Forgiving from the heart
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
You can find today’s readings here.
“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” (Mt 18:35)
I tend to think of myself as a laid back, go-with-the-flow kind of person. Bamboo bending in the wind. Whatever. So a part of me is tempted to read today’s Gospel and say, “O.K., Lord. Got it. I’ll forgive people.”
Because, at times, I have thought of myself as being pretty good at forgiveness—especially for the small things. A little lack of consideration here and some condescension there. Take me for granted now and then. It’s O.K. I’ll get over it. Forgive and forget.
But, well, ugh. If I’m being honest with myself… a lot of times, I didn’t actually forgive. Looking back at past slights, I recognize that I was often too insecure to stand up for myself. I wasn’t being forgiving—I was diluting myself and hiding behind a warped concept of mercy. On some level, I was just trying to avoid conflict.
Naturally, I unconsciously developed grudges. But Christians aren’t supposed to have grudges, so I lied to myself about those, too. No surprise, the grudges didn’t go away when I ignored them. They festered and then bang—volcano! Seething anger and words like magma that burned whoever heard them poured out of me. I always regretted it. But the root cause, at least in part, was that I denied that I had resentments. And if I denied they exist, then how could I forgive?
In the Christian life, forgiveness isn’t optional. We’re reminded of that at Mass and when we pray the rosary—whenever we recite the Lord’s Prayer. Yet despite the admonitions, the words at the end of the Gospel today sound harsh. God will hand me over to “the tortures” until I “pay back the whole debt?” Yikes! Is Jesus referring to purgatory?
Maybe. But, at least for me, some of the torture is self-inflicted. That resentment that I carry in my heart—that I hide sometimes even from myself—blocks me from both receiving God in my life and seeing God in others. Jesus is calling me to a deeper level of self-awareness and authenticity.
It is a cowardly thing to deny that I’ve been offended. It’s insecurity that obscures vulnerability. I need to invite the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to my injuries and ask for the grace to forgive them. I don’t need to wait for someone to apologize for that healing to begin. But I do need to confront the grievances I’ve buried deep within if I’m ever going to forgive from my heart.