Forgiveness is a loaded word. It’s an even greater weight to bear when there is unforgiveness. We may look upon the life of our Lord and even his forgiveness from the cross of his murderers as something we cannot achieve. It’s easy to say “well he was God…I’m not God. I’m just a man (or a woman)”. The lives of the saints, who were just as human as they were holy, pave a path for us to remember that forgiveness of others who have hurt us is possible and it is also the key to freedom.
When unforgiveness becomes a weight in our lives, we place ourselves in our own prison. Yet, the saints are waiting to show you how to unlock your cell door.
Take, for example, one of the most amazing saints when it comes to forgiveness that I have encountered. St. Maria Goretti was 12 years old when a neighboring boy continued making sexual advances toward her. After she repeatedly turned his advances down, he became furious and stabbed her multiple times. She suffered for a day in the hospital before dying the next day. However, before her death she expressed her forgiveness of her attacker. Her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli, went to prison and refused to be repentant or sorry for the attack for eight years. It was only after he had a dream of Maria gathering flowers and giving them to him that he repented.
The saints are living examples of how forgiving others who have wronged us can set us free from bitterness, animosity, and hatred. They speak, teach, and live forgiveness, but they never say it is easy to forgive those who hate us or wronged us.
St. Ignatius of Loyola had all of his monetary savings stolen by a man. Rather than hold hatred in his heart, Ignatius got word just a few weeks after the theft that the man who stole his money had become very ill. Ignatius walked 100 miles in the winter to go see the man, nurse him back to health, and show his forgiveness to him by acts of mercy and kindness.
Forgiving others comes with more than just words. Acts of forgiveness can have a dramatic impact on the lives of others. It could even lead them to the Lord.
St. Philip Benizi was sent by the Pope Martin IV as his personal ambassador to the rebels who were angry after the Pope placed Forli under a spiritual interdict that caused the closure of several churches. St. Philip was sent to mediate try and bring peace but found himself being assaulted. He was dragged off the rostrum and beaten. He was knocked down by a violent hit in the face by Peregrine Laziosi. After Peregrine struck Philip in the face, the saint turned his other side of his face toward Peregrine as an example of “turn the other cheek”. After Philip turned the other cheek to Peregrine, the youth immediately repented and converted to Catholicism by falling at the feet of the bruised, beaten, and bleeding priest and asking for forgiveness. St. Philip smiled at Peregrine and forgave him. Peregrine joined the Servites and was clothed ceremoniously in the religious habit by St. Philip Benizi himself. Peregrine later became a saint.
In his Admonitions, St. Francis of Assisi so brilliantly writes a pathway to how we should view the evils done to us by others. “Our Lord says in the Gospel, ‘love your enemies.’ A man really loves his enemies when he is not offended by the injury done to himself, but for the love of God feels burning sorrow for the sin his enemy has brought on his own soul and proves his love in a practical way.”
There is no better example of St. Francis of Assisi’s words than St. Francis de Sales. St. Francis de Sales was hated by a lawyer who shot at the saint in an attempt to kill him. The shooter missed and hit another priest who was standing with Francis. The lawyer was sentenced to death and Francis stood up for the man and pleaded for his life to be spared. St. Francis was successful and the death sentence was commuted. However, the lawyer was unrepentant and ungrateful. As a “thank you”, the lawyer spit in Francis’ face. The Gentle Saint responded in love by saying,” I have been able to save you from human justice, but unless you change your dispositions, you will fall into the hands of Divine Justice, from which no power can save you.”
Forgiving others does not mean we forget or ignore what happened. It does not mean we put our stamp of approval on what happened. It means we love our Lord enough to be His children as faithfully as possible, and thus, have a desire for all to enter eternal life.
“If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him, lest there be two bad men.” – St. Augustine.