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Our dear Lord came to give us many good things. One of those things is a profound sense of peace. Not peace that the world gives it. Rather a peace that is beyond all understanding. It is a peace that brings joy and healing. It is Christ himself, alluded to in the Old Testament, that links sins and sickness, or their converse, forgiveness and healing. Forgiveness is fundamental to the new Magna Carta given at the Sermon on the Mount, and should be a staple of those who follow the Master.
However, forgiveness is often misunderstood and thus ignored. Some have suggested it is a bar set too high for Man. This supra-human act shows man’s inability to do such a difficult task, and as such, man’s essential depravity. It is true, that apart from Christ, man can do nothing. However, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, dwelling within the believer, Man is capable of doing an otherwise impossible task.
Further confusion arises from the mislabeling of forgiveness to that of abrogating justice and its certain consequences. Forgiveness is not synonymous with ‘letting bygones be bygones’. Justice is that which is due to another. Those injured and hurt have a right to justice and it is a moral obligation to seek to stop further harm and to have a remedy for such harm.
Forgiveness is the action where one cuts the cords of bondage. The Sermon on the Mount was primarily a dialogue between Christ and his followers. He was giving sure norms of behavior to free His people from all that can harm them. He is proclaiming a year of Jubilee, a canceling of debts, which is bondage. Christ, the New Moses, could not be giving a New Law if that law was unattainable or optional.
Forgiveness is an act of the will to sincerely hope for the good of another. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa TheologiaII-II 157.4 uses the term clemency. For our consideration, forgiveness can be considered a synonym to clemency. Aquinas states “As to clemency, inasmuch as it mitigates punishment, it would seem to approach nearest to charity, the greatest of the virtues, since thereby we do good towards our neighbor, and hinder his evil.”The act of doing good to our neighbor and more importantly to hinder his perpetration of evil is the definition of forgiveness.
But how does the Christian actually do this? By giving the pain of injury over to the Father, the injured is freed in the process. Moreover, the inured party is modeling the action of Christ and showing forth their identity as true sons and daughters of the Father. Establishing the relationship as children of the Father is the goal of salvation. The honor and privilege of calling God, Abba, Father, is what Jesus taught at the Mount. It is interesting to note, that Jesus never talks about Himself during this pivotal Sermon. Always, His focus is on the Father and us His children and how to re-establish this filial relationship. Forgiveness brings about wholeness in the soul, which is manifested in a healing in the body. Without forgiveness, there is no healing.
Thus, there are three persons to whom to direct our forgiveness: God, ourselves, and the other person(s). We direct our forgiveness to God when we turn our gaze to His. We ask the Father for the grace and insights necessary to accomplish this act. In prayer, we listen for His voice to guide our hearts to correspond to His.
The Sacrament of Confession aids greatly in this process of forgiveness. The wounded soul takes stock of any areas of sinfulness, to which the soul may have been complicit and asks for and receives the grace needed to forgive. Often times, it is ones own self that is the hardest to forgive. The words of Christ, “Your sins are forgiven, take up your mat and go.” Some sinners may think that their past sinfulness is too great to forgive and their corresponding misery is proper justice from God. Christ came to bring forgiveness and healing for all. I know a man, who having served many decades in a federal prison, found God’s forgiveness and healing. Nothing is too great for our good and loving Father.
The third person who needs forgiveness is the one who caused the hurt. Too often, the wounded one hears forgiveness and thinks it is a quick leap to freedom of emotional wounds. Rather, emotional wounds must be acknowledged before authentic forgiveness can be extended. The pain from emotional wounds, which not have not adequately addressed is one of the greatest barriers to being able to forgive. Often, when emotional healing is experienced, forgiveness is engaged, and healing follows.