"As we forgive those who trespass against us" we pray...but do we live it?
In Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis provides a number of ways in which we can and do receive God’s mercy. But he also gives ways in which we can become instruments of God’s mercy for others as well.
One way, perhaps the primary way, of being an instrument of God’s mercy is to pardon others. Scripture is full of examples of individuals who did — or failed to — pardon others. Many of those examples were given by Jesus himself in parables and warnings.
Consider, for example, the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew Chapter 18. The servant’s master forgave him a sizeable debt, but the servant refused to forgive the much smaller debt owed him by a fellow servant. When the master heard about this, he turned the unforgiving servant over to the torturers until he could pay back the entire debt.
“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart,” Jesus told his disciples.
Jesus taught us the Our Father, and so we pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We pray that, but do we really take it to heart? We humans are self-interested and busy creatures. How do we extend the pardon that we so desire for ourselves?
It requires three aspects.
1. A mindset of pardon. Pope Francis says pardon is “the clearest expression of merciful love.” He also states that it’s an “imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.”
That’s a whole lot easier to say than do. Granting pardon is much more than accepting an apology; it’s accepting the apology, considering the “debt” paid and moving on — even when we don’t want to. It’s opening our hearts to love the person again or perhaps for the very first time.
2. An attitude of forgiveness. “By its very nature, [mercy] indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes and behaviors that are shown in daily living,” the Holy Father wrote.
On a day-to-day basis, that means affirming God’s love in ourselves and others by making it visible and tangible in everything we say and do. It acting out of love and for love.
3. A willingness to suspend judgment. In Pope Francis’ words, “To refrain from judgment and condemnation means, in a positive sense, to know how to accept the good in every person and to spare him any suffering that might be caused by our partial judgment, our presumption to know everything about him.”
Think mercy before passing judgment on others. You probably don’t know the whole story. Few of us ever do.
Our Lord wants us to forgive our brother from our hearts. That’s not the same as the trite “I forgive you” we’re used to offering just to end an unpleasant moment or get someone off our backs. It’s a deep and lasting pardon that comes from deep within and is genuinely — and permanently — extended whenever we’re asked. And even when we’re not.
Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, columnist and speaker and a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about marian devotion and Catholic family life, including Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena; Strengthening Your Family: a Catholic Approach to Holiness at Homeand Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom. Find out more about Marge at www.margefenelon.com.