“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray these words routinely as Christians, yet their weight should give us pause. We all need forgiveness, but to offer forgiveness often feels beyond our ability. This is a serious issue: How can we be forgiven if we never learn to forgive others?
Speaking to this very issue, the Catechism offers a beautiful sentence on how Christians can learn to forgive others:
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. (CCC 2843)
This paragraph is so rich, each phrase calls for a brief meditation.
It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense. . .
There’s freedom in accepting our limits. When someone really hurts us, especially when it’s a loved one, it stings. We’re going to feel it. We’re going to remember it. These feelings and memories will come and go. But it’s a trap to try to whitewash our feelings or erase our memories. Such a task would only crush us. We simply don’t have that power.
. . .but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit. . .
There’s even more freedom in offering our heart to the Holy Spirit. Whatever the injury was, we remain radically free to offer our hearts to the Holy Spirit, to say, “All that I am belongs to you.” Or think of the Father. We always remain as newborns in the Father’s arms. No one can ever take us away from His embrace. All the same, when we suffer some injury, it is good to redouble our surrender to God.
. . .turns injury into compassion. . .
In the Father’s arms, we learn not only how He loves us, but also how He loves others as well. The Father shares this love with us, teaching us that we are not alone in being hurt. Everyone carries struggles and injuries, even if they seem perfectly happy and cool. Filled with the Father’s love, our own injury helps us to empathize with others, to show them they’re not alone, to point them to the Father.
. . .and purifies the memory. . .
In the Father’s arms, we also learn to pray, speaking lovingly and listening attentively. Such prayer has the power to purify our memory. With childlike trust, we ask God, “Where were You when that happened? I trust that You are always with me, but help me to see, to trust, and to love.” Painful memories will still resurface, but we will calmly respond, “My Father, You were there, and You are with me still. Let Your truth dispel all lies. Let Your love dispel all fears.”
. . .in transforming the hurt into intercession.
Here, remember Christ’s glorious wounds. In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas lists several reasons why the Risen Christ still carries the marks of His Passion. He includes that Christ uses His wounds to make intercession for us to the Father. In our own way, we can intercede for others to the Father. We show God our wounds as we seek healing, not only for ourselves, but for all who are injured.
St. Thomas also cites St. Augustine’s opinion that martyrs will carry their wounds as well: “It will not be a deformity but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them.” In our lifetime, we may not feel the dignity—let alone the radiance—of our wounds. Yet we trust that one day, God’s beauty will shine through them all.
Photo by Ben White