“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
How many times do we say these words a day and never actually consider what this simple phrase actually means? Well, it’s just not a simple phrase. This is a total game changer for how we live our lives. We should be accustomed to the idea that the words Jesus speaks do, in fact, alter reality, but I think that if you’re anything like me, you hope that echoing Jesus’ words and praying for them to somehow bring you comfort, or joy, or patience, or whatever is on your heart that day in some benevolent way.
What I love about what Jesus tells us to do here is that in 2023, it’s a gauntlet. For so much of my life, I’ve seen awful betrayals and fruitless fights that end in what seems to be endless heartache and pain. The notion of it being endless really is rooted in a lack of forgiveness. Most people would argue that it’s just easier to fight and then pretend that the other person isn’t there, than to actually confront the reality of the disagreement. In a digital age, ghosting seems to be a more and more common way to write someone out of a personal existence. The problem here is that if we really are affirming the dignity of every human life, we can’t walk away so easily. Just as you were made in God’s image and likeness, so too is the person we want to wish away. Herein lies the challenge. God calls you to forgive that person, but forgiveness looks different in every single spat or fight.
Forgiveness can simply be an apology. Apologies are what people find to be the most common form of forgiveness, but we can’t forget that apologies only matter if they are sincere. On the human interaction level, words can make a difference, but if those words are just words, your heart has to make the rest of the effort. God gives us the grace to make it there, and even if the apology starts as just a sharing of words, pray that God breaks open your heart and reinvigorates your sense of community in the Body of Christ. Only when you forgive another in your heart does true reconciliation take place.
Another place we see this as an essential element is in the Sacrament of Penance. Pope Saint John Paul II said “Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.“ Confessing sins can make us feel uncomfortable, sad, rejected, and dirty. Well, it should! We’re all sinners and we all fail, but the fact that you feel all of those things or even worse means that you actually have remorse for failing to meet God’s desires for your life. The efficacious grace that comes from absolution in the confessional is rooted in God’s infinite mercy, but mercy can only be received through true contrition. This is the same concept that we must explore with our friends and neighbors. We’re not really showing mercy if we don’t really express our apologies with both our words and our hearts. Both instances require absolute trust.
And trust issues, well, they seem to be the undoing of nearly every failed relationship. In every circumstance, we must be committed to looking for the good in others and affirming their dignity. In a world that binges on hateful gossip, flashy condescension, and scandalizing imagery, be the voice of authentic truth and charity. When Jesus calls us to forgive others, He is not telling us to do this symbolically so we can look like Christians. He’s telling us that because we were made in the image and likeness of God, we need to imitate Him with as much authenticity as possible. If God can forgive the repentant thief and murderer, we must work hard to forgive those who have hurt and betrayed us. The only person who loses when you hold a grudge, is you.
The big question is how we do this and do it the right way. First, we need to avail ourselves of the sacraments. We need to get to confession and receive the Eucharist worthily at least weekly and as often as possible otherwise. Let the grace flow from God and through you to others. Second, we must make praying for others a priority. We may have a tendency to become so focused on our personal relationship with God, or what we really are struggling with, that we forget that we need to bring others to the altar as well. So maybe instead of praying that you get over your adulterous spouse and the hurt that you experienced, you actually pray for your spouse by name and for the grace to forgive him/her regardless of how you feel. Jesus literally prayed for forgiveness for the executioners at His own execution.
May we all find the peace and consolation God offers by laying down our hearts at the foot of that same cross when we forgive the trespasses of others who have trespassed against us.