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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Pathway of Forgiveness

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'

What if the neighbor who I trust sins against me and robs me of the dignity that is due, am I still to love him? Such a neighbor has taken a hostile stand toward me and has become my enemy. Christ commands me to love my enemies, to be concerned over the plight of those who have betrayed me. How do we love an enemy? How do we forgive or forget an offense? Here, only the Cross of Christ opens the way and only the Holy Spirit can provide the compassion that makes such love possible. Only those who suffer an enemy's hostility can know this most mysterious form of love.

To forgive with love is a great challenge. Part of this forgiveness involves renunciation of all that is not worthy of one's own dignity - a certain putting to death of bitterness, resentment and harsh judgment. When someone has violated one's own dignity and stolen away the honor due to you, the temptation is to either cowardice or vindictiveness. To cave into either of these options sets one's own integrity at risk. By faith and through prayer, we can disavow these movements of heart no matter how often they assail us. We can begin to do this long before the one who offended us asks for mercy: indeed, we might hope for their own sake that they do seek forgiveness, but we may never hear the words "please forgive me" or have the satisfaction of seeing their repentance over the humiliation that they have caused. Our peace must be rooted in a more firm hope. As we seek this firm hope, another unfamiliar pathway opens that no natural power of reason can know but that in all its inconvenience and discomfort, truth is found.

Only faith sees the way forward - because by faith we know a love that is more powerful than sin. This includes not only the wrongs we have suffered at the hands of others but also the suffering we have caused others - even unto the passion of Christ Himself. Here, silence before our Crucified God is vital. Allowing His countenance to shine on us and taking in His gaze of love, a certain wisdom is given. Before His face, one does not find simple solutions that make a problem disappear, but only the next step to take. The small sure steps of love descend the abyss of misery to discover the ever deeper abyss of mercy. When the Word of the Father descended this pathway into hell, He brought meaning into what was most meaningless about human existence. This pathway of truth into the wounds of life also discovers compassion and intercession for those who offend us. These are the treasures of the Heart of Christ, and they are ours if we dare to ask.

To choose to love in the face of an offense, this is a secret form of mercy that God longs to share with us, a wisdom that is unfamiliar to this world. Indeed, to forgive an offense makes space in the heart to receive the Lord's forgiveness. But whoever says that the Lord has forgiven them and still holds a grudge, his own bitterness has blocked the inflow of mercy that Christ desires him to know.

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