...And forgive us our debts
as we have forgiven our debtors...
The most difficult thing to do is to forgive someone.
Why should it be?
Jesus is rather severe with his disciples on the matter of forgiveness of sins: ‘Unless you forgive your brother from the heart, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you.’
When the other has sinned against us, we are injured in our self-esteem. Forgiving the husband who has sinned against our marriage requires humility. Forgiving the brother who has sinned against his commitments to us and who has consciously attempted to humiliate us requires humility.
Our self-love is damaged by the sin of the other and only humility can bring us to forgive the other. This can be quite a struggle. It may require us to pray to God to grant us forgiveness of the other: we must bring forth our weakness to God so that he might help us to make that gesture of Christian love which is forgiveness.
To forgive the other we have to open our heart to him or her, even if he or she is thousands of miles away. This is painful. We don’t want to do it. We want to hate the other, the one who has sinned against us.
We are reminded of a story. A missionary in Africa told us that he had wronged a pet chimpanzee. Now chimpanzees aren’t stupid. There the chimpanzee is in his cage. He bides his time. When the missionary approaches unsuspecting, he picks up some mud from the floor of the cage and slings it in his face.
This is a true story.
This is what we want to do. We don’t want to forgive our husband, our brother. We want to sling mud in their face.
When we look into our own heart we see that we really don’t want to give up our self-love in order to forgive the other. We have to pray for the grace to forgive the other. We have to recognize that our pride is preventing us from forgiving the other.
Christmas is notorious in the helping professions for the strains it puts on family life. Family scenes, even murders, happen around Christmas. One of the reasons is that we harbour resentments towards our close family members because of the sins they have committed—against us! How dare they!
Now a beginning to preventing family scenes and worse at Christmas is to make an attempt from now to forgive the other.
How should we proceed?
Well, we have already mentioned one way: we might pray to Jesus to help us to forgive the other. That is already an act of humility, already a recognition of our weakness.
The next thing we could do, if we have a problem with forgiveness, is to go to confession. This is not to suggest that we are at fault—after all, the other may really have sinned against us—but it is to suggest that ‘cleaning out the pot’ of our heart will make us see things a little bit more clearly when we look into ourselves regarding the person who has sinned against us. A good confession might make us just a little bit humbler, which is a beginning on the road to forgiving the other.
And of course, part of being able to forgive the other is to recognize that we ourselves are sinners who are in need of the forgiveness that Jesus proffered.
Forgiving the other doesn’t necessarily mean cozying up to them. If someone has given us a beating on the street, it is one thing to forgive them, another to go out drinking with them: we have to judge in prudence and common sense what we should do about the other once we have forgiven them.
Once we have forgiven, then we are free. There is no longer a conflict in our heart; there is no longer a problem in our relations with the other. We see clearly in love even if we see clearly from a distance. For once we have forgiven we have a clarity that will allow us to judge what to do. And that might mean having nothing further to do with the person on any level of intimacy—or it might mean just the opposite: we have to exercise wisdom and prudence. And forgiveness gives us the freedom and clarity to allow us to judge correctly what to do.