So far, we have been looking at steps that will help us feel free enough to forgive the people who have hurt us. Now we want to look at why Jesus asks us to forgive. We also want to look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation and how examining our consciences and confessing our own sins can actually help us become more forgiving.
Children in His Image. We left off in the last article with Fr. Tim asking Linda to try to forgive Brad, her ex-husband, for the way he had treated her and their children. At first, Linda resisted. How could she forgive the man who had given up on their marriage, committed adultery, and then walked away from her and their children? Fr. Tim pointed to two key reasons why forgiveness is so important.
First, he reminded Linda of Jesus’ words that unless we forgive others from the heart, we won’t be able to experience God’s forgiveness in our own lives (Matthew 6:14). He went on to tell her that we must forgive because we are all children of God. This may be hard to accept, especially when we are thinking about someone who has deliberately hurt us. But from God’s viewpoint, it makes perfect sense. After all, he created every one of us and loves each of us as our Father.
Scripture tells us that God created us in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). No other creature on earth has this privilege. Not even the angels in heaven are created in God’s image! So each of us occupies a special place in God’s plan—and a special place in his heart. We are his children, and he cherishes every one of us deeply. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us “of all visible creatures only man is able to know and love his creator” (CCC, 356). We all have the privilege of talking with God and hearing his voice.
Members of the Same Family. When we forgive someone, we are exercising this great privilege of talking with God. We are commending this person to his or her Father in the hopes that he or she will find the Lord and be converted more deeply. We are affirming that this person is worth forgiving, simply because he or she is beloved of the Father.
It can be hard to look at everyone as brother or sister—especially someone who has done horrible things. It’s hard to consider the chemical-weapon wielding dictator as a member of our own family. It’s hard to embrace the corporate executive who treats his employees like property. It can be hard to say the word “brother” when talking about a student who stages a mass shooting in his high school. But God weeps over these people just as deeply as he weeps over their victims. He loves them just as much as he loves you. He suffers over what they have done, but he also suffers over the darkness in their hearts that led them to do it. It’s hard for us to grasp, but our Father longs to forgive them if they will just turn to him and repent.
Can you see that we are all members of the family of God? Can you take one more step toward letting go of your resentments and unforgiveness, simply because we are all God’s children?
The Decision to Forgive. Sitting with her in the church, Fr. Tim asked Linda to quiet her heart and try to imagine Jesus sitting with them as well. After a few moments, Linda told him, “I see him smiling at me. I see how much he loves me, despite my shortcomings. He just loves me because he made me.” Fr. Tim then asked, “What about Brad? How does Jesus see him?” She replied, “I guess he loves Brad just as much. He wants to show Brad his love just as he wants to show me.”
That’s when things began to change. Linda saw the bigger picture, and it helped her let go of her anger. She saw that God may not like what Brad did to her, but he still loves Brad and wants to help him—just as he loves her and wants to help her.
When all is said and done, forgiveness is a choice. It’s an act of the will, not an act of the emotions. It’s a decision to say, “I forgive you for hurting me and treating me unfairly.” Sometimes that’s all it takes, and we are set free. But other times, especially when it comes to the deeper hurts of life, it takes more time, more patience, and more trust in the Lord. In those cases, keep saying, “I forgive,” even if you don’t fully feel like forgiving. Every time you do this, you are taking one step closer—and you are inviting the Lord to take one step closer to you.
This is what happened with Linda. She found that saying, “I forgive,” even though her heart wasn’t really agreeing, helped heal her wounded heart and helped bring her to a place where she could forgive Brad once and for all. You may have to say these words over and over, day after day for a while. But every time you say them, the Spirit pours out more grace and helps you even more.
Father, Forgive Me. Fr. Tim encouraged Linda to look into her heart and ask God to forgive her for any hatred or resentment she was holding against Brad. At first, it sounded odd that Fr. Tim would turn the tables on her and expect her to repent. “But he sinned against me,” she protested. “I tried my hardest in this relationship. Why should I be the one to repent?”
Over time, however, Linda realized that, given all that Jesus had done for her, she really had no right to hold onto her anger and resentment toward Brad. She knew she had to go to Confession. She came to see that God loved her as she was, and that he understood her suffering. But she also came to see that she needed God to release her from the grip that her resentment and self-pity had on her. She saw that by holding on as she had done, all she was doing was wishing ill for Brad, wanting him to suffer for what he did. That’s why she went to Confession: she wanted to be set free, and she didn’t want to keep inflicting her anger onto Brad. She had already forgiven him. Why would she now want to hurt him again?
God wants all of us to repent for any resentment or hatred we may have against other people. These types of thoughts are real sins, even when they come in response to someone who has treated us unfairly. These thoughts and emotions can cloud our otherwise healthy relationships, as well as our relationship with the Lord. As St. Teresa of Avila once described them, they are like tar poured over a beautiful crystal. The tar of our resentments blocks out the rays of God’s love and prevents the crystal from shining as beautifully as God intended.
After celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Linda finally felt able to forgive Brad completely and move on with her life. She chose mercy over judgment, and God blessed her for it. Today, Linda is still single, and it’s still a challenge to make ends meet every month. But if you ask her how she feels, she will give you a one-word answer: free! She has become outgoing and friendly again. She doesn’t revisit her old hurts every day. Instead, she is trying her best to rebuild her life and provide everything she can for her children. God has delivered her from the weight of unforgiveness, and he can do the same for you.
Father, Help Me Forgive! On more than one occasion, Pope Francis has called bishops and priests to act as shepherds who look after the people entrusted to them. This Lent, why not give your pastor the opportunity to do this for you? As you prepare to make your Lenten Confession, make a list of the people you need to forgive: parents, spouses, children, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and so on. We have included an examination of conscience on page 22 to help you do this.
Then, when you go to Confession, tell your pastor about these people. Ask him to help you let go of the hurt and forgive them. Confess any hatred, anger, or ill will that you may be holding against them. Ask your pastor to pray with you and ask God to give you the grace to imitate Jesus and say, “Father, forgive them.”
It’s a sad fact that we live in a sinful world and that we will be hurt. It’s a sad fact that not everyone sees himself or herself as part of the family of God. Nevertheless, those who learn how to deal with their hurts—through prayer, through the grace of God, through the sacraments, and through the decision to forgive—can be set free. May we all choose to embrace the freedom that Jesus died to give us. May this Easter Sunday find us all rejoicing in our salvation in a new way!