Fr. Britto's Blog

Forgiveness

Jesus was a master storyteller. His stories, parables as they are known, bring a fresh perspective to well-known truths. For instance, the entire Bible clearly declares that our God is full of kindness and mercy. In order to express this truth powerfully, Jesus recounts the parable of the merciful master and his merciless servant. We heard this gospel story last Sunday and it brings home the point that God’s forgiveness towards us is boundless and therefore we should extend that forgiveness to our brothers and sisters.

In the gospel story, Peter comes to Jesus with the question, “How often should I forgive my brother?” The rabbis of old suggested that one should forgive three times. Peter thinks he is being generous as he is willing to forgive seven times. Jesus disagrees. The Master tells Peter that he should forgive seventy times seven. In other words, our forgiving Redeemer expects His disciples to be forgiving persons always. He challenges us to adopt forgiveness as our habitual attitude towards others.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional attitude; it is a permanent attitude.” The call to adopt such a permanent attitude is evident in the teachings of Jesus. In His Sermon on the Mount, the Master challenged His followers with these words:

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raga,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

How can we live always as a forgiving people? All of us carry within ourselves two natures or tendencies: to forgive or to retaliate. As someone has said, “Two natures beat within my breast. One is cursed, and one is blessed. One I love and one I hate. The one I feed will dominate.” In order to live as a forgiving people always we need to feed our tendency to forgive and starve our tendency to be angry and resentful. I would like to suggest three ways to starve our tendency to retaliate and to feed our nature to forgive. 

  • Let us be aware of our own failures and sins. The one sure way to be a forgiving person is to be constantly aware of our own sins and failures. As we get older, we are prone to engage in “euphoric recall.” We tend to think that we were better than we were. Reminding ourselves of how often we failed and how much we needed forgiveness from God and others will make us humble. That humility will help us become forgiving persons. St Paul in his Letter to the Romans reminds us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. St John tells us that if we claim that we have no sin, we make God out to be a liar. The older we get the more aware we should become of our own sins. This is why when Pope Francis was asked in an interview, “Who is Pope Francis?” he replied, “I am a sinner.” Such has been the honest response of saints starting with St. Paul who admitted that he was not worthy to be called an apostle. 
  • Let us not keep a score of wrongs. Just like the media, most of us want to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. We hold on to the hurts and slights we received from others and forget all the love they gave us. Unfortunately, the human tendency is to keep a score of all the bad things people have done to us. A dear friend of mine once said to me, “I still remember what my husband did not do fifteen years ago.” We need to let go of the wrongs that others have done to us. Ingrid Bergman said, “Happiness is having a bad memory for bad memories.” Unfortunately, many of us have a good memory for bad memories. Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was once reminded by a colleague of the hurt that someone had given her. This person asked Barton, “Don’t you remember how that person really hurt you?” Barton responded, “No.” The other person insisted, “How could you not remember? That person did something awful to you. Don’t you remember?” Barton replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.” We need to forget the wrongs that others have done to us just as our Heavenly Father does not keep a record of our sins and failures. 
  • Let us not demonize anyone. Politicians are great at demonizing the other side. When we demonize someone, we dehumanize them and as a result, we feel justified in treating them badly. If we look at the example of the Master, we see that He never dismissed or demonized anyone. He treated everyone with the utmost respect. Rather, He was accused of fellowshipping with sinners and prostitutes. To the woman caught in adultery He said, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and sin no more.” It is important that as we get older we learn to live in harmony with each other. We all belong to the family of God. If we can go to sleep every night convinced that we have no enemies, then we will sleep well and be healthy.

May forgiveness become our way of life! May we be like our Father Whose mercy knows no bounds!

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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