“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). These are among the last words that Jesus spoke. As he endures the greatest suffering imaginable, he prays for those who inflict his pain. It makes sense that one petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness is essential for being his disciple, and often it can be the hardest part of following him. Heaven is a no-grudge zone, so here are five ways to understand forgiveness:
1. His gift. All good things are from God. Forgiveness is not a psychological process; it is a spiritual one. Don’t be too proud to beg for the gift to forgive someone. How does God forgive all? Because he understands all. Pray for the gift of wisdom.
2. Not amnesia. Remember that forgiving someone does not erase the sting of a painful memory. Forgiveness does not make a painful memory happy, but it provides a new context.
3. My burden. Your grudge is your burden, not someone else’s. This is especially true if you have no contact with the person whom you need to forgive, particularly if the person is dead. Remember that carrying this burden means we are allowing someone else’s sin to remain active in our lives. Address the evil spirit of that sin, and banish it from your life. This is usually not a one-and-done exercise. Continue each time it sneaks up and tries to lure you away from him. The way of forgiveness is the way of freedom.
4. Rewrite the story. One of the reasons we can hold onto the burden of unforgiveness is that we have told the story in only one way. The narrative usually focuses on the bad that happened to me. In prayer, retell the story, emphasizing the graces that God poured into the situation—the strength, the courage, and the fortitude he gave you. You survived and maybe even grew wiser. This is the new memory. Pray to notice his virtue, not dwell on another’s vice.
5. At the foot of the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, we experience the transformative power of mercy. Jesus has taken my sins, my anger, my unforgiveness and nailed them to the Cross. He has taken even death itself, upon himself, for me. In the Resurrection, Jesus transforms my sins by his love for me. In the shadow of that Cross, as I look upon him who cries out for my forgiveness, how can I but not forgive those who have trespassed against me?
—Excerpted from 5 Things with Father Bill by William Byrne