In my post, 9 Things I Would Like To Have Known Before Getting Married, one of the points that raised a lot of questions was number 8: “A good marriage is the union of two people who are good at forgiving.” Many people contacted me relating how difficult it was for them to forgive and how they felt trapped by their grudges.
Let’s be honest, it is not easy to forgive! It’s hard to ask for forgiveness because we are proud. Likewise, it’s hard to forgive because we are hurt. As such, a lot of time can pass when we refuse both to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. Resentment begins to accumulate, but this resentment is much like drinking venom and waiting for the other to die. If it is hard to forgive when things are going well; with resentment, it becomes much more difficult.
We have to forgive. There is no other way. Jesus insists that we be “merciful like our Father in heaven is merciful.” We constantly repeat the same truth every time we pray the”Our Father”: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we don’t forgive, God can’t forgive us!
Now, if we must be merciful as our Father is, then the best thing we can do is see and understand how God forgives us so that we can better comprehend how we must do the same.
7 Characteristics Of God’s Forgiveness That Helps Us Understand The Paschal Mystery
1. God is anxious to forgive us
In the Parable of the Merciful Father, as Pope Francis calls it (better known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son), there is a tender detail that we don’t always notice: “But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15, 20). The Father was there waiting for him! Even before his son had asked forgiveness, he went running to embrace him! In our own personal relationships, knowing that this is how God forgives, we too must be willing to run to meet our brothers and sisters that have hurt us. We must anxiously await that moment of reconciliation. And when they ask for forgiveness, we must go running to embrace them and show them our joy.
In the Angelus on Sunday, March the 6th, Pope Francis said:
“He is the Merciful Father who, in Jesus, loves us beyond measure, always awaits our conversion every time we make mistakes; he awaits our return when we turn away from him thinking, we can do without him; he is always ready to open his arms no matter what happened.”
2. God forgives immediately
In the parable, the Father doesn’t even let his son finish saying everything that he had prepared. He calls his servants to bring the best robe, to put a ring on his hand. On the cross, Jesus looks upon those that are torturing him and about to kill him and says something that is unbelievably disconcerting: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Is it possible to forgive those that hurt us, even those that are closest to us? Of course, it is! We have to keep in mind that many times, as the Lord says, “They know not what they do.” Perhaps we believe that such and such person hurt us because they are evil, or because they hate us. Generally speaking (there are, of course, exceptions) the explication is much more simple: they don’t know. Sin, in order for it to be a sin, must be committed with “full knowledge and deliberate consent” (CCC, 1857). These conditions are not always present. Many times we hurt one another without knowing it, without wanting it, and even without being able to avoid it. For this reason, we must always be open and generous when it comes to forgiving. Whether they ask us for forgiveness or not, we should always keep in mind that the person who offended us might not know it. We should avoid the temptation of saying, “I can’t forgive that” or “I will never forgive you.” If we don’t forgive, we are tying God’s hands and preventing him from being able to forgive us.
3. God’s forgiveness is a celebration!
Immediately after returning his son’s full dignity, the Father calls for a feast and they begin to “make merry!” Did he forget the offense? Did he really forget all that his son had done to him? No. The answer can be found in the Father’s response to the older son: “This your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.” How can we not be filled with joy when peace has returned into our lives? How can we not rejoice when our differences are left behind?
“Then the father also goes to call the older son who is offended and does not want to join in the celebration, the son who always stayed home and who lived more as a servant than as a son. To him too, the father bends down, invites him to enter, tries to open his heart to love, so that no one is excluded from the celebration of mercy. Mercy is a celebration!”
– Pope Francis
If God rejoices and has a feast when we ask him for forgiveness, why do we many times forgive but continue to walk around with a long face? We must forgive with joy, knowing that God forgives us in the same way!
4. It is not God that accuses us.
In the episode of the adulterous woman, after confusing those who accused her, there is a beautiful dialogue between our Lord and the women: “Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again'” (Jn 8:10-11). Why is it that when we are angry we constantly accuse those who hurt us? Why do we look for a fight? Are we so free from sin that we believe that we can accuse them? Do we really think that we are going to get anything good out of repeating a thousand times what they did to us? I don’t think so. It is a horrible tactic if we truly desire peace.
In a homily pronounced in Santa Marta, Pope Francis said:
“Who is the accuser? In the Bible the accuser is called devil, Satan. Jesus will judge at the end of the world, but in the meantime, he intercedes, he defends. One who judges, rather, is an imitator of the prince of this world, who always goes against people to accuse them before the Father.”
If we accuse, we aren’t being like Jesus. We are being like the devil! Who do we want to be like? The Prince of Peace or the prince of this world?
5. God’s forgiveness requires transformation
This does not mean that we are never going to fall again. After that beautiful dialogue with the woman, Jesus tells her, “Go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). This is the hardest part when we are the ones who have offended. Sometimes our sins become like a routine “because God’s mercy is infinite” and we do not take the necessary steps to change, to allow for that interior transformation that is our due thanks for God’s merciful forgiveness.
When our “Forgive me” becomes a routine or when we go to confession without any true intention of improving things, the power of forgiveness becomes diluted. We must be constantly thanking God and our brothers for the gift of forgiveness and, simultaneously, put forth every means necessary in order to live out that interior transformation. And if we fall again? We get back up again! We sincerely ask for forgiveness and again strive to do what is necessary to improve. How many times must we forgive those who hurt us? 70 times 7!
In his interview with Andrea Tornielli, found in his book “The Name of God Is Mercy”, Pope Francis says:
“Many humble people confess to having fallen again. The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is always to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. ”
6. God forgives us completely
God forgives us completely. Jesus says to the good thief: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). How do we forgive? Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we have to forget about the offense that we have suffered. Forgiveness doesn’t have to do with your memory and neither does it have to do with your feelings. Jesus asked for forgiveness of His torturers while He was on the Cross! Perhaps, if the offense is grave enough, we are going to remember it until the last moment of our death.
To forgive means to “keep giving.” To forgive means to “give yourself more time.” Christ offered his forgiveness to someone that evidently didn’t deserve it. The good thief was so good that, at the last moment, “he stole Heaven.” When we forgive, we can’t keep walking around with a “victim-face,” or worse, with the “attitude of a victim.” If our forgiveness is real and complete, we will never need to speak of the subject again, not with the offender, not with anyone, except perhaps our confessor. To forgive means to leave behind every offense and to do so once and for all.
7. It is God who forgives
Forgiveness can’t be limited to us forgiving one another; even though it is a good start. After forgiving one another, immediately and completely, we need to know that the person that we have offended is a son or daughter of God (and one of His favorites). So, the next thing we need to do is to go and confess it to a priest so that, through absolution, penitence and some good advice, we can obtain true peace in our souls, in our marriages, in our families and in our communities. True peace is built on supernatural forgiveness. Our Lord reminded us of this when he gave us his peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27).
In a sermon Pope Francis said:
“True reconciliation is that in Christ God took our sins upon his own shoulders and for our sake made himself sin”.
To conclude, here is another quote from Pope Francis, this time addressing a group of children :
“Yes, we quarrel, but do not end the day without making peace. Always keep this in mind. Sometimes I’m right, the other has made a mistake. How do I apologize? I don’t apologize, but I make a gesture and the friendship goes on. This is possible: do not let the quarrel continue the next day. This is bad! Do not let the day end without making peace. I too have quarreled many times, even now. I get a bit heated up but I always try to make peace together. It’s human to argue. What’s important is that it not continue, that there be peace afterward.».