Part 7: Forgive Offenses

The following is the last in a seven-part seven-part series on the spiritual works of mercy.

By Chris Sparks (Feb. 12. 2016)

Forgiving offenses gladly. It's one of the hardest of the works of mercy and one of the greatest challenges of being Christian. Yet it's also one of the most important, as shown by Pope Francis' emphasis on God's merciful forgiveness in Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), his papal bull calling the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8. But what is forgiveness, and how do we do it?

One way to understand forgiveness is to see it in action.

The Marian Helpers who attended the Third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in August 2014 heard Colombians who had endured incredible acts of violence testify about forgiving the perpetrators. Marcela Murillo, a native Colombian and a longtime Marian Helper, found the testimonies uniquely powerful.

"One of the witnesses was named Pastora Mira Garcia," Marcela recalled. Pastora was from a small, poor town, constantly under attack by armed groups. Her father was murdered when she was just a girl.

At 18, she married and had a child. When her daughter was only 2 months old, tragedy struck again: Her husband was killed.

But the worst was yet to come.

Years later, her 22-year-old daughter was kidnapped. During nine months of captivity, this mother never ceased to search for her daughter. She eventually learned her daughter had been killed. Pastora then sought to find her remains. In her search, she found several bodies. Horrifying though it was, this gave her a degree of peace because she was then able to help other mothers who were looking for the remains of loved ones. At last, Pastora buried her daughter, but again her faith would be tested when her son was also kidnapped by a paramilitary group. After two weeks of suffering unimaginable tortures, her son's body was found on the side of the road.

"Pastora says that, despite her pain, she had a deep faith, and it was through faith that she could go on," Marcela continued.

A few days after the burial of her son, Pastora found a man who was badly hurt lying on the side of the road in the same place where her son had been found.

"Without hesitation, she took him home to tend his wounds," said Marcela. "When this man saw the pictures of her dead son, he said, 'Do you know this man? We killed him last week.' Pastora said she felt her world collapsing, but asked the Virgin Mary to cover her ears to the words of this man and not let her heart be filled with hate. Pastora begged the Mother of God to help her forgive those who killed her son. And so Pastora, with love and dedication, cared for the murderer of her child. She said that she loved this man so much that, several years later, when he was unfortunately killed, she felt it like the loss of a child."

Now, forgiveness isn't always as dramatic as Pastora's story. As C.S. Lewis put it in his Essay on Forgiveness, "It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life - to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son - how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night 'Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.' We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God's mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says."

To refuse to forgive others is to refuse God's mercy for ourselves. What a stark statement! But it's right there in Scripture (see Mt 6:14-15; see also Mt 18:21-35). In order to receive mercy, we must show mercy. In order to be forgiven, we must forgive. As Pope Francis indicates in Misericordiae Vultus, we become witnesses to the mercy of God if we are merciful people ourselves. Saint Faustina wrote, "We resemble God most when we forgive our neighbors" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1148).

So let us imitate Pastora and ask for the Blessed Virgin Mary's intercession - that we may be faithful in forgiving and so open ourselves to receiving the mercy of God.

The spiritual works of mercy

• Teach the ignorant
• Pray for the living and the dead
• Admonish sinners
• Counsel those in doubt
• Console the sorrowful
• Bear wrongs patiently
• Forgive offenses


We invite you to follow along with the series.

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