It’s become a common pattern to notice that when the topic of forgiveness comes up, we tend to cringe or instantly shut it down. Recently I was talking to a few kids from grade 7 and 8, and the topic of forgiveness was brought up. It was hit with very sharp comments like “forgiveness shows weakness” or “I could never be able to forgive this person.” We might think that these are just kids and they still haven’t matured in their thinking, but in all honesty how many times have we thought the exact same thing? We hold onto grudges and anger, or we become convinced that “if I forgive then I am letting them treat me like I’m a doormat.”
If we take a closer look at the word forgive it comes from the Latin word perdonare which means, “to give completely, without reservation.” Forgiveness is not a feeling, but rather an act of will. What exactly are we giving? Love and mercy. Fr. Ugarte, when describing the difference between resentment and forgiveness, explains that forgiveness is an act of the will, a decision that we make to “cancel the moral debt of another. “ In other terms, we are no longer holding the other person in debt to us or responsible for the offenses that were caused towards us. Does this mean that we are simply excusing what they did and “letting it be”? No, but what it does mean is that we no longer hold that grudge or that responsibility on their heads for it.
In Matthew’s Gospel we are reminded about the parable of the unforgiving slave. When the master forgave the debt to the slave, he didn’t make the debt disappear. The debt was still there, however he no longer held that slave responsible for paying it back. This is exactly what we are reminded when it comes to the truth about forgiveness. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that the offense or hurt goes away. Those are still very real aspects, but we no longer hold that responsibility on the other person for them. Even if you think about it, it’s not the person holding the responsibility on themselves, but rather we are the ones holding it. The longer you hold something, the heavier it gets. The same goes with this. The longer we hold the responsibility of certain offenses towards us against a person, the more it will keep weighing down on us because it is a weight that we are in fact holding onto.
Remember, forgiveness is a grace that we can ask for. In our human weakness, it is sometimes hard for us to forgive, especially those closest to our hearts. But God is all Love and He is that perfect forgiveness. Offer those you carry in your heart that you struggle to forgive. Place them at the foot of the cross and pray for the grace from the One who forgave us all.
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