The wonderful gift of forgiveness

By Louise McNulty | Catholic News Service | December 2, 2014

Part three of a four-part Advent series on forgiveness.

Many of us put a lot of thought behind those must-have items on our Christmas shopping lists. But how much thought do we give to spiritual, free gifts we could bestow on our loved ones or ourselves this Christmas? Gifts, whether material or spiritual, benefit the giver as much as the receiver.

Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 7. (CNS graphic) Part I: Forgiveness: Pondering the gift of God’s mercy Part II: Forgiveness: The opportunity of the holidays Part III: The wonderful gift of forgiveness
Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 14. (CNS graphic)
Part I: Forgiveness: Pondering the gift of God’s mercy
Part II: Forgiveness: The opportunity of the holidays
Part III: The wonderful gift of forgiveness
Part IV: God never tires of forgiving us

Some gifts we can add to our list this season can be in the form of offering hope, a kind ear, companionship and friendship to those who are sad or despairing. Perhaps one of the best gifts of all to fill a spiritual Christmas stocking this year is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is mentioned many times in the Bible. Every day, during the Lord’s Prayer, the congregation repeats Christ’s prayer asking forgiveness for our trespasses “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s a pretty strong endorsement of the practice.

It is said that holding a grudge adversely affects the person hanging on to the hurt much more than it affects the person who is the source of the injury. The latter may be someone who is generally insensitive to the feelings of others or who meant no harm but is confused by the injured person’s coldness. That injurer may even have moved on with his or her life.

Yet the injured party who persists in holding a grudge often becomes consumed by bitterness, which may turn into festering hatred. There is only one person who can stop this continuing injury and there is only one way to do that.

This is why the idea of forgiveness as a Christmas gift is really appealing. It should not come into a conversation laced with words of rebuke such as, “I forgive you for all the nasty things you’ve done to me in the past. Let’s start over.” Forgiveness can come in the stillness of our hearts. The only thing the forgiven should notice is a healthy approach to a renewed relationship.

The holidays present the best opportunity to put away the ghost of hostility, since we are likely to bump into those who have injured us. At holiday gatherings, there’s the likelihood of a face-to-face encounter with them. Forgiveness can come as the initiation of a friendly conversation with the person who has “done us wrong.”

If the offender is a family member with a lifetime record of hurting others, just say a quick, silent prayer before approaching the person. Try to remember that sometimes the person who hurts others often feels deeply hurt or inadequate. Sarcasm or caustic remarks are an attempt to even the odds.

Try to recall the conversation Christ had with Peter (Mt 18:21-22) in which the apostle asks how often he must forgive someone who wrongs him. Seven times? And Christ says, “Not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Matthew 6:14-15 recalls Christ’s words on this topic, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

McNulty is a freelance writer in Akron, Ohio.

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