Thoughts for 'International Forgiveness Day'
As Pope John Paul the Great said 15 years ago: "Modern man often anxiously wonders about the solution to the terrible tensions which have built up in the world and which entangle humanity. And if at times he lacks the courage to utter the word "mercy," or if in his conscience empty of religious content he does not find the equivalent, so much greater is the need for the Church to utter this word, not only in her own name but also in the name of all the men and women of our time (Dives in Misericordia, 14)."
So, we really need a day marked out like this; a day to take stock and seek forgiveness and humbly give it to others.
And yet, forgiveness is something we Christians pray for every day. In reciting the Lord's prayer, we ask that we be forgiven by God even as we will forgive those who sin against us. But we know how difficult it is to truly forgive... I can forget, I can say I forgive and I can pray about it but deep down if I have been offended or wounded by someone, the scars still take years to heal! Not surprisingly, the axiom "To forgive is divine" still holds for it is a divine gift to be able to forgive in the wholly giving and selfless way that God forgives; it is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit that I can transcend my sinful human limitations and fully participate in God's work of liberating forgiveness.
The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II wrote the following words which are still as evocative and powerful today, a meditation on the Lord's all-encompassing forgiveness and mercy:
"It is precisely because sin exists in the world, which "God so loved...that he gave his only Son," that God, who "is love," cannot reveal Himself otherwise than as mercy. This corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which God is, but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which is man's temporary homeland.
Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father's readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" is faithful to the uttermost consequences in the history of His covenant with man; even to the cross and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is always the fruit of the"rediscovery of this Father, who is rich in mercy."
As such, every day in the Church is and should be an 'International Day of Forgiveness' and above all, a Day of Mercy. Thus it is very apt that in our time, the 'Divine Mercy' devotion should be given to us, for we are ever more in need of God's mercy "on us and on the whole world". Every Monday afternoon, I iron the sacred linens which we use in the Mass, and as I do this, I watch and pray the sung Chaplet of Divine Mercy on EWTN and it never fails to move me with love and gratitude for our God of Mercy and Love and I praise Him for his unfailing Forgiveness upon me, a most dreadful sinner.
But how does one receive the grace to forgive as God does? I would say that this is possible only when we ourselves have really experienced and appreciated God's forgiveness for us. Therefore, it is precisely a devotion like the 'Divine Mercy' chaplet that helps me to meditate on the Lord's forgiveness. Such prayer and contemplation in turn fills me with gratitude for having been forgiven and that moves me to forgive others. I truly want to love as He does and to share in His forgiveness. Thoughts such as these crossed my mind this morning during Mass, which is the primary sacrament of God's love and forgiveness. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday, at the Close of the Year of and the Synod on the Eucharist: "Whoever receives Christ in the reality of this Body and Blood cannot keep this gift to himself, but is impelled to share it in courageous witness of the Gospel, in service to brothers in difficulty, in forgiveness for offenses."
In another way, Catholics who receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Right, at WYD2005, courtesy of www.youngandcatholic.com) and humbly confess their sins to the Lord in the person of His priest celebrate the 'Day of Mercy' par excellence. For in celebrating this sacrament, I come to the Throne of Mercy and confess myself to be in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. In doing so, I not only recall the things I have done (or omitted to do) for which I seek forgiveness and pardon but I also ought to call to mind the ways I have not myself been forgiving or the grudges I still nurse with a perverse fondness. So long as I do not allow myself to be liberated by God's forgiveness and share in His mercy, I am still bound by sin. For the act of asking for forgiveness not only liberates me from my misdeeds but when I forgive others who come to me seeking forgiveness, I liberate them and when I release any grudge I still bear, I myself am also liberated from hard-heartedness which prevents us from truly loving, truly forgiving and truly living. For anyone who has experienced forgiveness knows how life-giving it is, it breathes new breath into our souls!
As such, these Sacraments and the 'Divine Mercy' devotion are vital means to forgiveness, an antidote to hard-heartedness and the source of conversion to the God of Mercy in our sadly unforgiving world; a world which cries out for forgiveness, mercy and love. If it is these we seek, there is only one source where it may be found: Christ Jesus who is rich and infinite in mercy and love. Therefore, Pope John Paul II taught: "The Church must consider it one of her principal duties-at every stage of history and especially in our modern age-to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ" (Dives in Misericordia, 14).
Let us consider ways to proclaim with love God's forgiveness to the people we meet today and indeed, every day.
For the sake of His Son's sorrowful Passion, may the Father of all Mercies have mercy on me and on the whole world!