Local residents argue for their place in line while waiting to get fuel at a gas station in the New York City borough of Queens following Hurricane Sandy Nov. 1, 2012. One of the spiritual works of mercy that are the focus of considerable attention during the church's current Year of Mercy encourages the forgiveness of "those who have offended us." CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters
Local residents argue for their place in line while waiting to get fuel at a gas station in the New York City borough of Queens following Hurricane Sandy Nov. 1, 2012. One of the spiritual works of mercy that are the focus of considerable attention during the church's current Year of Mercy encourages the forgiveness of "those who have offended us." CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

By David Gibson | Catholic News Service

In the heat of the moment, with tempers flaring and family members shouting out every ill-chosen word, the power of forgiveness probably is the farthest thing from anyone's mind.

Forgiveness occupies a position of major importance in Christian life. Jesus wanted his followers to love even their enemies. Typically, however, those whom most of us are called to forgive are not actually enemies.

When we feel offended by someone and the question of forgiveness ultimately arises, it more than likely will involve someone close to us -- a family member, a longtime friend or possibly a co-worker.

Usually, the people we forgive play vital roles in our lives. They have done so in the past, and we bank on the hope that they will do so in the future.

Forgiveness represents a vote of confidence in our future together. It powerfully reveals our conviction that this future together really matters and bears true promise.

One of the spiritual works of mercy that are the focus of considerable attention during the church's current Year of Mercy encourages the forgiveness of "those who have offended us." Offenses come in a wide variety of forms, however, with some much harder to handle than others. But no one, I assume, enjoys feeling offended.

that offense triggered the disagreement that left family members dodging each other's angry remarks? Did this disagreement stem from a disappointment, the feeling one person had of being let down by another, forced, perhaps, to complete an exhausting task alone without the assistance that was promised earlier?

A misunderstanding -- a failure to communicate effectively -- also may have been the culprit in an angry squabble. People frequently do not hear each other well enough when it comes to planning long weekends, deciding how to contend with a child's difficult behavior or what to do with the extra $250 in a tax refund.

"We make many mistakes. We all do," Pope Francis told families from around the world in October 2013. That is why knowing how to forgive is so essential in families.

It happens, he commented, that "harsh words are spoken" in families. He recommended that family members "forgive one another each day."

To be clear, the offenses many people experience in life strikingly exceed the bounds of the simpler misunderstandings and disappointments that often erupt into squabbles and short-lived exchanges of angry words in homes and workplaces.

Perhaps a once-trusted associate later fails to meet even the simplest demands of trust. Other times people are not told the truth about matters of great consequence for them. Possibly they experience repeated expressions of disrespect in the form of mean put-downs or bullying.

There are hard situations too -- in homes and outside the home -- when fear takes over and someone's well-being and safety appear to be at risk.

People in such situations may need the support of others and responsible counseling to chart a course forward in which both charity and a healthy measure of self-respect play roles. It could take time for them to determine what forgiveness will mean, the forms it could take and how to be freed from any spirit of vengeance.

These kinds of difficult-to-handle situations prompt some to view the entire notion of Christian forgiveness as a weakness. They suspect that people characterized by forgiving attitudes are unable to stand their ground in the face of hurtful actions.

And when it comes to offenses of all kinds, there are those who fear that any readiness to forgive is a way of enabling others to continue the very actions that caused trouble in the first place. But if Christian forgiveness powerfully affirms the promise of the future, it does not authorize anyone to return to past painful behaviors.

Clearly, the call to forgive offenses is not a pious platitude. Forgiveness encompasses thoughtfulness, love and a willingness to count all that is good in another person, while not refusing to set boundaries or agreeing to be hurt again.

Rather than a weakness, forgiveness is courageous, Pope Francis believes. Speaking to youths in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis asked whether they understood what it means to be "courageous in forgiving, courageous in loving, courageous in building peace."

During this 2015 African journey, the pope noted how "practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation (and) experts in mercy" reveal to others "the secret of our strength, our hope and our joy, all of which have their source in God."

forgiveness, in addition, offers protection "from the temptation to seek revenge" against enemies and "from the spiral of endless retaliation," the pope said.

Anger, it often is noted, becomes its own trap in many relationships. Anger gives rise to a spiral of continued anger, but forgiveness possesses the strength to break this cycle.

Forgiveness expresses faith -- the faith that people can indeed change and grow. Thus, forgiveness can be viewed as a life-giving force.

For Christians, then, forgiveness is Godlike. It creatively and mercifully breathes new life into the very atmosphere surrounding human relationships.

Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.

Forgiving offenses: Checked your mirror lately?

 By Mike Nelson | Catholic News Service

There is a little ritual I try to follow each time I think I can't forgive someone for having offended me.

I simply find a mirror, take a good look and, sure enough, all the skin on my nose is still there.

An oversimplification? Of course. Like everyone else, I have incurred some serious wrongs that cause far more damage emotionally than physically, wounds that won't show up on my nose or any other body part my mirror can find.

But my mirror ritual gives me time to stop, cool down and consider what has been done, how I am reacting and what needs to happen now.

Usually what needs to happen is for me to forgive the offender, a spiritual act of mercy. This I am always willing to do, for I don't like carrying around hurt feelings. I want to be "right with the world" and vice versa.

