THE third path, which opens the way to God’s presence and action in one’s life, is intrinsically tied to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But here, it has to do, not with the mercy you receive, but the mercy you give.
When Jesus gathered His lambs around Him on a hill by the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, He looked at them with the eyes of Mercy and said:
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matt 5:7)
But as if to underscore the seriousness of this beatitude, Jesus returned to this theme a short while later and repeated:
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. (John 6:14)
This is to say that even should we—in the light of self-knowledge, the spirit of true humility, and the courage of truth—make a good confession… it is null before the eyes of the Lord if we ourselves refuse to show mercy to those who have done us harm.
In the parable of the indebted servant, a king forgives the debt of a servant who had pleaded for mercy. But then the servant goes out to one of his own slaves, and demands that the debts he owes him be paid back immediately. The poor slave cried out to his master:
‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you. ’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. (Matt 18:29-30)
When the king caught wind of how the man whose debt he had just forgiven had treated his own servant, he threw him into prison until every last penny would be paid back. Then Jesus, turning to His rapt audience, concluded:
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. (Matt 18:35)
Here, there is no caveat, no limitation to the mercy we are called to show others, no matter how deep the wounds are which they have inflicted on us. Indeed, covered in blood, pierced by nails, and disfigured by blows, Jesus cried out:
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
When we are so wounded, often by those closest to us, how can we forgive our brother “from the heart”? How, when our emotions are shipwrecked and our minds in turmoil, can we forgive the other, especially when they have no intention of asking for forgiveness from us or any desire to reconcile?
The answer is that, to forgive from the heart is an act of the will, not the emotions. Our own salvation and forgiveness comes literally from the pierced Heart of Christ—a heart that was rent open for us, not by feelings, but by an act of the will:
Not my will but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)
Many years ago, a man asked my wife to design a logo for his company. One day he would love her design, the next day he’d ask for changes. And this went on for hours and weeks. Eventually, my wife sent him a small bill for a bit of the work she’d done up to that point. A few days later, he left a nasty voicemail, calling my wife every filthy name under the sun. I was outraged. I got into my vehicle, drove to his place of work, and put my business card in front of him. “If you ever speak to my wife that way again, I’ll make sure your business gets all the notoriety it deserves.” I was a news reporter at the time, and of course, that was an inappropriate use of my position. I got into my car and drove away, seething.
But the Lord convicted me that I needed to forgive this poor man. I looked in the mirror, and knowing what a sinner I was, I said, “Yes, of course Lord… I forgive him.” But every time I drove by his business in the days ahead, the sting of injustice rose up in my soul, the poison of his words seeping into my mind. But with the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount also echoing in my heart, I repeated, “Lord, I forgive this man.”
But not only that, I recalled the words of Jesus when He said:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:26)
And so I continued, “Jesus, I pray for this man that you will bless him, his health, his family, and his business. I pray too that, if He does not know you, that He will find you.” Well, this went on for months, and each time I passed his business, I would feel hurt, even anger… but responded by an act of the will to forgive.
Then, one day as the same pattern of hurt replayed, I forgave him again “from the heart.” Suddenly, a burst of joy and love for this man flooded my wounded heart. I felt no anger toward him, and in fact, wanted to drive to his business and tell him that I loved him with the love of Christ. From that day forward, remarkably, there was no more bitterness, no more desire for revenge, only peace. My wounded emotions were at last healed—on the day the Lord felt they needed to be healed—not a minute earlier or a second later.
When we love like this, I am convinced that not only does the Lord forgive us our own transgressions, but He overlooks many of our own faults because of His great generosity. As St. Peter said,
Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pet 4:8)
As this Lenten Retreat continues, call to mind those who have wounded, rejected or ignored you; those who, by their actions or words, have caused you grievous pain. Then, holding firmly the pierced hand of Jesus, choose to forgive them—over and over and over gain. For who knows? Perhaps the reason that some pains like this linger longer than others is because that person needs us to bless and pray for them more than once. Jesus hung upon the Cross for several hours, not just one or two. Why? Well, what if Jesus had died a few minutes after being nailed to that tree? Then we would have never heard of His great patience on Calvary, His mercy toward the thief, His cries of forgiveness, and his attention and compassion toward His Mother. So too, we need to hang on the Cross of our sorrows for as long as God wills so that by our patience, mercy, and prayers—united to Christ’s—our enemies will receive the graces they need from His pierced side, others will receive our witness… and we will receive the purification and blessings of the Kingdom.
Mercy through mercy.
SUMMARY AND SCRIPTURE
Mercy comes to us by way of the mercy we show others.
Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (Luke 6:37-38)
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