Monday, March 19, 2007

On Forgiveness

We had an interesting homily yesterday, the subject of which was forgiveness. The content was good although I have my suspiscions about the motivation behind some of the comments. However, the main point of the message was that we are called to forgive others as we are also forgiven. This command is, of course, very clear on both its requirements and the consequences. If we do not forgive, or sins will not be forgiven.

We must always be aware of our obligation to forgive and cognizant of the mercy of our Father, who graciously forgives us even after endless offenses. I've heard some apologists claim that forgiveness is required of us, but only if the one who has offended has asked for forgiveness. Now, I don't see anything in the gospel indicating that one must ask to be forgiven for our obligation to be present. I do recall two examples in which Christ forgives those who have not requested it: the healing of the paralytic and the crucifixion. Stephen also does the same at his martyrdom. I think that counts pretty highly up there as a clear indication that we should forgive, even when those who hurt us are not repentant. Psychologically, it certainly does one better to forgive and move on than to nurse a grudge.

However, the flip side of this obligation on our part is the obligation of offenders to request forgiveness, to recognize and acknowledge their hurtful actions. While we might not have the right to judge, one who judges us requires repentance of use when we sin. We certainly have no right to demand forgiveness when we have harmed someone, and to expect forgiveness without sincere repentance is itself a sin of presumption in the eyes of the Church.

So while we are obligated to forgive to be forgiven, we are also obligated to repent and to ask for forgiveness when we have done something to harm others. Both are required, and a demand for one without the other is not truly just.

UPDATE: Another thought...

I did want to clarify that our asking forgiveness is something we need to do to others, not only to God. Obviously we have to do the latter, but we often neglect the former and call it good. However, if we neglect to ask forgiveness of those whom we've offended, if we fail to apologize, we fail in our end of the reconciliation (healing) process. For there to be true healing, the offending parties need to acknowledge where they have given offense. Otherwise, there is no true reconciliation.

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