Year of Mercy - Forgiving Offenses and Bearing Wrongs Patiently
Friday, 11 March 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


'Forgiving Offenses and Bearing Wrongs Patiently'

 EDITOR’S NOTE: We offer this series of reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end on Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

 By Joan Lawson

In his message to us for Lent 2016, Pope Francis called this season of the year “a favorable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practicing the works of mercy.” As Pope Francis frequently reminds us, God’s word calls us in the exact opposite direction of alienation, and our practices of the Works of Mercy, especially forgiving offenses and bearing wrongs patiently, will surely draw us toward one another.

God’s word calls us with certainty to forgive others. Forgiveness is at the heart of the prayer Jesus taught: “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” (Lk 11:4)  It’s woven through the Gospel.

“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” (Matt 6:14).

“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24).

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Yes. Forgiving others and bearing wrongs patiently are big solid stones in the foundation of the house of discipleship. But easily set in place? No. These works of mercy can truly be a struggle for us.

We do most of our forgiving offenses and bearing wrongs close to home. Those closest to us, the ones we spend the most time with, are often the ones who do the things that annoy us, exasperate us, get under our skin. Being close to others means occasional struggles and messes and getting on the nerves. It’s just the way we are. With those kinds of offenses and wrongs, we can work on a regular practice of mercy by cultivating a sense of perspective, giving the benefit of the doubt, actively working toward positive solutions to problems. Practicing daily gratitude for what we find good in others makes greater room in our hearts for simply loving them, and allows us to keep what annoys us about them from dominating our thoughts and emotions.

There are times however when putting these Works of Mercy into action seems impossible. In cases of truly serious harm, truly horrific offenses, we may say to ourselves: “I know what the Lord calls me to do, but THIS? I cannot forgive THIS.” It may seem insurmountable, to overcome that bitterness we experience in a case of true and permanent harm. Yet it can be done by human beings.

We have the example of Father Lawrence Jenco, who was held hostage for 564 days, chained, blindfolded, and beaten. Toward the end of his captivity, one of his guards asked him if he could forgive. In his book “Bound to Forgive,” he recalled realizing at that moment that, after so many months of bitterness, God was calling him to let go of revenge and vindictiveness.

We also have the example of the Lancaster County, Pa., Amish community, who forgave the killer of their five school girls and the serious wounding of five others. Their response arose out of a lifetime of following the teachings of Christ.

In those seemingly super-human stories of forgiveness, we see ordinary people surrendering to the grace of God, praying, returning to the word of God again and again, and ultimately accepting healing and peace.

In small, surface matters or serious, deep matters, the practice of forgiving offenses and bearing wrongs is our continual call. May we support one another in our practices as we journey together in the practices of mercy this Jubilee Year.