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As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

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God has a maddening, yet effective, way of answering our prayers for virtues: He places us in situations that require us to use those virtues. This teaching method is brilliant in its logic and simplicity: If we want to learn to swim, our Father brings us to the water, guarding us as we splash about and smiling with encouragement, no matter how much we grumble or cry out that we've changed our minds and would gladly be stuck on shore again.

Perhaps those who pray for mercy find ourselves in the deep end of God's training pool when we interact with people who especially need forgiveness. Jesus, after all, promised that "the merciful ... will receive mercy" (Mt 5:7) and that the heavenly Father will not forgive us "if [we] do not forgive [our] brother or sister from [our] heart" (Mt 18:35). If we must forgive in order to be forgiven, and if we pray that God will "have mercy on us and on the whole world," then we can expect Him to respond with many opportunities to practice mercy ourselves.

I got married in July, and in the nearly five months since my wedding day, I have heard nothing from my wedding photographer. She won't answer her phone. She won't respond to my emails or voice mails, which have run the gamut from polite to pleading to threatening to resigned. I am becoming very afraid that after paying a lot of money to this woman and entrusting her with the most valuable photographs of my life so far, I will have nothing to show for it.

That kind of fear has a way of making even relatively calm people draw their swords. How many typically levelheaded, soft-spoken mothers, for instance, have suddenly become growling mama bears when they feel their children's health, development or happiness is being threatened? Of course, I'm not comparing money or wedding photos to the well-being of a child, but the mama-bear image has provided a helpful touchstone as I've tried to understand how I, who have never complained against a business in my life, have suddenly morphed into a strident avenger who yells into voice mailboxes, writes emails with threats of small-claims court, and posts comments on wedding-planning websites warning future brides to stay far away from the photographer I hired.

People who know the situation have told me that I'm right, that anyone would react this way or worse, but after a while I started wondering, what about Jesus? Would He tell me I'm right? Would He react this way? He is the only One with whose behavior and heart I'm supposed to compare mine, and I have to admit that I can't imagine many of my thoughts and words about this photographer finding a home in His mind or His mouth.

As Christians, we may be tempted to wonder if the "seventy-seven times" rule (see Mt 18:21) still applies when we are victimized or someone we love is victimized. Does Jesus' command to turn the other cheek mean that I, for example, should quietly allow this photographer to give me nothing for the money I paid her? I don't think so. Forgiving does not mean condoning. Forgiving means that, while we must decide which behaviors we can and cannot accept in our lives, we leave all of the judging to God and live our lives at peace with everyone in our hearts.

Saint Faustina prayed, "Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all" (Diary, 163). At the same time, she lamented that a certain sister consistently lied to her and got away with it (Diary, 901). Saint Faustina knew that forgiving the sinner does not mean allowing the sin to continue if there is anything we can do about it.

We must always consider our motives, however, and pray that love alone guides our actions. It may be appropriate to turn to the law for help when I am being treated unfairly, but it is never excusable for me to hurt someone on purpose. I recently felt called to apologize to my photographer (to her voice mail, anyway) because one of the emails I wrote her was designed to hurt her. I don't have to let her get away with cheating me, but I can and must leave her unscathed by malice.

When I have trouble forgiving, it helps to remember how much more Jesus has forgiven me. If it is absurd to compare the value of money or photographs to that of a child, it is equally absurd to compare the offenses committed against me to those I have committed against God. Failure to deliver wedding pictures is nothing compared to the rejection, mocking and crucifixion of Love of which I know I am guilty.

Jesus told St. Faustina, "Do not lose heart in coming for pardon, for I am always ready to forgive you" (Diary, 1488). When everyone we meet sees that same readiness in us, we will know that our prayers for mercy have been fully answered.

Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Mony Karam - Dec 22, 2007

to Marion
from Frank
from the facebook group: (the divine mercy)

May I be so bold as to offer my suggestions?

In the future pay when the product is delivered.

Accept the fact that you're not getting your wedding pictures.

Have photo sesions.
a) Dress up as bride, groom, maid of honour etc.
b) When you have your first baby take lots of pictures. This will take the focus off yourself and put it on "family", which is the consequence of marriage.
c) Count your blessings, especially at Christmas.

donna .e. - Dec 10, 2007

To truly forgive someone takes christs strength and its through him that i can forgive. I believe forgiveness is one of the most difficult lessons God gives to us, it wouldnt be a part of the Lords prayer if it werent of the utmost importance in life lessons while here on earth and I for one need to know that when little ol' sinner me comes before the heavenly tribunal and the Lord for judgement I neeeed to beable to say "I did it" "Thank you Jesus for giving me your strength in the battles endured throughout my life, in order that I could gain the strength and wisdom through you to forgive the horrible wrongs done to me in this life". period. Without him I am weak, so weak it aint funny! I need to be aware of him and his commandments at all times in order to be free, and I am fully aware the lucifer "the angel of light" is always there trying desperately to tempt every one of us into hurting each other in some way or other, so as to destroy each home and hearth utterly and bitterly destroy our lives, and he hopes to have us turn on our master and unwittingly make him the replacement through temptations/idolatry etc. etc. Staying awake in this life is of the utmost importance. Pray everyday. I speak to Jesus like he's sitting with me at the breakfast table and it works, i Love it and him--thanks Jesus! A million times thanks for the new heart! I love you (and Mother Mary too)!

A.V. - Dec 8, 2007

Thank you for the courage in sharing a very personal experience ,with the intent to draw good out of it for others ; while many pray and hope that it gets resolved, in a 'story tale ' style, hope our loving Lord , who alone could have permitted same , is going to draw true marvels from your pain and just anger - as good and compassionate as you might already be , may be even a far deeper compassion, for all those whose pictures are never seen , such as the unborn , who never see light ....those who died on that 12/07 - Pearl harbor Day ..and the deeper hope for that Day and the true comfort found only in Him !
Peace !

Susan - Dec 7, 2007

I have had to do a lot of forgiving this past year. A few things I've learned. (your article already includes a lot of these but I thought I'd share anyway.)
1. Persist in prayer.
2. Forgivable is not excusable.
3. Pray and Bless all people, enemies included.
4. Huge power in the eucharist. Daily mass and adoration.
5. Huge power in scripture.
6. Pray the Rosary Daily and the Divine Mercy.
7. Do not despair.
God needs us to be his vessels and we will be unjustly treated as Jesus was.
8. Pray ardently for Divine Mercy and Love to enter your heart.... and believe it will!
9. Realize sinners are poor sinners in bondage and many long to be free.
10. Focus your heart on the innocent who are corrupted by the deception of evil and how early their poor hearts are robbed. Pray for the young.
11. Know that you are being called to evangelize for Jesus because the only real war is between good and evil and the only answer is Divine Mercy.
12. Faithfully live his mercy, breathe his mercy and spread his mercy.
13. Remember the battle is the Lord's and we need only unite ourselves with him entirely. He has already won the battle.
14. Keep in mind "Love one another as I have loved you"
15. Have patience, he heals and gives you a love that is indescribable and unconditional.
16. Follow closely all the rules of the church they will protect you.
17. Remember you are a sinner who is saved only by the grace of God.
18. Go to confession and be healed! What a great gift.
19. Sit in front of the image of Divine Mercy and give your heart to him. Gaze on him and the words Jesus I trust in You!
I never thought I could forgive but it is true. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.