It is hard to see suffering as a positive or a good thing. Imagine trying to tell the families and friends who have lost a loved one through a violent crime that their suffering, pain, loss, and ensuing emptiness are in any way good. That would seem to contradict the truth and make matters worse.
But the Christian religion demands that we believe that good can come out of evil, hope out of despair, and love out of hatred. And yet the most common retort leaping out of the mouths of the wounded is that certain sins are unforgivable. Well, in point of fact, according to God, there is only one sin that is unforgiveable and that sin is the failure to forgive and to hope. All others sins are forgivable and must be forgiven if the Christian hopes to be saved. The only sin that will not be forgiven is the failure to forgive another and hope for his or her salvation. It doesn’t matter whether the forgiven repents and believes. That is really, in the end, God’s affair and not ours. What is key is that we forgive as God forgives us and hope for every man’s conversion and salvation. If we don’t we shall not be forgiven. On judgment day there will be no rooms for any ands, ifs, or buts about it. We must forgive, pray for those who have hurt and despitefully used us, and hope to meet them in Heaven in the arms of our Saviour.
On a very basic level we are enabled to do this when we look at ourselves honestly in the light of Christ’s love. Have we examined ourselves thoroughly enough so that we confess: Lord I am the sinner, the chief of all sinners, the chief, the chiefest, the greatest of all sinners. God be merciful to me the sinner? When we come to a deep sense of our own unworthiness and wickedness in the presence of the Lord’s incessant desire that His compassion, pity, mercy, and forgiveness should work themselves into our lives and us into salvation, we cannot help but transmit and impart this unmerited gift to others. Have we ever pondered on what God desires to do in and through us? Have we ever realized that His forgiveness and love are the roots and anchors of the new life that He has shared with us in His Son Jesus Christ? And do we remember that Christ desires even now to share His life with us that we might impart it to others? Through us who are members of His Mystical Body? Do we thankfully receive His forgiveness as what must be wellspring and fount of all godly living? Is that forgiveness the primary moving principle in our lives and relations with all other people?
Some years ago the famous Dutch Calvinist evangelist Corrie Ten Boom told the story of the day that she ran into an old enemy in Munich. During World War II the Germans had imprisoned Corrie and her siter Betsie in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for hiding Jews. Betsie died. After the war Corrie went to Germany to preach forgiveness at a conference. When she began one of her talks, seated in the audience was one of the concentration camp guards. After the talk the man approached her and admitted that he had been a guard at the camp but had repented and become a Christian. He said that he knew that God had forgiven him. But, he said to Corrie, will you forgive me? She said:
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. She wondered if the petition for forgiveness could wipe away the evil that led to her sister’s death.
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” …
She said that she knew that forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion. It is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
So she offered her hand to the man without any feeling and no small amount of coldness. She began to feel a warmth pervade her body and tears started to well up in her eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For some time they held tightly each other’s hands. She said that she had never felt the presence of God in such a powerful way. (Corrie Ten Boom: How to Forgive, PBS)
Forgiveness. Are we prepared to receive it with deepest thanksgiving and gratitude this Lent? First and foremost we must open up to the forgiveness of sins, which we neither deserve nor merit. God’s love and mercy always overcome His judgment and justice in our sins. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (St. Matthew vi. 14, 15)
Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins made flesh. How often have we betrayed, denied, and crucified His sway and rule, His desire and will in our lives? And still He longs to be so intimate with us that He forgives and waits for our return to Him. Will we repent and receive His forgiveness? Will this forgiveness conquer and subdue our judgment and condemnation of our enemies? Will our forgiveness become a love that hopes for their salvation? First we must obey and embrace it; in its wake will follow the warmth of its liberating energy.
This Lent let us pray for our enemies –those whom our sins have made our enemies, and those who have made themselves our enemies. Let us forgive them all, love Jesus in them and them in Jesus. Let us hope and pray that the Jesus in them will come alive as the forgiveness of sins and as love and hope for all others. Let us pray that with them we all may love to forgive because this alone will make us members of Christ’s Mystical Body and the conveyors and transmitters of His salvation.