Christ was giving his disciples instructions on how they should behave and pray. At one point, he said: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” And he proceeded to give them the Lord’s prayer, the epitome of how our prayer should be. (cfr. Mt 6,7-15)
In it, special mention is made about forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us.” Somehow we are made to realize that we have to be forgiving of everyone, because God himself is merciful to all of us. As a psalm would put it, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.” (30,5)
As if to underscore the importance of this point, Christ reiterated: “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Mt 6,14-15) It’s clear therefore that we can only be forgiven if we also forgive others.
We have to be clear that his injunction is meant for everyone, and not only for a few whom we may consider to be religiously inclined. That’s why when asked how many times we should forgive, he said not only seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning always.
To top it all, Christ allowed himself to die on the cross as a way to forgive all of our sins, and to convert our sins through his resurrection as a way to our own redemption. What he did for us he also expects, nay, commands that we also do for everybody else.
That’s because true love, which is the very essence of God and which is also meant for us, being his image and likeness, has mercy at its core. Mercy is a love that is willing to bear all the sins of men. It is offered gratuitously. It takes the initiative. It does not wait to be asked.
The awareness of this truth should help us to develop the attitude to forgive one another as quickly as possible, since that is the only way we can be forgiven. When we find it hard to forgive others, it is a clear sign that we are full of ourselves, are self-righteous, proud and vain.
We have to continually check on our attitude towards others because today’s dominant culture is filled precisely by the viruses of self-righteousness, that feeling that we are superior to others, etc. We have to do constant battle against that culture.
That’s why we need to douse immediately any flame of pride and egoism that can come to us anytime. We have to learn to understand others, to accept them as they are, warts and all, while praying and doing whatever we can to help them. It’s not for us to judge their motives which will always be a mystery to us.
In fact, as St. Paul once said, we have to consider others as always better than us. Only peace and harmony can result with such attitude. The abuses that can arise will soon be overcome if we are consistent with this attitude.
We should not fall into the trap of putting justice and mercy in conflict. Both have to go together. Their distinction does not mean they are opposed to each other. Any appearance of conflict is only apparent.
But obviously the way to blend them together is to follow the example of Christ, and not just to rely on our own lights, no matter how brilliant these lights may appear. We can always forgive, and forgive from the heart, even if the requirements of justice still have to be met.*