Quodlibet 8 – Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Quodlibet 8 – Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

“How, exactly, do we forgive others? We can say the words, but what if we simply cannot? How is forcing yourself to forgive any more possible than forcing yourself to like spinach? Are there techniques that work?”

Forgiving others can often be a very difficult thing to do. It is so often the case that the people that we find it hardest to forgive are the people closest to us – parents, siblings, a wife or husband, children, a girlfriend or boyfriend, our best friend and so on. When such people do things that hurt us, things that seem to us unprovoked or unjust we feel it deeply. After all, this is someone who we thought loved and cared for us. There are, unfortunately no techniques. But there are a few things that we might wish to meditate on as a starting point.

When we find it hard to forgive, we must ask ourselves questions about our levels of expectations of others. Sometimes we find it hard to forgive people because we expect them to be superhuman. Those we love can become God-like, and then we hurt when they do not live up to our impossibly high expectations. When this is the case, we need to be honest and accept that others cannot be God for us. Only God can. Realisation of this can help free us a little and prepare the ground for forgiveness, and help us to see our relationships in the right light.

We must also acknowledge that sometimes we are rather too keen to hold on to grievances against others, and to develop a story surrounding an event that becomes more elaborate and distorted as time goes on. This can make us unhappy, but goes some way to helping us to define who and what we are. The problem is that this means defining ourselves as victims, and allowing our past to shackle us, preventing us from living in the present. We must remember that it is not easy to walk forwards when we are looking back over our shoulder! In all these things it helps if we can pluck up the courage to talk to someone whom we trust, who can help us to see the wood from the trees.

Another thing that is perhaps important to note is that difficulties in forgiving others are often linked to an inability to receive forgiveness offered to us by God. The Gospel leaves us with little doubt that receiving forgiveness for our sins and forgiving others are inextricably linked (see Mat 6:12-15). If I cannot believe in God’s power to forgive my sins through Jesus Christ, how can I hope to forgive others? When it is hard to believe that God forgives our sins, it might help to reflect for a while on the formula for absolution said by the Priest in the Sacrament of Penance (see CCC 1449).

So after we have reflected, what next? I think the fact that there are not techniques for forgiveness is good news. Why? Because forgiveness is not something we can achieve for ourselves. Forgiveness is a gift freely given by God to those who ask for it. What we have to do in order to forgive others is to pray to have the courage to look with honesty at what has wounded us so much, and to pray to truly want to forgive the person who has wronged us. We pray for a change of heart. It is then that Christ’s grace can enter in, so that we can live with the freedom and lightness of spirit that is characteristic of the children of God. This is not easy, and often takes some time and much patience, because the things that have hurt us are often so complicated. But with God, and only with God, it is possible…..

Robert Gay OP

Fr Robert Gay is Prior of the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, and he is also a lector in moral theology at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.