The Love of Forgiveness
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
All of us are Sinners, and therefore all of us need
Pardon from God; but Our Divine Savior has
made it clear that an Essential Condition for receiving Pardon from
God is that we Pardon one another.
"If you Forgive Men their Offenses, your Heavenly Father will also Forgive you your Offenses. But if
you do not Forgive Men, neither will your Father Forgive you your Offenses" (Matthew 6:14)
Matthew 18:23 (Click to enlarge)
Our Blessed Lord explained this in detail in His Parable of
the Servant who was Forgiven a Large Debt by his Master, but would not himself
Forgive a Small Debt of a Fellow Servant. Thereupon the Master
demanded the First Servant to pay his Debt in-full
Our own condition is similar to the First Servant referred to above. Time and again
God has Forgiven us when we asked His
Pardon with Humble and Sincere
Contrition, thereby Pardoning an
Infinite Debt; for Sin is an
Injustice against a Person of Infinite
Dignity Who has a Strict Right to our
Obedience. And yet, at times we are Unwilling or Reluctant to Forgive another. While we
can Atone for an Injury or
Injustice to our Neighbor, we can never, by ourselves alone, Atone for the
least Offense against God, unless
He assists us by His Grace to do so.
One who is unwilling to Forgive another who has Offended him,
should be Fearful of Praying the
"Our Father", for in that Prayer we ask
God to Forgive us "as we Forgive
those who Trespass against us". That means - if we do not Forgive another, we
are asking God not to Forgive us; and that is exactly
what He will do.
We are not suggesting that some should not Pray the
"Our Father", but rather that for those who find Forgiving
Difficult, let that Prayer be a Plea that
God will enable them to Forgive others, so that He in-turn
will Pardon them.
True Love is Forgiving
Our Blessed Lord, being a Divine Person, is
Infinite Love, is Love Itself
(1John 4:8). Dying on the Cross,
He begged Forgiveness for the very ones who were putting
Him to Death. He Forgave
them from His Heart, and begged His Father to
Forgive them. And He was begging
Pardon for our Sins as well, for He was making
Satisfaction for the Sins of all Mankind.
We should strive to Forgive others, then, not merely for the
Selfish Motive that we ourselves might be Forgiven, but also because
Forgiving is a Form of Loving. As the renowned Carmelite
Theologian Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene wrote:
"Indeed one of the greatest opportunities for the Practice of Charity is offered us by those who by
their Evil conduct give us so many occasions of Forgiving them, for returning Good for Evil and for Suffering Injustice for the Love
of God. Moreover, we should consider that, while Cockle cannot be changed into Wheat, it is always possible for the Wicked to be
Converted and become Good" (Divine Intimacy 70,2)
The Mass Continues Christ's Forgiveness
We all know that the most Central and Essential part of the Mass is the
Consecration when Christ Renews
His Sacrifice, changing Bread and Wine into
His own Body and Blood,
and offering these Divine Gifts with His Merits to the
Father. Notice the Words of Our Savior, which the Priest repeats at the
Consecration of the Precious Blood:
"This is the Cup of My Blood, the Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant. It will be shed for you
and for all - so that Sins may be Forgiven. Do this in Memory of Me"
"Do this in Memory of Me". Not only is Christ
asking that we continue offering this Sacrifice. He is asking
that we continue this Work of Pardon.
Christ Suffered and Died
precisely to gain Pardon for our Sins, and to share with us the
Capacity of Pardon. His Redeeming
Death gave to Forgiveness (done out of Charity) a
Special Efficacy in gaining Grace and Help from
For this reason, we Unite ourselves to Christ and
His Passion in a very special way when we
Forgive another out of the Motive of Charity. This is so Central
and so Basic in the Christian Life because it is an Intimate Participation in the Principal Thing that
Christ became Man to do.
It should be clear, then, that as long as we have an Unforgiving Frame of
Mind and Heart, our Prayers and
Offering will not be acceptable to God.
"If you bring your Gift to the Altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you,
leave your Gift at the Altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your Gift"
During the Sacrifice of the Mass,
Our Savior invites us to Unite ourselves with Him Who
was the Victim of an Injustice Infinitely
Greater than any Injustice we will ever Suffer, and
Who asked Forgiveness for all who were responsible for
His Death. How, then, can we be
United with Him in the Renewal of
His Sacrifice, if we ourselves have an
Unforgiving Heart towards someone who has Offended us.
