[Note: I will be inserting pictures, mostly of nature, into this and future posts. I hope they will help us reconnect with the Cosmic Christ. Click on the pictures to enlarge on another screen.]
For me, one of the most poignant lines in the Old Testament is Joseph’s. “I am Joseph your brother.” “I am Joseph your brother.” Put in the context of jealously, death plots, and Benjamin’s saving tactic of selling Joseph to caravaneers, this is the story of story of forgiveness that foreshadows Jesus’ forgiveness of his executioners and, ultimately, his disciples.
The Risen Christ greeted his brothers and sisters—yes, his sisters—the faithful women who stood by him when the guys headed for cover—with the greatest words of forgiveness, “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.” Just as Joseph did not go into a tirade about how his brothers had treated him, Jesus did not berate the cowardly and betraying disciples who abandoned him in his greatest moment of need.
Joseph forgave. Looking not to the past but to the future Joseph is saying, “I am here for you during the next five years of famine. Get Dad and the rest of the clan and come on down. I have food for you.”
Jesus forgave. Looking not to the past but to the future, Jesus said, “I will go before you into Galilee. I will go to Abba and send you the Spirit—the Paraclete Helper—who will teach you how to love and forgive.”
When we have been hurt and wronged, especially by those with whom we have shared deep bonds, it is most difficult to say, “Peace be with you.” It is difficult to look beyond the past toward a future of hope and new life together.
Yet, Jesus leaves us no choice. His statement to Peter still holds, “Seven times seventy.” Infinite forgiveness—a ready willingness to look beyond the hurt of the past to a future of reconciliation.
It takes two to tango. Sometimes when we have been in conflict with another, we seek forgiveness only to have the other person act if they have done nothing wrong and need no forgiveness. As soon as you open up to them, they take it as a signal that you are once again fair game for their anger and resentment. You may think things are getting on the right track in your relationship and then, out of the blue, they strike out against you once again. This scenario often happens in abusive relationships and makes forgiveness much more difficult.
We often struggle with forgiveness. We all know people who struggle with forgiveness. We have seen the extreme toll that lack of forgiveness can take on a person as much physical and mental suffering ensues. We know it is physically and spiritually healthier to forgive and yet we somehow cannot bring ourselves to do it. At some point we must let go of life’s hurts or go under. Emotional and physical healing cannot take place in a milieu of unforgiveness.
Commenting this week on Jesus mandate to Peter, Kevin Kersten, SJ introduced me to a new concept from Ignatius of Loyola (http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/081111.html ). He suggests that we pray for the gift of forgiveness. For Ignatius, the ability to forgive is a gift. It is something we do not do naturally. It is a spiritual gift, a grace. By abandoning our need for control, we turn it over to God who can empower us through the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
In Kerten’s words:
We have powerful ways and means to pray for the grace to forgive.
- We have a sacrament devoted to it: Confession.
- We pray for it every time we say the Our Father.
- We hear it in the words “. . . for the forgiveness of sins” when our wine is consecrated at mass.
- Christ bears witness to it from the cross, saying “Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”
- The whole of salvation history climaxes with the Incarnation and Pascal Mystery whose essence is love in the form of forgiveness.
To forgive is a matter of the heart, according to Our Lord in today’s gospel. Like love, you cannot make it happen. It happens in the hearts of saints, whose very makeup is a forgiving one, just as it was for Christ. If you or I suffer a deep hurt caused by another, and our heart is not moved to forgive, Ignatius of Loyola would suggest we pray for the desire to forgive.
“I am Joseph your brother.”
“I am Jesus your brother.”
Pray for the desire to forgive.