"Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil." (St. Pope John Paul II)
Forgiveness is a significant challenge when it seems that by offering pardon to another we are surrendering to a loss of "justice." But the reality is that although there may never be "justice" in this world, there will be "justice" on the Last Day when there is the Final Judgment by God. The responsible one for causing us suffering, distress, hurt, and pain will have to answer to God one day for any cruelty and wickedness committed against us, if he chooses to live in denial of any offenses and refuse true contrition and repentance. We are not the judge of others because we ourselves need to ask for the Lord's forgiveness time and time again, and it is He who is the ultimate judge. We do not know a person's heart, but the Lord knows each and every one of us, and if sincerity resides within our souls then He will know that truth. With justice, every individual will receive what is his or her due, which illustrates the incredible depth of the Lord's mercy.
We know the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant where the Master forgives his servant for a large debt, but then the servant refuses to forgive a small debt of his fellow servant. The Master then rebukes the first servant, and throws him in prison until his large debt would be paid in total, which would actually be beyond his lifespan. The first servant lacked great humility when he punished his fellow servant, and acted as if he had never been forgiven himself. If we do not find in our hearts to forgive those who have sinned against us, how can we then expect our Heavenly Father to be merciful and to forgive us? (Matthew 18:21-35)
When we refuse to forgive another we become a slave to the sin of pride, and lose our freedom to have peace within our hearts. Anger, bitterness, and resentment can take control over our heart, mind, and soul, and permitting such feelings to take up residence within us rents the space within our heart that is for Christ alone. If we allow these emotions to become the master of our thoughts, words, and actions then we prevent ourselves from being able to heal from the hurt and suffering, and to find peace. God desires for us to have peace, and to not spend the rest of our lives as a prisoner of pride.
"Today I decided to forgive you. Not because you apologized, or because you acknowledged the pain that you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace." (Najwa Zebian)
How can we control our natural emotions and prevent ourselves from having the tendency to lash out or retaliate against those who have trespassed against us? We need to act on a supernatural level by allowing the graces of the Holy Spirit to work within us, and place our "littleness" before God. By placing ourselves at the feet of Jesus we can surrender our pride and imitate Christ's example of mercy and Love. As Christ hung from the Cross painfully laboring his last breaths with blood dripping from His sacred wounds He spoke the words, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) Having been forgiven by the Lord in His mercy and Love, can we then lower ourselves, and be humble enough to do the same and forgive another?
We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us strength, and look to the saints as models of forgiveness. St. John Vianney once said, "The saints have no hatred, no bitterness; they forgive everything, and think they deserve much more for their offenses against God." The martyrdom of St. Stephen teaches us to forgive in his last words before death, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" (Acts 7:59-60) The child virgin and martyr, St. Maria Goretti, before taking her last breath, forgave her assailant, Alessandro Serenelli, after he stabbed her fourteen times and mortally wounded her. St. Ignatius of Loyola in the bitter cold of winter walked one-hundred miles to care for a sick man who only a short time prior to his illness stole from him. Another Saint who we often turn to for intercession to help us with forgiveness is St. Pio of Pietracelina, who suffered immensely at the hands of his superiors and even Vatican officials, who believed him to be a fraud.
"I cannot believe that a soul which has arrived so near to Mercy itself, where she knows what she is, and how many sins God has forgiven her, should not instantly and willingly forgive others, and be pacified and wish well to everyone who has injured her, because she remembers the kindness and favors our Lord has shown her, whereby she has seen proofs of exceeding great love, and she is glad to have an opportunity offered to show some gratitude to her Lord." (St. Teresa of Avila)
We need to allow the light of Christ to radiate from the depth of our souls, and like the beautiful Saints before us, we can unite our hurt and pain to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. Christ can heal our wounds, if we let Him, by transforming them into a fountain of love poured out like a libation for the sanctification of poor sinners. It is by love alone that will be able to forgive those who have left us with these scars. The gateway of our hearts will become open to receive peace as we are set free from the yoke of bondage; the self-prison that we create for ourselves when we are held captive by our own pride, if we choose forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who helped to hide Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, once said, "Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness."
This article is also published on Called to Love - A Listening Heart and was reprinted and adapted with permission, https://cmsorr4610.wixsite.com/calledtolove/post/priestly-vocations-are-born-from-a-catholic-culture