Forgiving Seventy-Seven Times
It is not easy to forgive those who have hurt us. We can hold grudges, we want revenge, we want to get even. But Our Lord today, in response to Peter’s question as to how many times we should forgive, says no, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. In other words, always! St Stephen, the first martyr for the Faith gave us a wonderful example of forgiveness. As he was about to be stoned to death he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
We have to forgive others because God forgives us. Think of what we say in the Our Father: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Can we expect God to forgive us when we refuse to forgive our neighbour? And if it is true that our neighbour doesn’t deserve our pardon, it will be even more true that we do not deserve the pardon of God. So we have to try to forgive others even if it is difficult. The Parable in today’s Gospel of the Unmerciful Servant reminds us that if we insist on strict justice with others who have offended us, God will hold us fully liable for the offenses we have committed against His infinite Majesty. The master said to the wicked servant, “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
During the Reformation in this country, the Jesuit priest and martyr St Edmund Campion (1540-1581) was betrayed and arrested. He was visited in prison by his betrayer, George Eliot, a Catholic, who was being prosecuted for murder and who saw a chance to save himself. Fr Campion not only forgave him, but he also urged him to leave England, because he might be in danger himself, and gave him a letter of safe-conduct to a Catholic nobleman in Germany.
The saints forgave because they knew they were sinners themselves and needed forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key to our inner freedom and peace. Once we have experienced that joy of being forgiven, we can open ourselves to forgive others. If you are holding a grudge, pray for that person’s well-being because then you have already begun to forgive them. You may choose to keep a distance from them, but it’s ok to pray for our enemies from a safe distance!
Fr Paul Gillham, IC