Thursday, May 16, 2013

Post from the Past: Forgive us our Trespasses

Still running my reflections first published in 2005 for a class; the book cited was one of the texts.  Original post here.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive...
Now Jesus brings it home. We do not get off the hook: we are involved in the answer to our prayer. “As we forgive.” Are we asking God, the infinite “Creator alme siderum,” to be reduced to our level, to restrict forgiveness to our own limited reach? That can hardly be possible. God “gives the gift of the Spirit without measure” (cf. Jn. 3:34). But how do our limits effectively prevent us from receiving the full extent of mercy God offers? How can God’s forgiveness reach someone who has closed his or her heart to a neighbor who needs forgiveness (cf. 1 Jn. 3:17)?

As with the Bread of Life discourse, “this is a hard saying: who can accept it?” (cf. Jn. 6:60). But the Lord’s Prayer invites us to an examen of consciousness. Those who “find God in all things” can even find the hand of divine mercy and goodness in human experiences of injustice, ill-will, cruelty or (perhaps hardest of all to deal with) unmitigated stupidity. The attempt to move toward forgiveness is fraught with risk. As the Ulanovs remarked, “When we pray for our enemy…we feel again all the hurt and anger and anguish gathered around that person. Yet we pray that God’s good will may operate in the situation, and in that person” (Primary Speech, p. 43). What a remarkable thing this is! In our own prayer, we are turning evil to good. Forgiveness becomes a form of the “complete gift of self” in an emptying of our false self—the self that would cling to the injustices we have suffered, rather than allow them to be transformed. But it is an ongoing journey toward “total inner transformation,” a journey on which we set out 70 X 7 times; that is, as C. S. Lewis commented, every time we remember the offense or its harm revisits us.  And every time we do this, our own hearts are opened to receive a fuller measure of God’s love in the form of forgiveness of our trespasses.

Rather than focusing on the immediate source of their suffering in the neighbor who hurt them, Christian witnesses throughout history have been awed by the mysterious presence of providence making all things work together for good. This vision offered them an angle that, while not at all diminishing the real evil of the offense, revealed it as relative and contingent. Evil cannot have its full impact if I do not absorb it and make it a part of me. In spite of itself, that evil “works for good” (cf. Rom. 8:28). And when we have seen the power of God at work for good in the sins and trespasses of others against us, we no longer have to hold on to our own sins to shield us from grace. We can allow them, too, to “work for good.” We can allow God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Earlier posts in this series:
Our Father, Who Art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name
Thy Kingdom Come
Thy Will be Done on Earth...
Give Us this Day

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