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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

How can I forgive?

How does a person truly forgive another who has done them wrong?  Is it just by saying it?  Praying about [it]?  Why is it so hard for someone to forgive another?  It can even take years to forgive.  How can it be easier and faster to forgive, like Jesus forgives all our sins?

         When I first saw this question, I winced at any prospect of having a good answer to satisfy the questioner. Then two days later (on Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent), the Church read the following Gospel passage from Matthew 18:21-35 for the Mass of the day:

 Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

 Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

For those who attended Mass here that morning, you may recall my reading the original slip of paper for the submitted question as a lead for my homily, exclaiming first that it was a good question and that we could find some answers to it in the Gospel passage:

  1 – That Jesus says we must forgive “seventy-seven times” speaks to how forgiveness must always be offered not as a “once and done,” but in every moment when we are hurt and/or in every memory of being hurt, no matter when it happened.  We are invited to learn to let go each and every time we feel the hurt (thus, “seventy-seven” or “as many times as necessary” until the hurt is no longer present). In addition, to pray by name for those who have hurt us is a way to learn such constancy in forgiveness and to continue the healing process.  

2 – Likewise, to pray for the grace to “let go” whenever hurts come to mind can be a process in itself – but one that constantly invites us to place our trust in God and not hold onto anything that weighs us down.   The more we consistently and deliberately forgive (or “let go”), the less the hurt will continue to bother us.

3 – Finally, the more we practice this constancy of letting go, the easier it will become to forgive.  While each moment of hurt is its own, we should never fear to let Jesus into every moment, giving it to Him, that we might learn mercy from Him and be able to forgive from our hearts.

To grow further, I encourage you to read today’s Easter gift:  “Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody,” where you will see beautiful testimonies of how to forgive and to seek forgiveness.  May you have a blessed and joyful Easter!


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