Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seventy Times Seven Times, Forgiveness as Lenten Penance.

   I have now preached almost 400 parish missions. One of the presentations that we friars in the Franciscan Ministry of the Word always give is a talk on forgiving others. This comes right after a talk on God’s mercy and forgiveness towards us. I personally believe that forgiving others is one of the most, if not the most, command that Jesus places on his followers. Our ego wants to hold on to hurts and to make others pay for them. If we feel that others have not properly atoned for a wrongdoing we replay the injurious situation over and over again in our minds and get smug satisfaction from doing so because in that movie that we create in our minds we are always right. Right off the bat I must admit that I have been guilty of engaging in this process. We also fear that if we forgive we are condoning a wrong done to us and letting our opponent walk all over us.

   So what are we to make of Jesus response to Peter in Mt. 18:22? Peter asks if we must forgive seven times, but Jesus replies “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Other translations say seventy times seven times. I won’t get into issues of translation from the Greek here. Suffice it to see that Jesus means, “As often as is necessary.”

   What then are we to do? I think that some important distinctions need to be made. The main one is that we cannot always reconcile, but we can always choose to forgive. Hugh? What does that mean? Reconciliation is the ideal. Reconciliation happens when two parties confront one another about a wrong that has been done. It includes the expression of hurt and anger and the quest for justice by the wronged party. Forgiveness is never about condoning evil, but rather moving beyond it. Reconciliation may take time for cooling off and reflecting. At times it may mean going to court, but in the end both parties agree that justice has been served and they are able to renew their relationship, never quite as it was in the past, but in a new way. Also the forgiveness that is at the basis of reconciliation is just a beginning. Trust after the forgiveness takes time. I have witnessed the true reconciliation of broken marriages and family relationships as well as business partnerships.

   Sometimes reconciliation is not possible. Why? Because one of the parties is unable or unwilling to forgive. God only expects me to do my part. If the other person is in the throes of addiction or mental illness or is just plain mean reconciliation is not possible, but forgiveness is. How? Forgiveness happens when I realize that my anger, which may have been justifiable in the beginning, is no longer serving any good purpose. It has turned into bitterness and resentment. When this happens I have to ask God to heal my soul. This may take time. I may have to pray “seventy seven times” as it were before the resentment leaves me.

   For Lent perhaps we can seek out someone with whom we need to reconcile, or begin to pray that a persistent resentment leaves us. Recovering alcoholics tell us that resentment is one sure way back to the bottle. I know from experience that holding on to them leads to a life of bitterness and sadness. I am much more at peace today because the good Lord has helped me to deflate the anger sack that I once carried. There is still some stuff in it, but it is getting very small.


  1. Fr. John has helped me forgive my husband for his short comings and the severe hurt in my heart he caused our family. I still believe a mental health professional needs to step in and help my husband see why he went outside the marriage. i am trying to move foward with the Lord holding my hand. If I don't walk with my friend Jesus than my hurt and pain will make me self destruct with anger and turn to the bottle, drugs or the arms of another. I can not let my husband have that power of me. He needs to get help and I will forgive but I can never forget. My marriage will be different if we make it through. Thank you Fr. John for speaking to my husband.
    For the Glory of His Name, Your daughter in Christ

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words. I would add that God does not expect us to forget but when we are truly healed the memory doesn't sting any more.

    2. Dear Father John, Lent is a good time for forgiveness and reconciliation. Looking backward only hurts.Be merciful just as your Father and He will be mercful to me. My goal is to make it into our Fathers arms and be held by His love. Therefore i need to stop judgeing and being angry so God will not judge me. Keep praying for my family I am in need of your kind words, they really help. God Bless you for helping others in need. I will live by your example. For the Glory of His name.Diana

  2. Father John, Just wanted to take a minute to thank you for coming to DeLand, to St. Peter and hosting the 3 day mission. I was able to make 4 of the 6 due to work, but took with me a sense of peace and forgiveness. We can't make others forgive, but when we do, that is all that God asks us to do. I am at a greater place of peace during this season than I can ever remember. Thank you and God Bless you and your work.

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