One of my favorite stories about the Sacred Heart revelations is when St. Margret Mary Alacoque told her confessor, Fr. Claude de la Colombière, that she was seeing visions of Jesus. Fr. Claude asked for proof. He told her to to ask Jesus what was the last sin he confessed when he went to the sacrament of Reconciliation. When St. Margret Mary asked Jesus what Fr. Claude last confessed, Jesus responded, “I forgot.”
The reason why I love this story is that it shows us the complete and absolute forgiveness that comes from God. When we truly repent and confess, then in God’s eyes it is as if the sin has never happened. Of course, Divine Knowledge can never be truly ignorant, but the statement “I forgot,” is the closest thing that we human beings can come to understand the totality of that absolution. In God, none of the sin lingers when He has cleansed us by His forgiveness. His merciful act of forgiveness is given and then all is set right.
If only we humans could do the same.
We are told that we have to forgive and forget. For many of us, the forgiving is difficult, but the forgetting is even harder.
Some people are predisposed by temperament to be easily merciful and forgiving. For the rest of us, forgiveness may be a struggle. This is especially difficult when the people we need to forgive do not come first to make amends. And yet, our call to forgive is not only for those who ask for it, but for all. Christ on the cross offered forgiveness for His murderers as they were killing Him (Luke 23:34). Blessed Miguel Pro offered forgiveness to his executioners before they took his life.
Forgiveness is a must for all Christians. It is not optional. On top of this, forgiveness releases the soul from the bitterness and resentment that shackles it. When we forgive others, we are set free from the negativity that fills our hearts.
I have found that the easiest way to get to forgiveness is to remember my own sins. When I stack up my own faults before the Lord and I remember how much He has forgiven me, then I find it impossible to withhold forgiveness. It would be too much like Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35) who could not let go of a small debt owed to him when his master forgave him of an unpayable debt that he owed.
It takes a significant act of the will and, more importantly, an acceptance of supernatural grace to truly forgive from the heart.
But that is the easy part.
Now comes the “forgetting.”
If you are anything like me, some time after choosing to forgive, remembrance of the wound enters the mind. When that happens, the undesired feelings of bitterness, anger, and judgment, flood back into the soul.
CS Lewis talks about this very clearly.
“There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.’ In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’ For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.” (CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
Lewis perfectly captures the problem of the “forgetting.” We have very little control over our emotions. Even after we will the forgiveness of another, that feeling of hurt can creep back in again. But Lewis reminds us that we must re-commit to forgiving that same sin that we have already forgiven.
If we do not do this, if we let that old resentment creep in because we’ve already forgiven in the past, then all of that mercy will be undone. Forgiveness is hard because it isn’t merely a one-time thing. It is something that must be given again and again until, God willing, all old resentments are mortified out of us.
Sound impossible? It isn’t. All things are possible with God. And God has given us the great gift of virtue, which are simply good moral habits. As with any habit, if we acquire them, they will make the strain of the action less intense until they become second nature.
And I struggle with all of you. There is one person whom I love who wounded me deeply. Even after making the decision to forgive, the memory of their callousness and their lack of compassion continues to make my blood boil. I often catch myself stoking the flames of anger against them, until God reminds me that I must forgive once again, just has He forgives me over and over.
And He has not given up on my yet.
Lewis also speaks about this: “This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses* as we forgive those that trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
For many of us, we have not yet reached that habitually blessed state of forgiveness. But there is only one way to get there:
Never stop forgiving.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson
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