We must forgive 70 times 7

In June of 2000, Msgr. Thomas Wells, a beloved priest of Washington, was murdered in his rectory at Mother Seton parish in Germantown. The tragic story of his murder and the mystery of his unknown killer dominated local news for over a week. When Robert Lucas was brought to trial a year later for the crime, he was understandably scorned by Catholics and non-Catholics for stabbing a priest to death. We might even say he was public enemy # 1 in our town at that time. His family felt the scourge of our area, but attended the trial each day nonetheless.

Something amazing happened, though, on the day of the verdict. While we all waited in a crowded hall outside the courtroom, the Lucas family walked past us. As they did, the Wells family reached out to them by extending a hand in peace. They shook hands and conversed for a few moments. There were audible gasps from those in the hall witnessing this surreal but Christian moment. I realized pretty quickly that this one of the best examples of “forgiving seventy seven times” I had ever seen.

Last week, I asked the questions “Why does God forgive” and “Why should we forgive?”. We should forgive to live God’s mercy. We should forgive seventy seven times to extend God’s mercy in extreme situations like the Wells family did with the Lucas family. Here are some simple reasons to forgive others:

  • To be forgiven by God (“forgive us…as we forgive those who trespass against us”)
  • We’re not perfect…why hold others to perfection
  • God doesn’t hold grudges, so we shouldn’t
  • To be God-like (most Christ-like when forgive)
  • What it means to be a Christian

Forgiving seventy seven times applies to constantly being forgiven by God, forgiving others, and forgiving ourselves. The last one is the hardest! Even though people dread the first one the most, Confession is actually the easiest of the three because we know that God’s mercy is perfect. We know that He will respond perfectly to our contrition by forgiving us. Every time. We know that when we walk out of the confessional, WE ARE FORGIVEN. It’s over. It’s done. And yet, in our pride, we hold on to some confessed sins that God has absolved He has let them go, but we hold on to them. So, we need to forgive ourselves and LET IT GO. Forgiving ourselves comes from humility which helps us to accept that we’re sinners and not perfect. One saint said that “the truly humble person is never shocked by sin”. The proud person, however, still “can’t believe I did that”. But, the humble person acknowledges, “okay, I’m a sinner”. In admitting that deep down, the person experiences a lightening of the load. It really is a true experience of “my yoke is easy, my burden light”. Forgiveness brings healing and peace.

Let’s say that you want to be forgiven by God, forgive others, and forgive yourself, but are having trouble doing it. For the first one, I would suggest Confession even it’s just venial sins you need to confess. The soul that comes out of Confession is as clean as the body that comes out of the shower! The priest can really help to walk you through the Sacrament if you’re worried about how to confess. For help with forgiving others or yourself, here are some guidelines:

  • Seek God’s Grace through daily Mass, Wednesday Adoration, monthly Confession
  • Seek God’s Grace through daily Mass, Wednesday Adoration, monthly Confession
  • Pray for the person or situation- daily prayer + devotions / novenas
  • Sacred Scripture
  • Compassion: understand the whole person and situation
  • Humor (be able to laugh at yourself)
  • Read the lives of saints who are examples of constant + radical forgiveness (e.g., St. Maria Goretti who forgave the man who killed her)

When I’m talking with people who are struggling to forgive, I ask them to write the sin(s) down on a sheet(s) of paper. They will use the above guidelines in relation to that sheet, and when they are ready they will tear it up. It’s like tearing up an IOU. It’s a visible sign of tearing up a debt. This is helpful because it names it, analyzes it in the presence of God, and then forgives it in a visible and memorable way. You won’t forget the sin, but you will remember that you forgave it!

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg