By Fr. Erik Esparza
It is a great temptation for many to believe that forgiveness means to forget an offense or even worse to accept a wrongdoing.
If forgiveness had to do with the acceptance of a wrong then we would be saying God is accepting of sin. Psalm 5 denies God’s acceptance of sin, “You are not a god who delights in evil; no wicked person finds refuge with you.”
God wants always to be the source of refuge for us. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17). This is affirmed when St. Joseph was told by an angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
The power of forgiveness is transformative! Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross opened the door of salvation and showed us the power of forgiveness. As we look forward with hope to the day of salvation, we are now invited by Jesus to seek His refuge through the transformative gift of forgiveness. We encounter this transformative gift by seeking the forgiveness of God and by offering forgiveness to one another.
It is disheartening that so many people today miss out on the transformative power of forgiveness because they do not seek it from God or they withhold it because they believe that forgiveness somehow translates into forgetting about the offense or needing to accept a wrong. This is not what forgiveness means!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a wonderful outlook on forgiveness, “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (Paragraph 2843).
Pope Francis recently shared, “What is the joy of God? It is to forgive!” When we do not forgive we fill ourselves with anger, resentment, and hate. There is little room for joy! Forgiveness is to free oneself to experience joy and the healing power that God alone can offer. Jesus knew the importance of forgiveness and thus said to Peter when he asked how often should he forgive, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Do yourself the favor and offer forgiveness to someone who has done you wrong. If you truly want to experience joy seek also the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive the peace and grace that God alone can offer you and me. You definitely will not regret it!
I offer you this one last point. Before you get too comfortable and choose against forgiveness, you may want to remember the words that Jesus so clearly spoke to His disciples and in turn to us, “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).
“Everyone in silence think of someone with whom things aren’t going well: someone we are angry at, someone we don’t wish well. Think of this person, and in silence in this moment let’s pray for this person and become merciful towards this person.” –Pope Francis
Fr. Erik Esparza is Associate Director of Priest Personnel in the Diocese of San Bernardino.