Last in a four-part Advent series on forgiveness.
Pope Francis has written the following about mercy in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”: “How good it feels to come back to God whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”
Some time ago, I read the story of an 11-year-old boy who woke up as usual and began dressing for school. As he listened to the morning news, he froze. United Air Lines, flight 629, with 44 persons aboard, had exploded and crashed. The boy rushed downstairs to find his grandmother, who was talking quietly with the parish priest. The boy said, “Mom and dad were on that plane, weren’t they?” Someone had placed a bomb on that plane.
Later that morning, the students at the parish school asked for a prayer service. The pastor asked the boy if this would be all right with him and his brothers. The boy agreed and said, “Would they please say a prayer for the man who killed my mom and dad?” Like Jesus who forgave those who brutalized him at Calvary, this boy expressed the divine and noble sentiments of forgiveness in his hour of deepest personal grief.
In his play, “The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare praised mercy in the following way: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It drops like the gentle rain from heaven to earth. It is twice blessed. It blesses him that gives and him that takes.”
Forgiveness makes everyone better than their status of parent, president or principal. Too many families and friendships are torn apart because Christ’s teaching about mercy is ignored or forgotten. Instead of forgiving, many people choose to nourish what they believe to be justified anger against those who injured them.
Poets and philosophers tend to make forgiveness a divine value because it is so often lacking in humans. To err is human, to be unforgiving is human – to forgive is divine. Forgiveness comes hard for many people because they spend too much time licking their wounds and examining the motives of the injuring party. It is, unfortunately, too easy to find reasons that justify complaining about those who hurt us.
Yet Christ advises us to see that the wound is not in ourselves, but in the one who wounded us. The capacity to heal is in the one who was wounded. Forgiveness is the gentle rain that blesses him or her who gives and the one who receives. It causes the growth of a new and richer friendship. In spiteful arguments the contestants strive to have the last word. Forgiveness is one way to speak that word. Or seen from the other side, an apology is a good way to have the last word.
Father of mercies, your boundless capacity to forgive inspires us. May we today experience your marvelous mercy as we resolve to forget and forgive real and imagined offenses. Amen.
Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books. He resides in De Pere.