Lent is a period of renewal. It gives us the opportunity to renew ourselves – to renew our faith and become fresher and stronger. We are called to suffer and die with our Saviour Jesus Christ and emerge as a new person in Him the same way that He suffered and died for us on the Cross and resurrected on Easter Sunday.
During this period we are expected to make a greater effort than at other times to pray. We remember and share in our own little way the suffering and death of Christ. We are required to show love to others, give alms, carry out acts of charity, repent of our sins, confess them, forgive those who have hurt us, and reconcile with those with whom we have fallen out.
We are required to forgive one another; to resolve our differences and live and work like brothers and sisters. Forgiveness is also a sacrament through which God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace’ through the priest’s sacramental absolution.
Is forgiveness easy? Is it easy to forgive?
Some will say it is; and some will say it is not; but objectively, forgiveness is not easy. It is hard especially when we have been deeply hurt; and, deep hurts abound. Forgiving them can be as difficult as pulling down a mountain.
Take, for instance, a hurt that pierces your heart like the destruction of something that is most precious to you; playing with your emotions; crossing your path; provoking you; enticing you to fall in love with them, making you put your trust in him or her just for him or her to turn around and dump you in favor of another.
Take someone who kills or destroys someone dear to you can be devastating and difficult to forgive. Hurts that make you feel like dying, or that tend to bring down your whole world are difficult to forgive. It is like you can grow mad to hear someone talking of forgiveness at such moments.
Forgiveness is such a hard thing; easier said than done. Yet, it remains divine. No matter how difficult it may be, how deeply hurt we may be, it is our duty to forgive. ‘To err is human, to forgive divine’. As children of God we are called upon to forgive.
Our Creator commands us to forgive and sets the example himself after our first parents wronged him by committing the Original Sin, he could have condemned us forever, but he forgave us and sent His Only Begotten Son to bring us back to Him. The bible contains many examples of God’s forgiveness of some people who sinned against Him. Take King David. Despite the degree of his sin, when he humbly repented, God forgave him.
When Peter asked the Lord Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” MT. This means limitless times, and without conditions.
Jesus narrated the story of the unmerciful servant to drive home his teaching on forgiveness. Whereas the master forgave the unmerciful servant, this unmerciful servant would not forgive some other person who owed him an insignificant sum. This behaviour angered the master who told him, “I cancelled that debt of yours. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” (Matt. 18:32). Greatly angered, this master turned the unmerciful servant “over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matt. 18:34). Jesus Christ ends this story by saying: “That is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:35).
We must forgive our brother or sister from our heart if we want to be forgiven. We cannot be asking for forgiveness from God and not being ready to forgive those who wrong us. In Jesus’ words, “… if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father also will forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt.6:14-15). This is what we say in the Lord’s Prayer: that God may forgive ‘our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. To say this prayer and fail to forgive others is a contradiction.
Jesus did not only preach about forgiveness; he showed the example. Peter denied him three times, but he forgave him; still had confidence in; confided in him and entrusted into his hands the keys of the Kingdom, thus making him the Chief Shepherd and Head of His Church.
Was Judas forgiven? Had he repented, Jesus would have forgiven him. Instead, he despaired and took his own life.
On the cross, despite the pain he was going through, Jesus “graciously forgave his murderers, and, excused them saying, ‘They don’t know what they are doing’ ” (LK.23:34).
Forgiveness is thus one of the best lessons that Jesus Christ taught. What would the world have been without forgiveness? We wrong one another every day. I can hardly count the number of times I have hurt my spouse or how many times I hurt her in a day, without intending to. I wrong my children, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbours and many others. Even if it is not done deliberately, the fact is I wrong them. Imagine what would happen if these people buried these hurts in their hearts and failed to forgive me! We need forgiveness for the society to function well. We must forgive, so that we shall be forgiven.
While on earth Jesus was like us in every way but sin (Heb. 4:15); He was humiliated, ridiculed, embarrassed, misunderstood, hated, betrayed, rejected and crucified by his own people; the same people he had come to save. No pain can be more than the one inflicted on him as he undertook that painful journey to Calvary, innocent as he was? What can be more hurting than his painful and shameful death on the cross! Yet he forgave those who wronged him and caused him so much pain.
Pope John Paul II was almost killed during one of his pastoral visits, but he shocked the world when he did not only forgive the gunman who almost killed him but visited him in prison.
A woman, whose whole family was ruthlessly killed in the genocide in Rwanda, forgave the one who carried out the wicked act which caused her such deep pain and they were able to work together leaving the past behind. It may sound like betrayal of the memories of the loved ones who were murdered, but it is a lofty and edifying example of forgiveness. It goes in line with what our Lord wants us to do.
Truly, this type of forgiveness is not easy. Anyone who says it is, definitely, does not tell the truth. It is hard; but the good news is God is ready to grant us the grace to forgive. We cannot forgive through our own power. In our prayer, we need to ask God to grant us the gift and grace of forgiveness so that we may forgive no matter how difficult it may be; and whether or not we are still feeling the pain of the wrong done to us.
Life would be wonderful if all of us made forgiveness a way of life. And we can cultivate this virtue; what we are called to do. Did someone hurt you yesterday? Did your spouse hurt you last night? Has someone hurt you before now? Forgive and move on. Free yourself of the burden of an unforgiving heart. Forgive and be free.
Also ask for forgiveness not only from those around you but also seek and obtain forgiveness from God through the sacrament of forgiveness.
Let us pray that the Lord may grant us the grace of forgiveness; that we may be people who forgive so that through forgiveness we may make our world a better place for all to enjoy.