”If a man finds it very hard to forgive injuries, let him look at a Crucifix, and think that Christ shed all His Blood for him, and not only forgave His enemies, but even prayed His Heavenly Father to forgive them also. Let him remember that when he says the Pater Noster, every day, instead of asking pardon for his sins, he is calling down vengeance on himself.”
–Saint Philip Neri
As I look around at the world today, and all of the turmoil that is taking place, I can’t help but think what we need greatly in this world is forgiveness. I would venture to say that almost all of the world’s issues boil down to someone feeling offended, and the lack of forgiveness toward those who offend them. Forgiveness is born of true love. True love is hard. It is all great and wonderful to SAY, love one another, it is a whole other thing to implement it.
Sometimes, when a great offense is committed, because we are hurt, we build up a wall, we shut the other person out, the relationship is broken. I have had people say slanderous things about me before, things that were just absolutely not true, and affected my everyday life greatly. I have experienced family members abandon other family members. The hurt that is born out of these types of offenses is deep. I too, have offended and hurt others in a way that I should not have. I had to learn to say I am sorry. It is especially hard though if the party who offends you never says, “I’m sorry.” I have experienced feelings of great anger and anguish. It affected my mood toward others who were in no way involved. Anger builds. It can, if left unchecked, build into wrath, and your heart can feel poisoned. In some particular circumstances, I struggled with this greatly. How do you forgive the person who hasn’t asked for it, or doesn’t seemingly care that they hurt you?
I sat in church one day and the Gospel was Matthew 18:23-35:
“That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full. ‘Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe. Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back. ‘But he ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
During the homily the Priest said, “so if God forgives you everything, do you really want to leave this life with your hand around someone else’s throat?” That jarred me. This is what I was doing by holding onto the anger. I was holding my hand around someone else’s throat, when God had forgiven me everything. I decided to forgive. In some cases this is an actual statement I made to others, forgiving with words and with heart. In others, since some of the hurts were long ago, and the people long gone, I forgave them in heart. I let the anger go. I prayed for them. My heart felt much better on the inside.
I have had people who do not want to forgive me. I cannot force them too. But I can forgive myself. No longer would I beat myself up over a situation. I make reparation and I go to confession. God didn’t beat me up so I shouldn’t do it to myself either. I also realized that being human, our friends, our family, strangers even, will offend us. This means we have to constantly be ready to forgive. I am not talking either about letting people walk on you or enabling other people’s bad behaviors, which is harmful, but finding a place where you walk in joy with the Lord, regardless of circumstances around you. My friend and neighbor, Mitzi, told me, “be soft on the outside, but hard on the inside.” This struck me. Most people, once offended, are so hurt or soft on the inside, they become hard on the outside. They put up a wall so then there is no real intimate relationship with anyone, just a superficial one. They are trying to protect themselves from being offended or hurt again. But this can leave you isolated, lonely, lacking in the one thing we need, love. But if you are soft on the outside, this means you make yourself vulnerable to being hurt. And to be hard on the inside means, you are strong enough to forgive that hurt. Some people will perpetually hurt you, and you do not have to allow the close relationship with them, but we are compelled to forgive them 70 times 7. I realize now though, most who love us do not intend to hurt us, and are truly sorry, so be hard on the inside, strong on the inside and forgive them and then let the joy and peace of the Lord Jesus encompass you. Let the anger go and let the love in. For me, this means forgiving even a murderer, and praying for his soul.
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