In order to ask forgiveness from God, we must follow the teaching of the “Our Father”: we must repent sincerely for our sins, knowing that God always forgives, and just as willingly forgive others. This was the centerpiece of Pope Francis’ remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day at Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican.
Focusing primarily on the reading from the Gospel according to St Matthew (18:21-35), in which the Lord counsels His disciples to forgive “seventy times seven” times, i.e. always and without stint, the Holy Father addressed the close connection between God’s forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others.
Drawing on the Old Testament reading from the prophet Daniel, which tells of Azariah’s appeal to God for clemency, which he makes on behalf of the people, acknowledged as sinful and in need of pardon for having abandoned the way of the Lord. Azariah does not ask God simply to excuse, or to overlook, the sinfulness of the people, but to forgive them:
“Asking forgiveness is another thing: it’s not the same as simply saying, ‘excuse me.’ Did I make a mistake? ‘Sorry, I made a mistake. But, ‘I have sinned!’ – that is different: the one has nothing to do with the other. Sin is not a simple mistake. Sin is idolatry: it is to worship the idol, the idol of pride, vanity, money, ‘my self’, my own ‘well-being’. So many idols do we have: and for this, Azariah does not apologize: he asks forgiveness.”
Forgiveness must be asked sincerely, whole-heartedly – and forgiveness must be given whole-heartedly to those, who have injured us. The Pope recalled the action of the servant in the Gospel reading, who, having been forgiven a great debt by his master, yet fails to show such generosity of spirit to a fellow. The Holy Father explained that the dynamics of forgiveness are those, which Jesus teaches us in the Our Father:
“Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father in this way: ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ If I am not able to forgive, then I am not able to ask for forgiveness. ‘But, Father, I confess, I go to confession ....’. ‘And what do you do before you confess?’ ‘Well, I think of the things I did wrong.’ ‘Alright’ ‘Then I ask the Lord for forgiveness and promise not to do those things again.’ ‘Okay…and then go to the priest? Before you do, however, you’re missing something: have you forgiven those who have hurt you?’”
In sum, Pope Francis said that the forgiveness God will give you requires the forgiveness that you give to others:
“This is what Jesus teaches us about forgiveness: first, asking forgiveness is not a simple apology, it is to be aware of the sin, of the idolatry that I have committed, of the many idolatries; second, God always forgives, always – but He asks me to forgive [others]. If I do not forgive, in a sense, I close the door to God’s forgiveness. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’”