Uncomfortable Reality about Forgiveness

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) Sirach 27:30–28:7; Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

Just about everyone can recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory.  That’s precisely the problem, though.  We often rattle it off without really thinking about what we are saying.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Whenever we pray this line, we are asking God to forgive us exactly in the same way as we forgive those who hurt us.  In other words, if we are harboring unforgiveness in our hearts as we say this prayer, we are calling a curse down upon ourselves.

Let’s face it.  We are all in desperate need of the mercy of God.  But time and time again, the Word of God makes clear that the greatest block to his mercy is resentment.  In the Old Testament, the book of Sirach (27:30-28:7) tells us how wrath and anger, cherished and held tight, are poisons that lead to spiritual death.  Jesus thinks this is so important that he includes a reminder of this lesson in the central prayer that he teaches to his disciples.  And to drive the point home, he tells us the parable of the merciless servant, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (18:21-35).  As we listen to the story, we are incensed at the arrogance and hard-heartedness of someone who is forgiven a huge debt yet immediately throttles the neighbor who owes him a fraction of the amount he himself once owed.  Incensed, that is, until we realize the story is about us.  For all of us who have ever nurtured a grudge are guilty of exactly the same thing.

Bringing up this issue is rather uncomfortable because we all have been hurt by others.  Many have been hurt deeply.  Think, for example, of the widows and orphans of September 11.  Is it wrong to have feelings of outrage over such crimes?  Does forgiveness mean that we excuse the culprits and leave ourselves wide open to further abuse?

Not at all.  First of all, forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling.  I think it rather unlikely that the Lord Jesus, in his sacred yet still human heart, had tender feelings of affection for those mocking him as the life blood was being drained out on the cross.  But he made a decision, expressed in a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 22).  In other words, there was no vindictiveness, no desire to retaliate and cause pain, suffering and destruction to those who delighted in causing him pain.  Such desire for destructive vengeance is the kind of anger that is one of the seven deadly sins.  Rather, Jesus prayed to the Father for their good even as they caused him harm.

Did Jesus ever experience anger against those who sought his life?  Absolutely.  Righteous anger is the appropriate response to injustice.  It is meant to give us the emotional energy to confront that injustice and overcome it.  Recall how livid Jesus was in the face of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, because it was blocking the access of others to his life-giving truth.  But notice as well that he overturned the money-changer’s tables, not their lives.

Forgiveness does not mean being a doormat.  It does not mean sitting passively by while an alcoholic or abusive family member destroys not only your life but the lives of others.  But taking severe, even legal action does not require resentment and vindictiveness.  Pope John Paul II did not request the release of the man who shot him.  But note that he visited him in prison to offer him forgiveness and friendship.   In so doing, stunned not only the assailant, but the whole world.


Acknowledgement

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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