Learning to Forgive Others

In Conversation With God Weekly Reflection
3rd Week of Lent: Learning to Forgive Others

By Francis Fernandez-Carvajal

2/21.1 To forgive and forget the tiny offenses.

It is almost inevitable in our daily dealings with others – at work, at home, in social relationships – that small frictions occur. It is also possible that someone may offend us, or treat us unfairly, and this may hurt us. And, perhaps, this may happen not infrequently. Have I pardoned as often as seven times? I might ask myself. That is to say ‘do I always forgive?’ It is the question Our Lord puts to Peter in the Gospel of today’s Mass.[1134] It is also the proposed theme for our prayer to-day. Do we know how to forgive on all occasions? Do we do so promptly?

We are aware of Our Lord’s reply to Peter and to ourselves: Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven. That is to say, always, without limit. The Lord asks of those who follow him, of you and me, a forgiving approach and unlimited pardon. The Lord demands of his own friends a completely generous largeness of heart. He wants us to imitate him. The omnipotence of God, says St Thomas Aquinas, is shown, above all, in the act of his forgiveness and the use of his mercy, for the way He has of showing his supreme power is to pardon freely ...[1135] And thus nothing makes us so God-like as our willingness to forgive.[1136] It is where we also show our greatness of soul, our magnanimity.

Far be it from us, therefore, to remember who has offended us, or the humiliations we have endured – no matter how unjust, how uncivil or unmannerly they may have been – because it would not be right for a son of God to be preparing and keeping some kind of dossier from which to read off a list of grievances.[1137] Although my neighbour may not improve, although over and over again he might commit the same offence or do something that offends me, I should avoid all bitterness. My heart should be pure and kept clean of all enmity.

The pardon we grant has to be sincere, from the heart, and be granted just as God pardons us. Forgive us our trespasses we say each day in the Our Father, as we forgive those who trespass against us. An immediate pardon, without allowing bitterness or a spirit of divisiveness to eat away at the heart – without either humiliating the other person or being in any way melodramatic. Often, in daily life, it is not even necessary to say ‘you are forgiven’: it is enough to smile, to change the direction of the conversation, to make an affectionate gesture – to forgive, once and for all, as if the offence had never taken place at all.

It is not necessary for us to suffer great injustice before we show such charity. Those little things which happen each day are opportunity enough: arguments in the home over trifling matters; sharp replies or disconcerting gestures (often caused by no more than tiredness) at work, in traffic jams or in the rush of public transport.

We would not be living our Christian life well if, at the least sign of friction, our charity began to grow cold and we began to feel distanced from others, or if we ourselves turned glum. Nor would it be very Christian if, when perhaps some serious damage were to cause us to lose our sense of the presence of God, our soul were to lose its peace and joy. We would not be behaving in a Christian way if we allowed ourselves to become touchy. We have to examine ourselves to see what our reactions are like when the irritations of the day crop up. Following Our Lord closely implies finding, even in the area of tiny contradictions or in the case of more serious injustices, the way to holiness.

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[1134] Matt 18:21-35

[1135] St Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, q25, a3, ad3

[1136] St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St Matthew, 30,5

[1137] St. J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 309


Francis Fernandez-Carvajal,

Rev. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal

Rev. Francis Fernández-Carvajal is a Priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and the author of many popular spiritual works. His seven-volume series In Conversation with God provides over 500 meditations to be used throughout the liturgical year. It has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into many languages.