035: Catholic Teaching on Forgiveness

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I want to talk about this topic because there’s a lot of misconception surrounding what it means to truly forgive and three ways Mary herself practiced a deep and abiding forgiveness of heart.

What does our Lord mean by “forgiveness?”  

Forgiveness is much like Love.  It’s not a feeling, it’s a decision to release the offender of the “debt” that may be owed to you.

Forgiveness, like Love, is a muscle that if we neglect to engage it, it will shrivel up until rendered useless.  We are born with an innate ability to love and forgive because we were created in the image and likeness of God.  Children are notorious forgivers.  Even as they are being abused, they will just as quickly forgive given a word of kindness or loving gesture.  Then eventually as children grow older, painful episodes will cause them to yield to instinctual self-preservation – sometimes choosing not only to defend themselves, but to hit back.  Many of us are taught to “hit back” and in our culture, we’re considered spineless for not making someone pay for what they’ve done to us.  But Jesus teaches us to release debts.

What does it mean to release debt?

Firstly, let’s define debt.  Debt is what we perceive an offender has taken from us. 

An abused husband or wife may perceive their spouse has taken the “best years of their life,” their dignity, respect, and abused of their love. 

An abused child, once in their adulthood, may feel an adult offender stole their innocence and childhood.

A parent offended by their child may feel the child has thrown away their love and wasted their time after everything they’ve done for them.

Releasing debt means…

-not holding the person by the throat per se to make them give us back what they have taken from us,

-not wishing for them to face the same evil as a punishment, and

-not interfering with natural consequences by enforcing our own vengeance. 

We can find a great illustration in The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35.

Then Peter approaching asked him, “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. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.  Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.  At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’  Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.  When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.  He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’  Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.  Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.  His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.  Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’  Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.  So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”


To whom does this parable apply to?

It applies to…

The one who self-harms for the regret of a past mistake.

The battered wife of an abusive husband.

The heart-broken parents of child lost to addiction.

The daughter or son of an abusive parent.

The parents of a murdered child.

It applies to us all.

Now, let’s talk about what forgiveness is NOT.

Forgiveness is not allowing yourself or others to continue to be abused.

Forgiveness does not mean to forget about the incident as if it never happened.

Forgiveness does not mean you will no longer feel the pain of the harm done to you.

Forgiveness does not mean you have to keep an unrepentant abuser in your life and trust them again.

Forgiveness is not something to be withheld until the offender says “I’m sorry” or demonstrates regret. Forgiveness should be dispensed even to the unrepentant offender.

Forgiveness is not a feeling.

So we know we must have a forgiving heart to get to Heaven, it’s a requirement, but how do we cross that bridge when we’re haunted by pain?

Here’s where I will reveal 3 Ways our Blessed Mother can help us form a forgiving heart.  I was listening to a lecture by Father Chad Ripperger on Healing Spiritual Wounds and he eloquently talked about some of these ideas as I observed them while meditating on Mary.

  • Like Mary, consider the truth about the offender and ourselves despite how we feel. Even as Jesus was being scourged at the pillar and nailed to the cross, Mary, who desired the Will of God more so than the relief of her own pain, could clearly see us, humanity, as the broken and frail individuals that we are.  Each of us is broken, each of us is frail.  The truth is that, if it weren’t for God’s grace, there is no evil that each of us would not be capable of committing ourselves.

Let us ask ourselves…

 How often do we forget our own sinfulness and capacity to hurt others and adopt a judgmental and self-righteous attitude? 

Focus on Jesus and give yourself to God’s service as Mary did. As Jesus was dying on the cross, He asked his Mother to look outside of her own suffering and focus totally and completely on Him and His mission in John 19:26.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’” (John 19:26)

Jesus’ Will was for her to adopt, not only John, but humanity as her own.  In spite of her own pain, Mary was to look outside herself to be of greater service to God.  Even with all our frailties and capacity to crucify her Son over and over again with our sinfulness, Mary was to continually pray for our healing as our Mother. 

We are also asked to look outside ourselves to focus on Jesus and His mission.  By doing so, we bring about healing for ourselves and mercy for our offender.  That’s the great example of true forgiveness from our grace-filled Mother. 

   Let us ask ourselves…

How many times are we so focused on ourselves and our own pain that we fail to see and do God’s Will? 

3)  Fall into prayer and ask for Mary’s intercession to help us heal from our wounds. Sometimes, when we’ve had to bear unimaginable pain, it is easy to become obsessed with painful memories and feelings.  The psychological or physical trauma can be so severe that the primitive parts of our brain burn these painful events in our minds as a form of self-preservation to avoid future pain – like when we don’t forget to be cautious of a hot stove after touching it once.  To replay a traumatic event in our minds is a natural occurrence, but when we become obsessed with replaying it in our minds or obsessed with the painful feelings, it becomes unnatural and stumps our ability to heal and forgive.  Father Ripperger has many great points on this.  As we pray for Mary’s intercession:

ask for the grace to stop recalling the wound, stop reliving it,

ask for the grace to release the offender of the debt owed to us, and

ask for the grace of vicarious suffering – the ability to offer up the pain to God for the person who injured you so that you may gain some merit in Heaven. 

Let us ask ourselves…

Do we obsess over the wrong done to us? How often do we pray for the healing of those who have caused us the most pain?  How often do we refuse to pray for our debtors?

To conclude this talk, I’d like to challenge you to do 3 things:

  • Pray for Mary’s intercession when you are confronted with past, present, or future offenses.
  • Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling but releasing the debt of the other.
  • And ask for the grace to stop recalling the wound and focus on Jesus.

Also, seek spiritual guidance and/or professional assistance if necessary.  There are some situations we cannot or should not handle on our own.

Let’s pray together… Glory be…

You’ll find the transcript to this episode at TheCatholicServant.com/Catholic-forgiveness and  share it with someone who may need today’s message.  And, please continue to send me your prayer requests to Alexandra@TheCatholicServant.com so we can lift you up in prayer during our next family Rosary.

May you have a blessed and prayerful week.

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