Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Dicit illi Jesus: Non dico tibi usque septies: sed usque septuagies septies.
Forgiveness is one of the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. The full list is at the end of the posting. I don't find these easier (or more difficult) than the Corporal (Bodily) Works of Mercy (also listed at the end of the post). I think because I'm not very merciful, all of these things are hard for me except praying for the dead, although I think that's more my own superstition than my own act of mercy.
At Church we've been meditating on these words of Mercy for a while. They were doing the Corporal one in the Fall of last year - wrapping up just as I got by to SF. We started on the Spiritual works at the end of January and I've been participating in a small group discussing these every Monday morning. By "coincidence" we began discussing forgiveness this week.
This is fresh and so four stories come to mind:
Three of bullies in school (one in grade school, two in high school) and of my wonky journey trying to find a vocation in God's Church. These stories come up because I can tell them as if they happened yesterday, and as if someone actually set out to cause me harm.
That was what came to me yesterday morning, meditation with my group: it's rather easy to forgive if you realize most things that hurt you are not done to you, personally. The driver who made stupid errors on the highway as you were leaving work tonight did not set out to ruin your day, to cause you damage. Even the bullies only failed because they objectify their victims: they are not hurting persons, they are hurting objects.
There are, I'm sure, people who hurt people knowingly and willingly, although I cannot mention them without invoking Godwin's law. But even these people failed to see their victims as people.
Forgiveness comes when we see the other as person.
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.’
Egressus autem servus ille invenit unum de conservis suis, qui debebat ei centum denarios: et tenens suffocavit eum, dicens: Redde quod debes.
But the other thing that gives rise to forgiveness is awareness of our own sinfulness, of our own weakness. Knowing how much one has sinned helps in letting go of the sins of others. That is, after all, the name of the game, is it not: forgive my sins as I forgive others. forget all the things I've done in exactly the same way I forget all the things done to me.
In that light, I'm in so much trouble! See: I may never have been personally harmed. But grudges are personal. I'm embarrassed to say I know the names of bullies. I look them up from time to time on Facebook to see how messy their lives are. (As if mine wasn't also messy.) It is our pride - our wounded worldly pride - that hold on to these moments.
But what about other moments? The forgiveness of people who only indirectly harmed one (and again, not personally) may be even harder. I lost a job once to an embezzlement, the thief didn't set out to steal my job, as such, but she did - and the jobs of many of my friends. Her story can make me feel I need a few belts of whiskey. What about your "political enemies"? Do they even know you - you, personally - exist? Do they know that their actions are hurting you? Do you imagine they sit up at night and say, "How shall I hurt her tomorrow?" Can you forgive them anyway?
Here, too, it is our wounded pride that holds on to these things. Here, too, it is our humility, and our desire to emulate Jesus that will save us.
These questions are not terribly important in a world where one has power. One can forget to forgive in a world where one comes home at night and comfortably rests in a high-backed arm chair watching drivel on Netflix. But how important to our salvation would it be to forgive those who take away our tax exempt status because of our teachings on sex? How important is it for us to pray here and now for the forgiveness of those who - not knowing any of us personally - would still lead us off into concentration camps or unemployment, or worse.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
I said at group on Monday that we need to come to a place where our forgiveness of our enemies is a massive evangelism. "Off with her head!" 'I forgive you.' "Off with his head!" 'I forgive you.', "Off with their heads!" 'I forgive you.' Seventy times Seven we must do that or, at least, one more time beyond our own head on the block.
If we don't get there, we may all be doomed - along with those we damn by our lack of living the Gospel.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
- To instruct the ignorant.
- To counsel the doubtful.
- To admonish sinners.
- To bear patiently those who wrong us.
- To forgive offenses.
- To console the afflicted.
- To pray for the living and the dead.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
- To feed the hungry.
- To give water to the thirsty.
- To clothe the naked.
- To shelter the homeless.
- To visit the sick.
- To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
- To bury the dead.