Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: Mercy and Forgiveness

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Matthew 7:1-5:  1 Stop judging, that you may not be judged.b 2For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. 3Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? 5You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

When Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the president there was well-publicized for her attacks on him. Apparently, she insulted him for his vocal stance in defending the dignity of all, even if it was deemed politically incorrect or taboo to speak out about such things.

Fourteen times, the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio requested to meet with her in private, and fourteen times, he was denied. Eleven times, she was outside of Argentina during the annual Te Deum and Mass in an effort to avoid him. And yet, after he was elected pope, instead of granting her a new protocol visit, he received her for a personal, two-hour lunch, without press, without pomp, without rancor. Oscar Wilde said, ‘Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.’ I doubt that was the motivation of Pope Francis. Nevertheless, his authenticity, as can been seen during those times that encounter and the conversations were captured, is evident.

You see the genuineness and humanity of those moments. He laughed with her. He didn’t see her as a political figure who proposed laws that were opposed to Christian values. He didn’t see her through that lens. He saw her as a human being; sure, with her flaws, but nevertheless, loved by the Lord. That’s where he met her and delighted in her presence with utmost freedom. Although he was strong about what was right the other times, he still loved the person that was wrong.

Mahatmi Gandhi said, ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’ We think the opposite: forgiveness is a sign of weakness. Actually, the reverse is the truth. Paul Boese said, ‘Forgiveness does not change the past, but it definitely enlarges the future.’ Desmond Tutu said, ‘Without forgiveness, there is no future.’ Yet we know that forgiveness is easier said than done in experience. C.S. Lewis put it so well when he writes, ‘Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.’ That’s a different story, isn’t it?

We can make up all kinds of excuses why we shouldn’t forgive, but in order for us to do so, we must know what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting may be a result of forgiveness, but it is never the means of forgiveness. It is not a question of surrendering our right to justice. If someone has done you wrong – for example, they’ve wrecked your car – yes, you forgive them, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have to pay the bill.

Forgiveness does not necessitate the need to continue to be friends. It doesn’t necessitate reconciliation with the person who hurt you. Sometimes, a respectful distance is what is necessary. Forgiveness does not mean that we have to put up with unacceptable behavior. It does not mean excusing, condoning, or minimizing the wrong that was done. And it does not mean that we won’t have negative feelings toward the person who has hurt us.

Isn’t that good to know? That makes forgiveness easier to work with. That makes forgiveness more of a possibility so that we can allow the Lord to bring about change in our lives. It puts the commandment in our grasp. You see the wisdom of the commandment, which is no longer burdensome, but a blessing. Why? As one author, Lewis B. Smedes says, ‘To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and to discover that the prisoner was you.’ That’s why.

People think, ‘But I could never let them off the hook,’ but the reality is if we don’t let offenders off the hook, we are the ones who are hooked – not them. We are hooked to them, and the pains that were caused in the past. That will cause even more suffering for us, for you. You don’t forgive someone merely because they deserve it, because they’ve apologized, because they’ve amended their lives, or because they’ve fulfilled some expectation of yours. You forgive because you deserve it. You deserve to be free, and God doesn’t want anybody to take that dignity away from you.

To refuse to forgive those who have hurt us allows them to continue hurting us long after they have moved on with their lives, and we’re still holding on to theirs, paralyzed from being able to move on with ours. Yet forgiveness is not a one-shot deal. I just don’t say a prayer, or pray during one Mass to forgive and it’s all over like a magic wand. No, it doesn’t happen that way.

Forgiveness is a process. We must revisit the emotional core of the past honestly, to acknowledge the hurt and the hate that has resulted, so that as the wounds come to the surface, they may be exposed to the light and allow God’s love heal us. In his writing on forgiveness, C.S. Lewis explains, ‘You have to look steadily at the sin in its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice. Yet you must also make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in yourself, every wish to humiliate or repay the person.’

It’s not easy to forgive a single great injury, but how are we to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life; to keep on forgiving the alcoholic parent, or the manipulative brother, the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son, the annoying brother, the controlling sister. How can we do it? C.S. Lewis responds, ‘I think only by remembering where we stand.’

We must mean what we say, ‘forgive us our trespasses as’ – in the measure that I forgive those who have trespassed against me – for the Lord says, ‘the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.’ We are offered forgiveness in no other terms. To refuse it, is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. Ouch! Talk about being held accountable. In the face of one of life’s greatest challenges, we ask for the grace to be enabled to spread Christ’s fragrance of forgiveness, in the way that only God can help us to do.

SOURCE: Segovia Homily, Spain Pilgrimage 2014- transcribed by TL

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved

‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth.  Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’

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