take this initiative and then repeat it on a consistent basis, the Lord will soften our hearts, slowly but surely. This gradual process will conserve precious energy formerly spent in grudge-holding, giving our spirit a true feeling of freedom. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if, by the end of Ordinary Time, we were able to do our forgiving in a face-to-face encounter?
The quintessential example of forgiveness, of course, was clearly set by Jesus Himself, with His words uttered just before He surrendered His spirit: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34a). When we put our own hurts into the context of the horrific events of Good Friday, they shrink in significance to an immense degree and spur us on to imitate the Savior, who never stopped teaching us how to live and how to forgive.
Perhaps meeting the forgiveness challenge will give focus and meaning to this “extra-Ordinary” Time in our lives.
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In this compelling Women of Grace® series featuring a mother whose youngest daughter was abducted and murder, we learn just how difficult – and possible – forgiveness is with the help of God’s grace. Click here for more information.