Forgive as God has forgiven you. * Forgive us as we forgive others.

When I wrote this reflection on August 11th, the Gospel of the day was from Matthew 18. Peter asked Jesus how many times he must forgive. Jesus answered “seventy times seven times” and told the parable about the king who, moved with great compassion, forgave a huge debt owed him by his servant. The servant, however, showed no compassion toward a fellow servant who owed him a small amount of money, choking him instead and putting him in jail. This story begged the question from the king: “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you?”

There is a book by Pope Francis entitled The Face of God is Mercy.The number 7 in the scriptures represents an infinite number telling us that God’s mercy has no limit. It challenges us to offer the same compassion and forgiveness to others in God’s imperfect family. The simple truth is we can never become the image of Christ we are meant to be if we refuse to forgive others in our lives.

In his book and video series, Catching Fire, Becoming Flame, Franciscan Fr. Albert Haas tells us that Jesus objected to the understanding of justice found in first-century Judaism: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which is still seen in our world today when violence begets violence and revenge is the response to personal or communal hurts. For Jesus, there is a form of compensation given to the accused, not received by the accuser, because God has already granted it: forgiveness. Colossians 3:13 says it, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

For Fr. Haase “Forgiveness is the limitless choice not to pick the scab, not to become entangled in the grudge, not to stoke the fires of anger and resentment by hugging the hurt or announcing it to others.” In reality, forgiveness is for ourselves; it frees us from the negativity that weighs us down, consumes our energy, binds us to our past, consumes our focus. Our pain eats us up spiritually while it has no effect on the person who caused it. Forgiveness gives us the ability and power to let go because we are better than our human reactions to hurt and betrayal.

A fifth grader in the parish school came to tell me she wanted to be baptized. As I prepared her for the sacraments of initiation, bonds of affection and mutual respect grew between us. The night before I was about to present the Sacrament of Reconciliation, her mother called to tell me that she and her husband were asked to foster this child for adoption in order to remove her from a horrific situation in another state. The little girl made these parents promise they would never tell anyone about the life she had endured; I came to believe that she was a victim of human trafficking. The next day when I talked with her about forgiveness, she said, “Some people don’t deserve to be forgiven!” I shared with her the wisdom of a wise retreat director: 1) Some people don’t deserve to be forgiven; but we do it anyway so we can move on to peace and healing. 2) It doesn’t mean we have to be friends. 3) It doesn’t mean what happened was okay or that we ever have to let it happen again. 4) It doesn’t mean the offender has to apologize or we have to offer forgiveness in person. 5) It doesn’t mean we have to forget what happened; in fact, remembering affords us protection in new situations. 6) Sometimes “the seventy times seven times” means we have to forgive the same thing over and over again, especially when we want to take it back or something triggers the memory. The recommitment we make to this gift of forgiveness shows the depth of our soul and the intention of our heart. The most sincere compliment I ever received came from this little girl in a homemade thank you card she gave me after she celebrated her Baptism, Reconciliation and First Communion. She drew a picture of a 6-petal daisy with words above that said, “This is what you are.” On each petal she printed an attribute she ascribed to me: kind, smart, pretty, happy, nice and loving. But in the middle, printed in capital letters, she wrote the word that touched my heart: TRUSTABLE!

Sister Julianne McCauley