The Power of Forgiveness
Love, Charity and Forgiveness are Acts of the Will
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
The Heart and
Will reside in the Soul of a Person.
Anger and the other Passions
reside in the Body.
Strength and Power are Manifested in our Control of the
Will of the Soul over Bodily Passions.
Love, Charity and Forgiveness
are Acts of the Will.
In the Prayer at the beginning of the Mass on the
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we read these words: "Father, You show Your Almighty Power in
Your Mercy and Forgiveness".
We are accustomed to think of Godís Power in terms of Creating out of nothing, Curing the
Sick, Raising the Dead to Life, etc. But here the
Church refers to His Mercy and
Forgiveness as a Manifestation of His Power. We can understand this, however, when we
remember, as we said above, that Forgiving is a Form of Loving.
It requires great Spiritual Strength to Forgive from the
Heart. An Unwillingness to
Forgive, or an Inability to Forgive, is Spiritual
Weakness. One who Loves God "with
his whole Heart, his whole Soul, his whole Mind, and with his whole Strength" as God
has Commanded us - (Mark 12:30), will have the Power and Strength to
We cannot Imitate Godís Power to Create, Raise the Dead,
etc., but we can and are called to Imitate His Power to Forgive.
In fact, we have the opportunity of Exercising this Form of Charity more often than any of the other
Works of Mercy. For example:
to give Alms we need Money; but we donít need Money to
to instruct the Ignorant we must have certain Knowledge and Training;
but not to Forgive.
to give Food to the Hungry we must have Food to give, but not to
to give Clothes to the Needy, we must have Clothes to spare; but not to
to give Shelter to those who need it we must have a Place to offer; but not to
So you see, certain types of Charity are limited to the Situation in which one finds himself;
but we should never be limited in our Capacity to Love our Neighbor by the
Love of Forgiveness . . . our Capacity to give Witness of Godís Love,
by Pardoning another.
Forgiveness, then, is one type of Alms that we can always give. It is a type of
Charity that can be exercised at any time, by
anyone, be he Rich or Poor, Young or Old, Sick or in Good Health, etc. If we canít manage this Type
of Alms, then our Poverty is much greater than being without Money, or Food, or Clothing, or Shelter.
The Obstacle of Pride
At times a Person can be dominated by a Grudge which he holds against another, or a deep
Resentment, or even Hatred and a desire for
Revenge. In all these cases, what is usually Lacking is the Charity
and Humility that disposes one to Pardon.
It has been said, and with much Truth, "to Offend is Human, to
Pardon is Divine". Without the Aid of Divine Grace
Strengthening us in the Virtues of Charity and
Humility, it is often very Difficult - if not Impossible - for
our Proud and Selfish Nature to
This we know to be a fact, and it should make us reflect: the more we grow in the Love of
Charity and Humility, the more we are inclined to
Forgive; but the more that Self-Love,
Pride and Egoism dominates us, the more
Difficult it is for us to Pardon and to ask
Pardon, and the more inclined we are to hold Grudges,
Deep Resentment, etc.
This is true, for when we are Offended, both our Emotional and
Intellectual Being is affected. While the Intellect may know the
need of Forgiving, the Will finds it
Difficult because of Hurt Feelings that donít easily or
quickly go away. And the Evil One, who does not want us to Forgive,
does what he can to make it more Difficult. If we can not Forget, it is more
Difficult to Forgive; and the Devil can make it harder
for us to Forget. Just as he can bring an Image to the Imagination that will
Tempt one to Impurity, so he can bring an Image that will remind
one of a past Painful Offense. And if one is not on his guard,
this can give rise to Resentment and Bitterness that would
influence his Decisions and Actions.
A good way to handle such situations is by Prayer, Praying
for the one who caused the Offense. The Hurt
Feelings may not quickly disappear. But, if one can bring himself to Pray for the
one who Offended him, then deep in his Heart he is well disposed
toward that person. He is Loving in a true Christian sense, even though on the surface the
Feelings havenít completely quieted down. In this way one can reap Spiritual
Gain through such Temptation - instead of Loss.
Isnít that why God allows Temptations?
