THE FORCE OF FORGIVENESS
Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles
We need to become better at forgiveness.
That is one of the messages we hear in our Gospel readings as we approach the half-way point of this holy season of Lent.
In one of the Gospels this week, St. Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive someone. And Jesus tells him, “Seventy times seven times.” In other words, every time. And the Gospel for this coming Sunday is the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is a beautiful lesson in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
This is a lesson that we all need to learn more and more.
We ask God for this grace every day in the prayer that Jesus taught us — Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
But how hard it is for us to live these words! How easy it becomes for us to fall into critical judgments of others.
It is true we can find a lot that deserves criticism. There are many sinners and many scandals and injustices in our world.
This was true also in Jesus’ time. But he came to show us a different way. And it is urgent these days that we try harder to live this different way of Jesus Christ.
Our culture has become a culture of complaint and righteous anger — where people are quick to condemn and quick to judge. Our culture has become a culture of no forgiveness.
We have to watch out that we don’t get caught up in this. Our Christian faith should always make us different. We have to try to be people of pardon and peace. People of mercy and forgiveness.
God’s mercy and forgiveness are the essential message of the Gospel. Jesus came “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,” the Gospel tells us.
Jesus was very clear — the mercy we seek from God must be the mercy that we show to others.
In the new evangelization of this culture, we are called to make mercy and forgiveness our message and our witness to the world.
The world is looking for Jesus Christ. And when people go looking for him, they are going to turn naturally to those of us who say we know him. To those of us who say we believe in Jesus and live according to his Word and his example.
What do they find when they look at us? Do they see Jesus? Do they find a reflection of God’s own mercy and forgiveness?
Lent is a time for us to be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to see the faults of others. But it’s also easy to forget how often we disappoint God by our own lack of love, by our own failures to be faithful.
In our Christian lives we are always stretching towards Jesus and the holiness he calls us to. And we know that we fall down all the time.
But every time we fail, we have forgiveness. God’s mercy is always there for us. His judgments are kind. They are the judgments of a Father who loves us.
Can we say the same thing about our own judgments? About our thoughts and words about those who are in our lives or in the news?
We will bring more people to Jesus through our mercy and forgiveness than through our critical judgments — no matter how right we might be and no matter how wrong the other person might be.
To forgive is to make an act of faith. When we forgive, we aren’t forgetting or excusing the sins of the past. By our forgiveness, we are saying that we believe God is the only judge.
Our task as Christians is not to judge. Jesus said, Judge not and you will not be judged (Luke 6: 37). He calls us to forgive the sinner and to repair the damage done by his sin. We are called to bring sinners to God, to right the wrongs they have committed, and to heal the wounds and divisions they have caused.
So this week, as we continue to pray for our Church and our new Pope, let us pray for the grace to be people of true mercy and forgiveness.
We need to remember that we are all sinners, some of us worse than others. But all of us stand in need of God’s mercy. This is the beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is God’s school of love, where we experience his mercy, which is the mercy he wants us to extend to others.
So let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the Mother of Mercy and the Refuge of Sinners, to help us be people of forgiveness who are building a society of merciful love and justice.
Follow Archbishop Gomez at: www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.