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Should I really forgive? Everyone?

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 02/22/13

Christ's love compels us to love even those who have wronged us

When we recognize out own wrongdoings, we may find that we are eager recipients of forgiveness, be it that of God or of our neighbor. However, we might also find that it is more difficult to truly forgive those who have offended us. When we have been slighted, betrayed or grievously hurt physically or emotionally, why should we show our persecutors mercy? It is easy to be moralistic and ask the same question that Peter posed to Christ: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered Peter, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Christ shows us that forgiveness is much greater than some obligation we are striving to fulfill; it is a way of sharing with others the love and mercy that God has shown us.

The command to forgive is explained through Christ’s challenge to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Christ’s love for us is manifested in his mercy; he forgives us our trespasses, even to the point of dying for our sins out of love for us. He forgave St. Peter who denied him, St. Paul for persecuting his followers, and he forgives us when we approach the Sacrament of Penance with a contrite heart. In other words, his mercy and love is limitless – a love which we are called to imitate.

Our forgiveness of others' transgressions is directly connected to God's mercy towards us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” In a parable, Christ tells the story of a debtor who begs for, and obtains, forgiveness from a king. Then, however, the forgiven debtor turns to a servant who owes him money and shows him no mercy; in fact, he throws the servant into prison. When the king hears of the debtor's actions, he hands him over to be tortured. From this teaching, Christ tells us, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Ultimately, forgiving others causes us to reconcile with God and with others, thereby strengthening the Church. Bl. John Paul II wrote about this merciful love, saying, “This is love for people – it desires every true good for each individual and for every human community, every family, every nation, every social group, for young people, adults, parents, the elderly – a love for everyone, without exception. This is love, or rather an anxious solicitude to ensure for each individual every true good and to remove and drive away every sort of evil” (Dives in Misericordia).

Forgiveness is an act of the will based in love. Because the Lord loves us and shows us his mercy, we, in turn, are able to share that mercy with those who have wronged us. By removing the barriers between others and ourselves, we help to build up the community of the Church, the Body of Christ.

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