Confused Notions of Forgiveness
A person can at times confuse Pardon with Softness with regard to
Sin, Crime, etc. Is God asking us to overlook the
Injustice of Robbers, Murderers,
those who Exploit the Poor, who sell
Dope, etc.? No, He asks us to Hate Sin, but
Love the Sinner. Yet the Love of
Forgiveness does not mean that we overlook the Injustice done. It does not mean
that it should not be Corrected. Our Blessed Lord was Severe in driving the Money Changers
out-of-the Temple . . . He was Severe in Condemning the
Pharisees. Yet He Died for them. The Scriptures
testify that the Love of Forgiveness does not mean that Wrongs
are not Punished:
"For them You were a God Who Forgives; yet You Punished all their Offenses" -
(Psalm 99:8) "For whom the Lord Loves, He Chastises; and He Scourges every son whom He
receives . . . God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom the Father does not correct" -
Too, many Worldly Minded Persons see Forgiveness as a Weakness, as not having the Courage to
stand-up for oneís Rights. If we follow the Philosophy of the Western Movies, not to Fight Back when one is
Insulted or Offended (not to defend oneís "Honor" as they call it) is to be a
Yet, in a deeper sense, to Retaliate, to Fight Back when one is Offended, is often a
Weakness. It is to Lack the Power to control oneís Pride . . .
it is to Fail to be Strong Enough to Forgive.
The Extent of Forgiveness
On one occasion Peter asked our Blessed Lord how often he must
Forgive another who Offends him . . . must he Pardon
him as many as Seven (7) Times. Jesus answered him
"not seven times, but seventy times seven times", that is, Countless
Times . . . if the Offender is Sincere in asking Pardon - wanting and trying to avoid
Offense. Peter thought his Charity was quite commendable
in being Willing to Pardon Seven (7)
Times, which was Four (4) more than was required by the Jewish Teachers, who based the
Duty of Forgiving Three
(3) Times on the Sacred Books.
(Amos 1:3; Job 33:29)
Did not Our Lord say to His Apostles the night before
He Died - "love one another as I
have loved you" . . . which can mean "forgive one another as I have forgiven you";
and has He not forgiven each of us Countless
Times? And not only that, but He Forgives us a Debt
far greater than that which our neighbor owes us; for when our neighbor Offends us, he
Offends a Weak Person who himself Offends often . . . while
God Pardons a Debt against
Himself, a Being of Infinite
Majesty and Power and Goodness. The best way we can
thank God for Forgiving us, is to
Forgive - for His sake - those of His children who
have Offended us.
The Fruit of Forgiveness
The effect of Pardon can be more extensive than we might imagine. Any true
Conversion of Life must come from within, from a Conversion of
Heart aided by Godís Grace, and not merely imposed from without. The
Love of Forgiveness can help win those Graces.
When we give Alms, or Clothing, or Food, or Lodging, etc., we are Helping another Exteriorly. When we
Forgive another from the Heart, as Christ asks, we
are touching him Interiorly, in his Heart, where any true Conversion
or Amendment of Life must originate.
As regards our own Conversion of Life, the more we Forgive
the Offenses of others, the more God is going to
Pardon us our Faults, and give us the
Graces and Help needed to overcome them.
As regards the Faults of others and their Conversion of Life,
if one can bring himself, not only to Forgive the Offense of
another, but to offer to God the Pain and
Suffering for the person who caused it, he will be doing exactly what
Christ did on Calvary. Such a Love of
Forgiveness will draw down Graces both on the one who Forgives
and the one who is Forgiven. This seems to be what Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen
(quoted above) means when he said, in connection with Forgiveness, that
"while Cockle cannot be changed into Wheat, it is always possible for the Wicked to be converted and
Saint Paul is talking in the same vein when he tells us not to render Evil for
Evil, not to take Revenge. On the contrary, he says,
quoting the Book of Proverbs:
"If your enemy is Hungry, give him Food; if he is Thirsty, give him Drink; for by doing so you will
heap coals of fire upon his Head" - (Romans 12:16-20); (Proverbs 25:21)
Saints Augustine and Jerome understand these words to mean that Generosity towards
an Enemy will Inflict upon him Healing Pains
of Remorse and Repentance for his past conduct, and thus effect
his Conversion. This implies, of course, that these Exterior Forms of
Charity are accompanied by an Interior Love of Forgiveness. In this, one would be
fulfilling what Saint Paul recommends:
"Be not overcome by Evil, but overcome Evil with Good" - (Romans 12:21).