AS WE START the year and try to offer our hopes and challenges to God, I have been reflecting on how important it is to give and receive forgiveness.
Pope Francis once called the family a training ground for mutual forgiveness. He also said we should try to make amends immediately.
“One cannot live without seeking forgiveness, or at least, one cannot live at peace, especially in the family,” he said. “We wrong one another every day. We must take into account these mistakes, due to our frailty and our selfishness. However, what we are asked to do is to promptly heal the wounds that we cause, to immediately reweave the bonds that break within the family.”
This can also be applied to our friendships and relationships with others. Yet, often, recognizing our mistakes and asking for forgiveness is easier than forgiving those who might have offended us.
An example is the biblical parable about the servant whose debt was forgiven, but then forgot the mercy that was granted to him and refused forgiveness to another. Thinking about how merciful God is toward my weaknesses encourages me to ask for forgiveness and challenges me to be more forgiving.
Sometimes, a desire to get justice for ourselves or others prevents us from forgiving. We don’t want to let the other person off and in some cases feel we have a “right” to cling to our anger.
Let Go of Resentment
Forgiveness is the decision to let go of resentment. The act that offended you might always be part of your life, but forgiveness can allow you to focus on other more positive parts.
If we hold onto grudges and resentment, hostility can take root and push out positive feelings, which can also affect new relationships.
In a way, forgiveness is not only a gift for the person receiving it, but also for the person giving it. It brings forth peace.
Studies show that forgiveness also can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
According to the Mayo Clinic, practicing forgiveness can lead to healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological well-being, less anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a stronger immune system and higher self-esteem.
So, we should be forgiving, but how can we do it? We can draw inspiration from modern examples of forgiveness like Immaculee Ilibagiza, a woman who survived the genocide of Rwanda where approximately 1 million Rwandan Tutsis were brutally killed by the Hutu.
In her book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” she explains how she forgave the people, many of them her own neighbors, who killed her family. She now dedicates her life to spreading God’s message of mercy through talks, retreats and essays.
She speaks about how the strength to forgive comes from God and holding a grudge is “like covering ourselves with a shadow that blocks us from God’s light, graces towards us.”
“Sometimes it is not easy to forgive, even when we want to, but I think all God is asking us to do is to be willing to forgive, to have the humility and sincerity to ask him to help you forgive and love,” Ilibagiza said.
Forgiveness is a process, and in the beginning of the process we are called to prayer. It might take time to forgive and pray for those who offend us, but God is with us every step of the way.
Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.