“As We Also Forgive Our Debtors”
1. When we ask God to forgive us, we promise to forgive those who have offended us. Unless we are to be guilty of deception, therefore, we must pardon them. If we refuse to forgive, God will not forgive us. Jesus tells us in the Gospel to pardon offences not seven times, but seventy times seven. (Cf. Mt. 18:22) In other words, we must always be prepared to forgive. He tells us to return good for evil and to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us.
Not alone did Jesus command us to do this, but He also set us an example. While He was suffering fearful torments on the Cross and was surrounded by jeering enemies, He turned to His heavenly Father and uttered those sublime words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24)
How could we gaze at the Crucifix and dare to refuse forgiveness to anyone? No matter how grave may seem the injuries done to us by our neighbour, let us remember that they are insignificant in comparison with the insults which we have dared to offer to the infinite majesty of our Creator. They are as the hundred denarii compared with the ten thousand talents of Christ’s parable. (Mt. 18:24-28)
If we wish to receive God’s pardon, therefore, let us be prepared to forgive. Let our forgiveness be sincere, however, and not a mere formal token. The forgiveness freely granted by a heart scourged by the injuries of others is a pleasing sacrifice offered to God.
2. “If thou art offering thy gift at the altar,” Jesus tells us, “and thou rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24) Prayer is futile, therefore, unless we have first forgiven our enemies.
“Learn from me,” Jesus said when He proposed Himself as a model to be imitated, “for I am meek and humble of heart.” Then, He added, “you will find rest for your souls.” (Cf. Mt. 11:29) How true this is. The foundation of our hatred, anger, and resentment is always our wounded pride. We need Christlike gentleness and humility if we are to forgive sincerely and generously. Only when we have this gentleness and humility, moreover, shall we find joy in forgiving, and only then shall we have peace. As long as there is room in our hearts for pride and hatred, we can never enjoy peace of soul.
3. Some people hold that it is base and low-spirited to forgive easily, whereas a keen sense of honour demands revenge. Nothing could be more false. Even animals seek revenge. The true greatness of human nature lies in its ability to conquer the lower instincts. “It is far more difficult,” wrote a famous historian of antiquity, “to overcome oneself than to defeat one’s enemy in battle.” (Val. Max., L, 4) Forgiveness requires a victory over pride and sensitivity and is therefore a high act of human value.
When we forgive, we do not abase ourselves before the man who has offended us, but we raise ourselves above him by our nobility and generosity. By behaving in this manner we display our self-control, inspire sentiments of respect and benevolence, and may even bring about a reconciliation and a renewal of friendship.
So let us make a few good resolutions. (1) Remembering how Jesus prayed for His executioners, let us always be generous in pardoning others. (2) Let us do good to those who have offended us, adopting the motto of St. Paul: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21) (3) When the injury which we have received disturbs us greatly and causes us to lose our peace of mind, let us remain silent and procrastinate. “Delay is the best cure for anger,” wrote Seneca, who also very truly observed that whenever we have been angry with others we end by being angry with ourselves.