Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican on Tuesday morning. In remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day, the Holy Father spoke on the season of Lent as a privileged time in which to prepare our hearts to receive God’s forgiveness and to forgive our neighbors in turn, forgetting the faults of others.
The Holy Father’s address focused on God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness as a perfection of his nature, which contrasts sharply with the inability of fallen human nature to make even the slightest concession to its own frailty.
Taking as his starting point the Gospel account of Peter’s well-known question to Jesus regarding how many times we are to forgive a brother who has sinned against us—seventy times seven times (cf. Mt. 18:22)—and the account from the first reading of the young Azaria, sentenced to death in a furnace for refusing to worship a golden idol, who, from the flames of the fiery furnace invokes God's mercy for the people at the same time as he implores forgiveness for himself (cf. Dn. 3:25,33-43), the Holy Father offered the young Azaria’s prayer as an especially apt illustration of the way we ought to trust in the goodness and mercy of the Lord:
“When God forgives, his forgiveness is so great that it is as though God forgets. Quite the opposite of what we do, as we chatter: ‘But so-and-so did such-and-such,’ and we have the complete histories of many people, don’t we? From antiquity through their Middles Ages, their modernity, and even down to their present—and we do not forget. Why? Because we do not have a merciful heart. ‘Do with us with us according to your clemency,’ says this young Azaria ‘according to Thy great mercy Save us.’ It is an appeal to the mercy of God, that He might give us forgiveness and salvation and forget our sins.”
In the Gospel passage, explaining to Peter that we must always forgive, Jesus tells the parable of the two debtors, the first who gets a pardon from his master, while owing him a huge fortune, and who even shortly afterward was himself unable to be as merciful with another, who owed him only a small sum:
“In the Our Father we pray: ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ It is an equation: the two sides go together. If you are not able to forgive, how will God forgive you? He wants to forgive you, but He will not if you have closed hearts, where mercy cannot enter. ‘But, Father, I forgive, but I cannot forget the bad turn that so-and-so did me ....’ Well, ask the Lord to help you to forget. That, however, is another matter. We can forgive, but we cannot always forget. Sometimes we say, ‘I forgive you,’ when we mean, ‘you’ll pay me later.’ This, never: forgive as God forgives—to the utmost.”
Pope Francis went on to stress that mercy, compassion and forgiveness are most Godly, and recalled that heartfelt pardon given and received is always an act of Divine mercy:
“May Lent prepare our hearts to receive God’s forgiveness—but let us receive it and then do the same with others: forgive heartily. Perhaps you never even greet me in the street, but in my heart I have forgiven you. In this way, we get closer to this thing so great, so Godly, which is mercy. Forgiving, we open our hearts so that God’s mercy might come and forgive us, for, we all have need of pardon, need to ask forgiveness. Let us forgive, and we shall be forgiven. Let us have mercy on others, and we shall feel that mercy of God, who, when He forgives, [also] ‘forgets.’”