“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
These powerful words from our Savior should make every Christian think twice: Do I forgive injuries? Have I forgiven those who have hurt or offended me or one of my loved ones? Or do I hold on to old hatreds and grudges?
The sixth Spiritual Work of Mercy is “To forgive all injuries.” Why is it so important for us to forgive, and how can we forgive those who have hurt us? First of all, it is necessary for us to forgive because Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So we are saying, in effect, is “if I don’t forgive others, Lord, then don’t forgive me.” The smallest sin against the All-Good and All-Holy God is greater than the greatest sin committed against me as a human person, as a creature. Why? Precisely because a sin that I commit against God is against the Father, the Creator and Lord of the Universe; against Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross to pay for my sins; and against the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who has been given to dwell within me to make me holy. So if I wish my sins against God to be forgiven, then I need to forgive those who have offended me.
But how do I forgive? The essence of forgiveness is that we CHOOSE TO FORGIVE. Forgiveness is not the same as “forgetting that it ever happened”! In reality, there are some things that we cannot forget, just because the experience has embedded itself in our memory — but we can choose to forgive: to surrender that hurt, that painful memory over to Our Lord Jesus, to ask Him to help us to let go of that hurt and not to let it have power over us any more. Forgiveness means that we choose to not allow hurts of the past — whether the distant past or the recent past — to have control over us. This is why Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P., says that “forgiveness is a gift that we give to ourselves”! When we forgive, we put the past behind us so that we can be truly present in the here and now instead of controlled by hurts of the past.
But what if we continue to have negative feelings toward the person who hurt us? It doesn’t matter! Feelings are just that: feelings, emotions. Negative feelings are not sinful, unless we deliberately foster them and choose to feed them. The truth is that when we make the choice to forgive, and we remind ourselves of that choice when our negative feelings emerge, and we pray for the person who hurt us, then our feelings will eventually begin to change and to heal.
May each of us live this important Spiritual Work of Mercy. May we truly forgive our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, anyone who has ever hurt us, so that we will be fully open to receiving the forgiveness, Mercy and healing that Our Lord Jesus wishes to pour out on us!