Forgive offenses

In 1999 the International Theological Commission, in a document entitled, “Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the Faults of the Past,” spoke about the upcoming jubilee year of 2000 and said, “This singular experience of grace prompts the people of God as a whole, as well as each of the baptized, to take still greater cognizance of the mandate received from the Lord to be ever ready to forgive offenses received.”

The ITC footnoted Tertio Millenio Adveniente, St. John Paul II’s 1994 Apostolic Letter in preparation for the jubilee. The ITC pointed to paragraphs 33 to 36 of TMA, where the pope hinted at how he would be apologizing in 2000 for the sins of Catholics throughout history. He said (in No. 33), “As the second millennium of Christianity draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the Spirit of Christ and His Gospel.”

 Later in the same paragraph the Polish pontiff spoke about 2000 in a way which also applies well to the current Year of Mercy: “She (the Church) cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without encouraging her children to purify themselves, through repentance of past errors and instances of infidelity, inconsistency, and slowness to act. Acknowledging the weaknesses of the past is an act of honesty and courage which helps us to strengthen our faith, which alerts us to face today’s temptations and challenges and prepares us to meet them.”

In paragraph 34 St. John Paul spoke about the scandal of Christian disunity and the need to pray for unity, while in No. 35 he discussed the need for “repentance [for] intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth.” In No. 36 he turned from looking back at the past to the duty of Christians to “examine themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our day.”

It is interesting that in reminding us of our Christian duty to carry out the Spiritual Work of Mercy of forgiving offenses, the ITC made reference to the examination of conscience which all Christians need to do about our own sins. By being aware of our own sinfulness, we are less likely to be harsh towards those who have offended us (since we have offended God).

On Aug. 18, 2014 Pope Francis preached in Seoul, South Korea, where he spoke about Jesus’ command to Peter that he needed to forgive offenses “‘not seven times, I tell you, but 70 times seven’ (Mt 18:21-22). These words go to the very heart of Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace. In obedience to His command, we ask our Heavenly Father daily to forgive us our sins, ‘as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Unless we are prepared to do this, how can we honestly pray for peace and reconciliation?”

Pope Francis acknowledged that Jesus’ order seems rather odd: “In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, He is asking us to do something utterly radical, but He also gives us the grace to do it. What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant, He makes possible and fruitful through the infinite power of His cross. The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.”

The Argentine pontiff exhorted the Koreans (but it’s a message good for us all to follow): “Trust in the power of Christ’s cross! Welcome its reconciling grace into your own hearts and share that grace with others! I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ’s message of reconciliation in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life.”

St. John Paul made reference to Jesus’ answer to Peter about forgiveness to the bishops of Rwanda in 1998 (who had to work at reconciling their fellow citizens after the brutal violence in their country in the early ’90s). He said, “Among Christ’s disciples there can be no true unity without that unconditional mutual love which demands a readiness to serve others generously, a willingness to welcome them as they are, without ‘judging’ them (cf. Mt 7:1-2), and an ability to forgive up to ‘70 times seven’” (Mt 18:22).

On Holy Thursday in 2008 Pope Benedict tied this Work of Mercy with the Corporal ones. “We must wash one another’s feet in the mutual daily service of love. But we must also wash one another’s feet in the sense that we must forgive one another ever anew. The debt for which the Lord has pardoned us is always infinitely greater than all the debts that others can owe us (cf. Mt 18: 21-35). Holy Thursday exhorts us to this: not to allow resentment toward others to become a poison in the depths of the soul. It urges us to purify our memory constantly, forgiving one another whole-heartedly, washing one another’s feet, to be able to go to God’s banquet together.”

Jesus did not demand revenge for what He suffered on Good Friday. Instead, He begged the Father to forgive us. We need to have that same attitude towards those who have offended us if we want to enter into His Kingdom.


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