Forgiveness for a Christian is not an option; it is a solemn duty. On this matter, Jesus is very clear, “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
With this in mind, we are at times burdened with guilt and shame because we find ourselves unable to forgive someone. People, even family and friends, can hurt us, offend us, and disregard us. We just can’t find it within ourselves to forgive them, so what are we to do?
How can we claim to be servants of Jesus Christ if we are unable to forgive? Rest assured, this has been and continues to be a great cross for many Christians but there is a way out of this dilemma, as we consider the following paths to forgiveness.
First, be patient with yourself, because forgiveness is seldom instantaneous; it is often a process. In regards to the body, we know that healing is often a protracted development. Deep wounds, lesions, and lacerations can take weeks, if not months, to heal. The same is true of the healing process for the soul. The hurts caused by others go very deep and can impact our souls in a profound manner.
As with the body, know that the healing process in the soul may take some time as well. Perhaps Jesus envisioned this in the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida; this healing miracle is unique. Unlike the other healing miracles of Jesus (such as the blind man, Bartimaeus), where the healings came immediately, the blind man of Bethsaida was healed in stages.
After the initial application of saliva and the laying on of hands, the man could see, but not clearly; people looked like walking trees. So, Jesus laid His hands on the man a second time and his sight was fully restored. Did Jesus lack healing power in some degree that He could not heal the blind man of Bethsaida at once? It is unlikely, as He possessed all power as God to do so. Maybe Jesus used this miracle as a teachable moment, to remind us that healing, especially on the spiritual level, takes time and a great outpouring of grace. Be patient with yourself and with God, because spiritual healing will come and with it the ability to forgive once again.
Second, we must never allow the Evil One to lead us to believe that forgiveness is impossible. The Evil One loves division and dissension among God’s people and he convinces us that some people are beyond forgiveness. But, no one is beyond forgiveness and mercy; Jesus proved that by His holy cross. Some of His last words spoken as He was dying were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
By the graces flowing from His holy cross, Jesus makes forgiveness possible. We see this in the lives of holy men and women throughout the history of the Church. They were able to forgive others for great offenses committed against them. On the human level, these offenses seemed beyond forgiveness, but on the supernatural level of grace, forgiveness was possible and was willingly and lovingly offered.
One of the most powerful examples of this in recent history is the conversion of Rudolph Hoess. As the commandant of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Poland, Hoess was responsible for the deaths of almost 3.5 million people. At his trial, he showed no remorse and was sentenced to death by hanging. But, shortly before the day of execution, God touched his heart and Hoess desired to return to the Catholic faith of his youth, so as to receive the sacraments before his execution.
The priest who offered Hoess his final confession, extreme unction, and viaticum was Fr. Wladyslaw Lohn, SJ, who himself had been interred for a time at Auschwitz. As he grieved the deaths of millions of men, women, and children killed at Auschwitz, including hundreds of his fellow Jesuit priests, Fr. Lohn had to extend the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to the man who caused one of history’s greatest human tragedies.
How was Fr. Lohn able to forgive the “Butcher of Auschwitz?” We can only attest to the grace of God. As the Archangel Gabriel reminded the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). When you find it impossible to forgive, meditate on the cross of Jesus Christ and read the lives of the saints. If Jesus and His faithful servants were able to forgive in their difficult circumstances, why should we not be able to do the same? Never place limits on the power of God’s grace; be amazed at what God can do through our human frailties.
As Christians, we will at times be unable to forgive someone. This is a heavy cross to bear, because we know deep within that we are called to be people of mercy and forgiveness is the fruit of mercy. But, be patient, knowing that forgiveness is a process and it will come, as evidenced in the lives of Jesus and the saints.
Perhaps when unable to forgive, offer to God one of the simplest, yet most profound prayers, “I can’t.” God loves to hear this prayer from us, because it is a humble admission of our need for His divine assistance. When we are weak, God’s power in us, including the power to forgive others, is most effective. As the Lord reminded Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).
Benz is pastor of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Stanley and St. Ann in Berthhold
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