Forgiveness is tough! Asking for forgiveness means coming face to face with our own shortcomings, failures and mistakes. It means admitting that we behaved badly, that we willfully injured another person in some way. The other side of forgiveness can be just as painful. To forgive is to be merciful, to let go of the anger, frustration, hurt, disappointment or insult that resulted from the other person’s actions or inaction.
Traditionally, forgiveness works when both parties fulfill their obligatory roles. There is, I believe, a deeper understanding of forgiveness. My mom once told a story she heard from a co-worker. Her co-worker’s children were finishing up an argument and it was time for the forgiveness portion. The one at fault asked for forgiveness. The one injured refused. When the first complained to their mother about the situation, she said “You did your part, it’s between your sister and God whether or not she does hers. It’s not your concern.”
A bit of a startling response, isn’t it? You capacity to forgive and ask to be forgiven has nothing to do with the other person. It is about you, your attitude and your relationship with God. If someone has injured you in some way, do you wait for them to come forward, asking for your forgiveness? Or do you extend your hands to them, injured though they may be, offering mercy and compassion. When you realize you injured someone, how quickly do run to their side, humbly seeking their forgiveness and asking how you can rectify the relationship?
Is there a situation where you are waiting for the other person to make the first move? Be that person today.
All of Christianity is grounded in forgiveness. When Adam and Eve first sinned in the garden, God did not abandon them. Yes, there were consequences for their actions, but God did not destroy them or say “to bad, so sad, looks like you’re all on your own now.” No, in God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, He forgave them and put in place His ultimate plan for the redemption of the world.
Throughout His preaching career, Jesus forgave those who came to Him. He healed not only bodies, but souls. Jesus’ final act upon the cross is one of forgiveness:
Then [the thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The truth of the matter is, we all sin. We all mess up and need to be forgiven. We are forgiven by others, but that isn’t enough. When we sin, we injure not only our relationship with the other person, we also injure our relationship with God. St. John encourages us:
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves,* and the truth is not in us.If we acknowledge our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. – 1 John 1:8-9
As we are in the Year of Mercy, forgiveness is a timely topic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (1442). Jesus created the path of forgiveness through His sacrifice on calvary. The Church strives each day, in every generation, to faithfully walk that path.
Consider receiving the sacrament of reconciliation as part of your Advent preparation.
While we don’t have any recorded Scripture passages of Mary saying “I forgive you,” we do have one scenario in particular that I believe she would have said those words.
Imagine, if you will, losing your child for a brief moment in a grocery store. For any parent, the panic sets in rather quickly. Your head starts swiveling, you eyes quickly scanning around you, trying not to appear too frantic as you urgently whisper-yell their name. Your cute bob of curls pokes his head out from behind the next aisle, holding up his favorite box of cereal – “Mommy! Let’s bring this home!”
Now take that situation, with it’s quick onrush of emotions, and lengthen it by 5 days. That is how long Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus. The Gospel of Luke tells us they looked for him 1 day among their relatives as they began their journey home from Jerusalem. When they couldn’t find him, they had to travel that full length back, day 2. Then, after 3 days scouring the city, they finally found him in the Temple.
Personally, I can only begin to imagine the panic, fear, frustration and desperation Mary and Joseph must have endured. Even if he was the Son of God and had his own explanation for his absence, I hope he still apologized for the grief he put his mother and father through. Mary’s example of motherly love is clear. She did not withhold her forgiveness from her son.
Is there anyone I have been withholding my forgiveness from? Pray for the courage to reach out you hand in peace and forgiveness, rather than in judgment and anger.