What Forgiveness Means

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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Mt 18: 21-35

If we sin, God is ready to forgive us again and again. He keeps to door open for us to return to him. His love has the power to help us change. In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ response to Peter’s question -- “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?” – is to call us to imitate the loving forgiveness of God and open the door to healing for the other person and for ourselves, too. Forgiveness can take a long time, maybe “seventy-seven times.” A heart hardened to others becomes its own prison. The anger and hatred we are holding onto will eat away at us in there. With patience and understanding, a person can earn our trust again. However, forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing, and it is prudence to understand the difference.

While forgiveness does not require the other person’s cooperation, reconciliation is a restoration of the relationship. Reconciliation can only come when—and if—the other person changes and stops harming us. In fact, if someone asks for our forgiveness, but continues to live and act in a way that is harmful to our human dignity, we must forgive him, but we cannot reconcile with him. Each person, including ourselves, are precious to God and worthy of being treated with kindness and respect.

Sometimes a person cannot change, and reconciliation is not possible or even safe. Alcohol, drugs, ignorance, or mental illness can stand in the way of change, even when someone wants to change. The Church does not teach that the victim must endure abuse, even if the abuser is one’s spouse. When reconciliation is not possible, we are still bound to pray and work to forgive the person, to let go of the hurt and pain and move on. We must give them over to God, who love them, too. Forgiveness, even from afar and as long as it takes, is essential for our own spiritual and physical health. We pray, “Jesus, help me to let go of my hurt and anger toward that person. Help him or her find healing and health.” 


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