Now the significant number in the news this past week is 6. We have the Rule of 6. Jesus, in this weekends Gospel, gives us a different set of numbers. 70 x 7 meaning endlessly or always. There can be no end to forgiveness. We are always to forgive. There should be no limit. Yet humanly speaking this is such a challenge that some of us can’t forgive.
As a young priest I clearly remember the occasion when I was confronted in the street by a woman who told me that she could not say the Our Father because she was unable to pray the sentence: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Someone had hurt her so deeply that she was wanted me to help her. I can’t remember what I said but I am sure that it was inadequate. We often hear the quote “To err is human, and to forgive is divine.” We don’t need any help making mistakes, getting things wrong, and hurting others through our own selfishness. Yet is not so easy to admit mistakes and sins and to ask forgiveness.
We can so easily hold on to hurts that others have done to us. It is never easy to hold out a hand of friendship, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. On several occasions in my life as a priest I have been at funerals where families are present yet are not speaking to one another because hurtful things that have been said or done.
What is unique about the message of Jesus is the call to forgive and to be forgiven. The life and teaching of Jesus was a challenge to accepted ways of thinking. Remember the powerful encounter with those who wanted to stone the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Hear again those extraordinary words that Jesus spoke from the cross. “Father forgive them…” It is the loving Father who gives us his grace that enables us to forgive and ask forgiveness. It is because the death and resurrection of Jesus that the tight grip of sin and death is broken and true healing takes place. Fr Paul Grogan in his booklet “Spiritual works of Mercy” offers some practical things to do.
- Pray for the grace to forgive a particular wrong. Be patient with yourself if you find this difficult to do immediately. At least pray for those who have offended you, asking( if such is not the case) that they may recognise the need for repentance.
- Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation: the experience of being forgiven by God in this moment will sensitise you to the need to extent his mercy to others.
- Seek to do good to someone who has wronged you: in this way you will be paying back “with a blessing”and “inherit a blessed yourself” (1 Peter 3:9).