ELIZABETH: For we’re trying to find a fault in you.
DARCY: Maybe it’s that I find it hard to forgive the follies and vices of others, or their offenses against myself. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.
That’s one of the memorable scenes in the 2005 movie “Pride and Prejudice” that always sticks in memory. Yet such an attitude of unyielding ire tends to be modern (well, likely age-old) attitude of many: that once offended, offended forever. No going back, no retractions, do not pass “Go”.
Are Christians, following Jesus’ admonitions and example, free of such bitterness and hatreds? Ah, would that it was so; we are burdened with Shakespeare’s “mortal coil” as much as anyone—with the same weaknesses, temptations and failings as all humanity—the human condition. And yet, the light of Christ helps to guide and strengthen us during our journey through life’s desert. As is often said, the church is not a haven for saints, but a hospital for sinners … the divine physician remedying that which ails us, and all Mankind.
Recognizing human weakness, is it not wise to give benefit of the doubt to those who might offend us? As others may not know the stresses in our lives, surely we do not know all the stresses in others’ lives, not to mention culture, rearing, early-cultivated prejudices, etc., all affecting our day-to-day interactions with one another. But, of course, there are very serious criminalities which are very difficult to overlook or forgive.
But what’s the best way to respond to lead to the greater good? We need only look at Jesus’ admonitions to us—to forgive offenders, and to love neighbor rather than to despise or even hate him. Hatred is venom to its owner.
A Gospel always good to read when having trouble forgiving is Matthew 18, in which a king initially forgives a great debt, but then condemns he who plead for forgiveness when that pleader himself was deaf to the comparatively trivial plea of another. Jesus ends that parable with a warning: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
That passage simply reinforces Jesus’ earlier teaching immediately after the Lord’s Prayer: “…if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Pretty definitive. Later, St. Paul wrote similarly: “…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13) This is Jesus who knew that He was to be crucified.
Most of the ways that we are sinned against are trivial, not to mention offenses that are whipped up by our imagination: someone is “mean”, accidentally shorts us $10, or doesn’t give us the so-called respect that we think we are “due”. And we let little pinpricks and slights fester and infect our whole soul … often over virtually nothing.
Forget you, O Christian … how willingly, and how generously, God forgives each of us … a multitude of sins racked up over many years … decades … a lifetime?
Aside … a little Catholic lite:
Catholics speak of venial and mortal sins, following 1 John 5:16-17. Venial sins are smaller, non-spiritually-deadly sins, forgiven by our own sincere acts/prayers of sorrow/contrition. Mortal sins—larger, serious, and spiritually deadly transgressions—must be confessed to the priest for forgiveness. But God looks upon the penitent, He sees him through the lens of Jesus’ crucifixion, and hears Jesus’ own words: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
But where do Catholics derive this sacrament of confession? From Jesus. One wonders why else would He tell the apostles, whom Catholics see as the first priest/bishops of the Church—immediately when He appeared to them post-resurrection: “… he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:22-23)?
If that power of forgiving was meant for everyone, then you know there are people who would NOT forgive … and then you’d never be forgiven? But Catholics believe that Jesus gave the power of forgiveness through them, and they would pass it onto others via the laying on of hands, or ordination. Priests are simply the broom in the hands of the householder … muddy waters through which Naaman is healed nonetheless (ref. 2 Kings 5).
Yes, Christians believe Jesus took upon Himself the punishment due to sin to restore the balance of justice, but individually IF we accept Him and follow His Word: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) And can we even imagine a more compassionate and loving God? … one who loves so much that He suffered and died upon the cross so that we might be forgiven forever.
So we cannot burn with cultivated hatred and vengeance and yet expect God to forgive US. As we read in scripture:
Anger and wrath, these also are abominations,
and the sinful man will possess them…
Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done,
and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
Does a man harbor anger against another,
and yet seek for healing from the Lord?
Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself,
and yet pray for his own sins?
If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath,
who will make expiation for his sins?
Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity …
As Jesus urges … and warns: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful…forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:36-38) and “… with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged …” (Matthew 7:2).
Forgiveness brings harmony; forgiveness brings peace. So let us grant forgiveness freely and liberally, knowing that, in the end, God soothes all wounds, and loves even more intensely those who reflect the goodness of His Son … in that place where we will be perfectly, and completely, and incandescently happy.
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.