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Holy Week Provides A Time To Offer Forgiveness — And Seek It Out

woman praying with Bible
Image CreditOlivia Snow/Unsplash

We forgive someone not necessarily because they deserve it, but because we want to bring out the best in them and in ourselves.

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“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

Even many secular Americans can identify this passage from the “Our Father.” But what do the words mean in our practical lives? As Christians around the world complete the purifying season of Lent and prepare for the commemoration of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, the run-up to Easter provides an appropriate time for individuals of all faiths and none to consider the role forgiveness plays in our daily lives.

The Need for Forgiveness

In recent years, I have had two relationships — one professional, one personal — where my behavior precipitated a rupture. In both cases, I reflected on my actions, admitted to the other party where I had fallen short, and sought pardon. In both cases, I received … silence in reply.

My Catholic upbringing taught me that human sin, once confessed and absolved in the sacrament of Reconciliation, gets wiped away in God’s eyes. In practice, however, actions can linger, particularly in human memory.

In my case, I ended up losing two relationships I valued, while remembering my role in ending them. Even if the relationships had come to their conclusion, doing so following an exchange of views — even if it meant the other party yelled at me or refused to accept my apology — would have left something to mitigate my actions that precipitated the rupture. As it turned out, all I am left with is silence and the reminder of what I did.

Letting Go of Old Wounds

These situations have made me reflect on our human need for forgiveness, which helps us move past the ways in which we fall short. And yet I will readily admit the difficulty of the second element of Jesus’ teaching from the Pater Noster.

Even as I have fallen short with others, in recent months other close acquaintances have let me down in ways I find hard to fathom. I look back on patterns of behavior and wonder whether and how I can trust them again.

Yet my brain keeps remembering a phrase I learned long ago, in a place I know not: You can be certain — and wrong. As confident as I may feel that colleagues who disappointed me won’t change, don’t understand the hurt they caused, and may never understand, I also recognize that my preconceived notions could prove entirely erroneous. Just as I wished I had the chance to express my sorrow personally to those I had wronged and regret that they would not entertain my apologetic entreaties, so too should I not close the door to others.

Embrace the Season of Hope

Writing in The Wall Street Journal in recent months, attorney Mike Kerrigan has broached two related concepts: The idea of mercy as “absolution beyond the bounds of justice,” and love as “willing the good of another.” Ultimately, mercy constitutes perhaps the purest act of love — forgiving someone not necessarily because they deserve it, but because we want to bring out the best in them and in ourselves.

In that same vein, mercy and forgiveness ultimately represent an act of hope. In accepting an apology, the person granting forgiveness believes that the sinner can mend the error of his ways, heal his wounds, and follow Christ’s command in John’s Gospel to “Go and sin no more.”

The concepts of mercy, love, and hope apply to all faiths, of course. But the arrival of spring and the rebirth it brings, coupled with the Christian celebration of Easter, show the promise and joy that forgiveness can bring, including the sure promise of new life and Resurrection. May you enjoy, and share in, this season of hope.


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