Forgiveness. That all may understand the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation between individuals and peoples and that the Church may spread Christ's love.
Appropriate for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI turns our prayers this month to the beautiful practice of forgiveness. Jesus Christ came to take away our sins and to reconcile us to God and each other. As we walk in the faith — sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling — we continue to seek forgiveness. Staying forgiven is the key to living close to God.
The Sacrament of Confession, the Holy Father said in a homily last year, lets one experience "forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Church, recovery of the state of grace … and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living."
But we make a great mistake if we limit our understanding of forgiveness to ourselves. Jesus made it clear that God forgives us "as we forgive those who trespass against us." Then he himself showed us how it's done when he prayed for those who were crucifying him: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
Jesus called us to forgive our brother "seventy-seven" times. It's often hard to forgive those who have injured us, especially when they do not ask for forgiveness. But unforgiveness works like a cancer, destroying our relationships with one another as well as with God. If we harbor anger, we must let it go by forgiving as often as it returns. We don't deny our hurt, smooth it over, or rely on our feelings. We will to forgive, and we persist in willing it. Robert Enright, a founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, says that our forgiveness of someone is not complete until from our hearts we wish that person well.
The Pope's vision of forgiveness is wider still. He wants us to understand that without forgiveness, no true peace can exist between peoples or nations. Forgiveness alone can break the cycles of vengeance. Even if the forgiveness is one-sided, it represents the only hope of peace. To spread Christ's love — whether as an individual, group, nation, or Church — means practicing forgiveness.
Is there someone in your life you have not fully forgiven? What steps will you take to do so?
Matthew 18: 21-22: "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times."
The Persecuted. That Christians who are persecuted because of the Gospel may be sustained by the Holy Spirit and continue to bear witness to the Word of God.
Persecution is harassment of individuals because of their faith, even to the point of killing them. Despite occasional discrimination, we are thankful that our country differs greatly from the Roman Empire of the early Church when Christians were routinely ridiculed, hunted, and killed.
This month Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that many Christians throughout the world suffer persecution today. He wants us to pray, not for the end of their persecution, but for the Holy Spirit to strengthen them to continue preaching and living the Gospel.
When Jesus faced his own persecution, he sweated blood and prayed to his Father to let him escape the torture that was coming his way. But he was quick to add, "let your will, not mine, be done." He had always known that he would end his earthly life "lifted up" on a cross. From the beginning Jesus "set his face like flint" in his "exodus" toward Jerusalem where the sinners he had come to save would conspire against him, arrest him, accuse him falsely, convict him, and sentence him to a punishment all out of proportion with the alleged offenses. His friends abandoned him. He was whipped, mocked, crowned with thorns, made to carry his own cross through the streets, nailed to the cross, and set up to hang there between two criminals. He forgave his persecutors, and then he died, entrusting himself to his Father. He is the Lamb of God slain for the whole world, proving that God is Love.
He predicted his followers would experience persecutions too. The definition of Christian is that we shall be "other Christs" who carry our own crosses every day. We do it in the firm hope that in this way we are pleasing God. Like Jesus, we show God is Love by forgiving those who hate us. Like Jesus, we will be raised from the dead to live forever with God.
How is persecution a sign that we are living in union with Christ?
Matthew 5: 10-12 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
Daily Offering Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.
Prayer of the Month
You have favored, O Lord, your land;
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
You have covered all their sins.
Show us, O Lord, your kindness,
And grant us your salvation.
I will hear what God proclaims —
The Lord — for he proclaims peace
To his people, and to his faithful ones,
And to those who put in him their hope.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
Glory dwelling in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
Justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
And justice shall look down from heaven.
(from Psalm 85)