Want to grow in mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy?
Ask for forgiveness.
We live in a jaded age, where non-apologies are part and parcel of the celebrity/political boilerplate. We apologize for what cannot be altered. We apologize for offending where no offense was intended. We apologize for being … whatever we are that offends. But these mea culpas mean little. They require little. Nothing is changed. Words without deeds are dead; nothing is healed. The person who said the “I’m sorry you’re hurt or felt hurt, or anyone felt anything” gets to bask in the false humility of having said something without any actual action or change, while the aggrieved feels the frustration of not receiving justice.
The rotten fruits of empty apologies are easiest to spot in the micro world of the everyday. When my children fight and the battle is broken up, the apologies come quick, but the “sorry” is often given to the floor or facing away from the other. Such statements may make the giver feel mollified, but “What? I said I’m sorry!” isn’t an offering. It’s a demand that the other drop his or her feelings of hurt and pretend whatever happened didn’t happen or injure. Just saying “sorry” doesn’t cut it in our home.
Why? My kids would tell you, “You have to mean it.” The only way mercy isn’t reduced to mere license to pester your sister and get away with it is for forgiveness to be a gift from the aggrieved to the aggressor. Peace comes through the giving of mercy rather than the demand for everyone to move on and forget about it.
So why doesn’t it happen more often? For the same reason my children still try the apologies to the wall when cornered. Asking to be forgiven is a submission of the will, a dropping of the defenses. It is asking the other person, the one offended, for a gift. It is also providing the other person with the opportunity to bequeath a gift, to be a conduit of grace — or not. It involves risk. The other may say no. If that person couldn’t say no, it wouldn’t be a gift.
The stubborn streak runs strong in my family. It’s hard to ask for another to forgive us. It’s harder still to grant that forgiveness. But the kids will tell you (with rolled eyes) how Mom talks about the gift of mercy, how forgiving allows us to practice mercy as God our Father grants mercy. To ask is to be the servant in debt to the king. To grant mercy (as the king did, though the servant showed himself ungrateful) is to get the story right, since we are the indebted servants forgiven our debts and then presented with a parallel problem. My kids may be stubborn, but they also like to be right. They want to get the problem right.
We should remember when we say the Our Father that we ask to be forgiven as we forgive others. If this is our true prayer, if this is what we want of God our Father, then we must be perpetually searching for opportunities to grant the mercy we wish to receive, and likewise recognize, when we’ve wronged others, that we must plead with our whole hearts, “Please forgive me.” When we ask for or grant forgiveness, true healing takes place in all parties, and justice and peace shall kiss — even if the brothers and sisters just shake hands.
Sherry Antonetti is a former special educator and currently a freelance writer and mother of 10. She writes at Catholicmom.com and her blog, Chocolate for Your Brain. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.