“…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”(Matthew 6:12). The mercy of God is freely given to all who follow Christ and the words of this prayer which He taught us. God forgives us as we forgive others. We pray this at every Sunday Mass, letting the familiar words form in our mouths as we have done since childhood. We are confident in them. They have become a pillar of faith. And like the pillars that support the church, we often ignore them, or peer around them to see other, more interesting things.
We forget that God’s mercy depends on our mercy to the people who have wronged us. We sing songs about His amazing grace, but rarely include themes of our own mercy in our hymns. Our forgiveness hinges on our willingness to forgive other people. If we hold onto grudges and slights, we condemn ourselves. Mercy is an exchange of God’s grace, like living water that flows into and out of a sacred pool. The Dead Sea collects all the water from a great and flourishing area of land, but it has no outlet. And because of that, it is lifeless and saline. We’re like that, too. If all we do is accept God’s mercy without sharing it with others, then our own spiritual life begins to die. Oh, but forgiving others is so hard. Yes, it’s hard. In fact, it’s impossible. Which is why we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit. Only God can help us to love like He does and to forgive like He forgives. We have to grow in humility so that our pride doesn’t interfere with His grace.
Jesus teaches us about this when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:3). We have to know our own sinfulness and spiritual poverty in order to have a heart that is open to grace. You’ve got to know how very much you need the love of Christ and that, without Him, you’re lost. That realization can be hard for some folks. It goes against our modern ideas of self-sufficiency and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Spiritual growth isn’t like that at all. Becoming more like Jesus means becoming less self-reliant and more dependent on Him. It goes against the wisdom of the world.
Forgiving others isn’t an emotion, it’s an act of the will; a decision that you make. You don’t have to “feel” forgiving to forgive. And it’s not forgetting what was done to you—that’s denial. You don’t become a doormat. Forgiving is letting go of your right to be right. It means letting go of your right to revenge. God is in charge of justice—not you. And forgiving doesn’t mean that the other person has to admit they’re wrong. You forgive, no matter how they act towards you. This is about your relationship with God. Jesus forgave people who hadn’t repented and maybe never would. And we have to do the same. Every time you think of that person who has wronged you, say, “I forgive you”—whether you mean it or not at that moment. And then pray the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pairing these two together reminds us how very much we need God’s forgiveness and how entwined that mercy is with our forgiveness of others. Our Lord never intended for us to live our faith in isolation. He lived His life in a family and a Church and He left us a Church in which we may journey together, forgive together, and learn to love together. And every Sunday Mass we stand together and pray,”…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.