If God is love, then dwelling on feelings of anger and resentment prevents us from being fully in union with Him. These feelings can overpower us, harboring in our hearts in a space that should be reserved for the love of Christ alone. We must humble ourselves to forgive so that we can make room for God in our hearts & begin our journey to full healing.
You may remember an interaction between Peter and Jesus in which Peter poses the question,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18: 21-22).
Now I don’t know about you, but whether I am on the giving or receiving side, forgiveness has always been a challenge. It is humbling, frustrating, and this idea of limitless forgiveness that Jesus presents to Peter is quite intimidating. Simply put, forgiveness is not an easy task. This then begs the question – why has God posed such a difficult task on us? Why are we called to forgive?
A Path to God
Perhaps a good place to start looking for an answer is the origin of forgiveness: the first sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve lived in paradise – wanting nothing, they spent their days in a state of great joy. Yet, surrounded by all they could ever need, God watched his greatest creation fall into sin. Adam and Eve deserved punishment. God could have abandoned them, started over. However, He did the opposite. On that day God introduced an entirely new concept into the world: mercy.
God knew sin would exist before time even began. He was prepared to respond to it and created us in his likeness so that we could follow his example. Thus, by forgiving Adam he presented us with a new and arduous task: forgiveness in the face of evil. Sin makes virtue difficult, but forgiveness of it provides us with the opportunity to become more like our God. We can use our suffering to grow in strength and love, mirroring the actions of our Father such that we can shape ourselves to be more like him.
God also knew that we would need a release from sin. We cannot truly heal until we have found peace with the roots of our pain. If God is love, then dwelling on feelings of anger and resentment prevents us from being fully in union with Him. These feelings can overpower us, harboring in our hearts in a space that should be reserved for the love of Christ alone. Letting these feelings control us can form a road-block to choosing forgiveness and healing from the wounds inflicted on us. We must use forgiveness as our path to healing and to Him. We must choose love and mercy as our Heavenly Father does. It is then that we can truly open our entire heart to him and grow in intimacy together.
A Path to Healing
If we choose forgiveness, we must also know what it looks like to forgive. John Paul II was no stranger to forgiveness. On May 13, 1981, JP2 was crossing St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City when Mehmet Ali Ağca made an attempt on his life. Mehmet fired four shots at the pope – two of which pierced his lower intestine, one his right arm, and one his left index finger. The pontiff survived the attack and during his recovery asked for all Catholics to pray for Mehmet whom he had, “sincerely forgiven.” Two years later John Paull II went so far as to visit Mehmet in prison. They had a private discussion and emerged as friends. Over the next few years JP2 remained in close contact with Mehmet’s family, eventually calling for his pardon in 2000.
We see another representation of forgiveness in the story of Saint Maria Goretti. Maria is the youngest canonized saint, known as the patron saint of young people, chastity, purity, and forgiveness. At the age of 11 years old she was stabbed 14 times by her assailant, Alessandro Serenelli when he attempted to rape her. Despite her confrontation with violence and injury, Maria did not allow Alessandro to harden her heart, choosing instead to forgive him. Her final words were,
"I forgive Alessandro Serenelli...and I want him in heaven with me forever.”
Both these stories share the common themes of humility and the willing of good on the other. I am sure you know firsthand that forgiveness is not easy. The journey is often like grief – taking its slow time to leave our hearts. However, we must cooperate with God’s grace – letting it penetrate our hearts with God’s healing light and shaping our prayers to reflect this. It won’t happen overnight, but lasting healing must start with forgiveness. We must have patience and practice humility. Open your heart to pray for those who have wronged you. Turn to God for strength when faced with doubt and stubbornness. Soften your heart to give and receive love so that you can welcome God into it with open arms. Be vulnerable and ask God for the courage to love, even if it opens you up to pain or discomfort.
Perhaps the easiest acceptance of forgiveness can be learnt from the greatest act of it. It started when God became man – the greatest act of forgiving love ever shown to man. However, He did not stop there. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice of his own life up on a cross so that our sins could be forgiven. In the face of death, Jesus chose mercy. He endured the pain and suffering of the cross. He was ridiculed, mocked, and beaten – all so that we could be forgiven. Even in the last few moments of his life, He forgave those who persecuted him, saying,
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
God so loved us that He sacrificed his only son for us. In the face of sin and disappointment He chose mercy and love, opening His heart to us, asking that we do the same in return. This is why we must forgive. Our God desires a relationship with us. He wants to reside in our hearts. He wants to know us intimately and to grow together. In order to let Him in we must banish our feelings of resentment or anger towards one another. We must humble ourselves to forgive so that we can make room for God in our hearts. It is then that we can find true peace and a path to healing.