But I also know forgiveness is not as simple as telling the offender, "I forgive you, let's move on." I find that those who have offended me don't always know they've offended me or they don't think they have or they don't care if they have.

As I understand it, the offender has to acknowledge the actions and seek forgiveness in order for forgiveness to mean something.

It is so much easier to move on when there is an honest, sincere and, hopefully, God-centered dialogue between offender and offended that enables each party to see past the offending action and into the heart of the other, to see the essential God-given goodness that is part of each of us.

That last part, I very much believe, is what Jesus was thinking when he hung on the cross and asked his Father to forgive those who had put him there, the greatest act of forgiveness in our church's history (Lk 23:34).

But how many who heard Jesus' words actually sought forgiveness?

We are told that many went home "beating their breasts," suggesting that they knew they'd messed up big time. We know that the centurion glorified God and declared, "This man was innocent beyond doubt" (Lk 23:47).

Two other participants in the Passion story, in my mind, offer compelling food for thought when it comes to forgiveness.

Every Good Friday we hear that Pontius Pilate -- who, the Gospel accounts of the Passion tell us, seemed to try every way he could to avoid executing Jesus -- placed the inscription "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews," on the cross. When the chief priests objected, Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written" (Jn 19:19-22).

I've always wondered: Given all that preceded this, was Pilate -- in his own, admittedly clumsy way -- seeking forgiveness? Was placing this inscription his act of contrition?

Or was it just a way to annoy his pesky subjects, because he didn't really care what happened one way or the other? Why didn't he just say, "Stop!" if it bothered him so much?

I don't know the final answer, but I do know I've sometimes done hurtful things under duress, things to appease others, things where I didn't foresee the consequences (or maybe I did, but did them anyway).

Things for which I need forgiveness.

It occurs to me that when I do my mirror ritual, I not only see all the skin on my nose, I see that I am not hanging on a cross. More important, I remember that I've done my share of offending others.

That's when I think about someone else from the Passion story: the fellow hanging beside Jesus who asked him to "remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). His act of contrition, Jesus assured him, would bring him to paradise.

Seek, Jesus tells us, and you will find (Mt 7:7). If Jesus offers merciful forgiveness for those who desire it, how can we offer less?

Nelson is former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Forgive offenses willingly

By Daniel S. Mulhall | Catholic News Service

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are transformational. While they encourage us to care for someone else who is in need, they also require from us a change of attitude, understanding and perspective.

It is not enough to simply provide our surplus food to someone who is hungry. We also are called to change the way we think about our neighbors and what we feel for them.

This is especially true for the spiritual work of mercy that calls on us to "forgive offenses willingly." We are not only asked to forgive -- a key feature of Jesus' teaching -- but we are asked to do so willingly.

It is hard enough to forgive people when they have done or said something that hurts us, but it is even harder to do this willingly, on our own volition, without being forced.

When we forgive someone it means that we let go of any and all resentment, and we return the situation to wholeness. Isaiah 43:25-26 addresses this issue: "It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more. Would you have me remember, have us come to trial?"

With forgiveness, there are no lingering ramifications or sores left to fester and cause pain later. The rift that once existed has been healed.

Jesus makes clear that his followers are to make such forgiveness a key component of their discipleship. Take for example Matthew 5:38-39 when we are told to turn the other cheek to someone who strikes us.

We are told to "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:44), so that we may be children of our heavenly Father (Mt 5:45). We are called to be "perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).

This willing forgiveness must be ongoing. In Luke 17:4 Jesus teaches his disciples to forgive all the time: "And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I am sorry,' you should forgive him."

In Matthew, this teaching is expanded to 77 times (Mt 18:22), or always. In order to forgive so freely and so often, we have to put on Christ, to become like God.

Luke 15:11-32 is the familiar story of the prodigal son, but it also could be called the "unforgiving brother," for the wayward son's older brother plays a crucial role in the parable because of his unwillingness to forgive.

He is resentful and holds a grudge against his brother but also against his father, who is so forgiving. The son cannot partake of the feast because of his inability to forgive.

This is the point of learning to forgive willingly: Until we learn to do so, we won't be able to partake fully in God's great gift of mercy that is there for us to receive.

We have each been forgiven willingly by God 70 times seven times. Why are we so reluctant to do the same for our brothers and sisters?

Mulhall is a catechist who lives in Laurel, Maryland.


"Forgiveness can seem contrary to human logic, which often yields to the dynamics of conflict and revenge," St. John Paul II said in his message for the 1997 World Day of Peace.

"Forgiveness is inspired by the logic of love," he said. St. John Paul acknowledged that a factor making it difficult to forgive is history's legacy -- the "heavy burden of violence and conflict, which cannot easily be shed."

But, he said, "one cannot remain a prisoner of the past, for individuals and peoples need a sort of 'healing of memories.'"

St. John Paul modeled forgiveness to the world by forgiving the man who tried to kill him.

Asked by children to explain why he forgave the man, St. John Paul said he was just following the simple teaching of Jesus Christ.

"I forgave him because that's what Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches us to forgive,' the pope replied.

The pontiff was seriously wounded when shot by Mehmet Ali Agca in St. Peter's Square May 13, 1981. He publicly forgave Agca a few days later and in 1983 embraced his would-be assassin in his Rome prison cell.