In the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus tells me that if my brother offends me seven times a day, and seven times comes to me and says he is sorry, then I must forgive him (Luke 17:4).
But in the Gospel of St. Matthew, when Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother seven times when he was offended, the Master answered, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:22).
The first counsel in Luke demands forgiveness as often as forgiveness is asked. The second brings me up to a higher plane and requires me to have mercy of heart even when forgiveness is not asked.
In the Lord’s prayer that Jesus gave me, He requests that I be forgiven by God in the same way I forgive my brother.
It seems then that the matter of forgiveness is clear; God expects me to forgive in my words, in my heart, and in my deeds.
In My Words
When I see my brother has acquired a sinful habit, Jesus said I must reprove him and if he is sorry and says so, I must forgive.
There are times when a neighbor may offend me and not know it.
I must have the courage to bring this to his attention, not so much because of the offense done to me but because this fault in him may offend God and make him unChristlike.
When he says he is sorry, I must be very quick to forgive and do so as often as he says he is sorry.
It takes humility to ask forgiveness and I cannot respond with pride by not forgiving.
Humility is the requisite for both asking forgiveness, and accepting repentance.
This is where I need empathy and self-knowledge.
I must put myself in my neighbor’s shoes, take upon myself his personality, understand his dispositions, and know that I would be capable of the same fault were I in his place.
I am very quick to forgive and excuse myself because I know the motives for my actions. Since I do not know my brother’s interior dispositions, I must give him the benefit of the doubt in the same way as I do myself.
Even though I may not be as weak as my brother is in many areas, I must remember I also have my faults and he, too, must forgive me many times.
Since asking forgiveness is a requisite for being forgiven, I must be ready to say I am sorry when I offend my brother.
The account in St. Luke requires that I gently correct, forgive when asked, and seek forgiveness myself by an acknowledgement of my offenses.
When my neighbor refuses to admit an offense or ask forgiveness, then I must have recourse to the next counsel and develop the disposition of . . .
Mercy of the Heart
As Jesus hung on the Cross, He asked His Father to forgive His enemies because they did not know what they were doing.
They had not asked forgiveness and neither were many of them conscious they had done anything wrong. The people were deluded by the priests and Pharisees, and the soldiers were following the orders of Pilate. The centurion was enlightened only after he pierced Jesus’ side.
Although Jesus suffered intensely, many of those responsible were sincere and thought they were doing a service to God.
Jesus could and did ask forgiveness for them even though He suffered at their hands.
His forgiveness was from His Heart, prompted by love, mercy, and understanding.
I may not be called upon to exercise mercy in that degree, but there are many times in my life when I can forgive and forget because my offenders have no idea of the cross they have placed on my shoulders.
A brother must be forgiven and treated as a friend because he has given me the opportunity to be like my Father in Heaven who lets His sun rise and shine on the just and the unjust.
God has used my brother’s frailties to give me the opportunity to be like Jesus — merciful and forgiving.
It does not always follow that my brother and I will ever be bosom friends. But it does mean I wish him well, pray for him, and hold no grudge or resentment.
Sometimes personalities clash, and all the good will I can muster does not change the situation. Here I need to pray for the Gift of Counsel to discern the course I should take, and for mercy that I may lovingly forgive.
Then it is that I will have that disposition of soul so necessary to say the Lord’s prayer with sincerity and portray . . .
Forgiveness by My Deeds
It is difficult after forgiving an injury to forget the incident entirely, and yet, this is exactly the kind of forgiveness I expect and hope for from God.
I want my faults and sins to be erased from the Book of Life, and I rely on His Mercy to do so.
He will do exactly that, but He asks in return that I do the same to my brother.
He gave me the parable about the man whose master forgave him a debt of nine million dollars, and who in turn would not forgive a fellow servant a debt of less than fifteen dollars (Mat. 18:23-35).
I must keep this in mind when my brother offends me — a finite, sinful creature — and when I offend God — Infinite and All-Holy.
This does not mean my brother has a right to offend me, but it does mean that I must not exaggerate that offense out of proportion, be unforgiving and never forget.
I may be deeply hurt and my brother unjust, but I am only asked by God to forgive as He forgives me.
As with love, so with mercy; I am able to render to my neighbor what I cannot render to God — mercy and forgiveness.
When God forgives me He always gives me some token of that forgiveness. It may be a light-hearted feeling or more grace to overcome myself the next time.
His Goodness is so great and His Mercy so infinite that He rejoices over my repentance and treats me as a long-lost son.
Jesus manifested this Attribute of the Father by the parable of the Prodigal Son and said that even the Angels rejoice over my repentance (Lk. 15:11-32).
This forgiving is a trait I too must acquire. I must give my brother some sign that I rejoice in his repentance.
Perhaps a smile, a handshake are sufficient, or some token of my continued confidence in him as a person — making him realize I do not think less of him because of his offense.
Forgiveness and Mercy
I may make my brother something or purchase a gift, but if circumstances prevent me from doing this, I can at least give him the gift of my love, mercy, and kindness.
Just and Holy God, whose mercy is higher than the heavens, grant me the grace to forgive by my words, heart, and deeds. I desire to be like Jesus and to hold no resentments or grudges. I put all my friends and enemies in Your loving hands.
Forgive your neighbor the hurt he does you, and when you pray your sins will be forgiven. If a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord? Showing no pity for a man like himself, can he then plead for his own sins?
Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment; who will forgive him his sins?
Remember the last things and stop hating, remember dissolution and death, and live by the Commandments.
Remember the Commandments, and do not bear your neighbor ill will;
Remember the Covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offense. (Sir. 28: 2-7)
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica on Christ and Our Lady, which is available through Sophia Institute Press.