First in a series of articles on forgiveness in the Jubilee Year of Mercy
As a Catholic-Christian and as a priest, the matter of forgiveness comes up repeatedly in my ministry. In the sacrament of reconciliation God’s mercy and forgiveness are poured out on us sinners. In pastoral counseling forgiveness has come up many times in various ways.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer — the daily prayer of Christians around the world — we say: “Our Father … forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. …” Jesus exhorts his disciples to forgive “not seven times but 77 times” (Mt 18:22) and to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27-28).
The Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s forgiveness toward humanity, and, finally, the Gospels often present instances of Jesus forgiving others.
Yet, as central as forgiveness is to Christianity, it is often misunderstood and viewed as very difficult to put in practice or viewed as a sign of weakness. Keeping this in mind, I intend to cover the issue of forgiveness over a series of articles during this graced Jubilee Year of Mercy. I intend to explore forgiveness from various points of view: as a religious virtue, as a psychological construct, its definition, issues associated with forgiveness, processes and dynamics of fostering forgiveness, virtues or habits needed for forgiveness, as well as outcomes and consequences of granting/accepting (or even refusing) forgiveness.
As difficult as forgiveness might be, it is an issue that we cannot hide from. From a Christian point of view, we are all sinners constantly in need of mercy. Humanly speaking, our relationships break down in various ways. In a master thesis paper that I wrote on the use of forgiveness in counseling, 61 percent of the respondents to my questionnaire (i.e., pastoral counselors) stated that forgiveness is an issue that is “often” or “very often” faced in pastoral counseling. An additional 19 percent of pastoral counselors stated that forgiveness is an issue that is faced in “about half the time” during counseling sessions. In short, a full 80 percent of the pastoral counselors that I surveyed considered forgiveness as a significant and frequent topic in counseling sessions.
My goal over the next several articles is to help us to see forgiveness in a fresh, deeper, and more dynamic way. I hope to underline various ways of fostering forgiveness. Ultimately, I hope to wake up in the reader the fact that forgiveness is a choice we make when bestowing or receiving forgiveness. Forgiveness, indeed, is a virtue (a good habit) to be fostered and practiced; it is not simply a feeling. As we choose to understand and practice forgiveness, it is my hope that healing will touch our lives and that God’s grace will make us whole.
Father Matthew Weber, MA, STL is pastor of Saint Bridget Parish, Glassboro.