Why Forgive? Father Cantalamessa Responds

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Gospel

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ROME, SEPT. 9, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, answers the question of how much forgiveness is too much.

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Matthew (18:21-35)

But how much should one forgive?

To forgive is something serious, humanly difficult, if not impossible. One must not speak about it lightly, without realizing what one asks of the offended person when one requests him to forgive. Along with the command to forgive, man must also be given a reason to do so.

It is what Jesus did with the parable of the king and his two servants. The parable makes clear why one must forgive: because God has forgiven us in the past and continues to forgive us!

He cancels a debt of ours that is infinitely greater than the one a fellow human being might have with us. The difference between the debt owed the king (ten thousand talents) and that owed the colleague (one hundred denarii) is equal at the present time to 3 million euros and a few cents ($3.7 million)!

Saint Paul could say: “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). The Old Testament law, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” has been surmounted. The criterion no longer is: “Do to someone what he has done to you”; but, “What God has done to you, you do to the other.” Jesus has not limited himself, however, to order us to forgive, but did so first himself. While he was being nailed to the cross he prayed saying: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). This is what distinguishes the Christian faith from any other religion.

Buddha also left his own a maxim: “It is not with resentment that resentment is placated; it is with non-resentment that resentment is mitigated.” But Christ does not limit himself to point out the path of perfection; he gives the strength to follow it. He does not just command us to do, but acts with us. Grace consists in this. Christian forgiveness goes beyond non-violence and non-resentment.

Someone might object: does not to forgive seventy times seven mean to encourage injustice and to give a green light to abuse? No. Christian forgiveness does not exclude that, in certain cases, you might also have to denounce a person and take them to court, especially when what is at stake are the interests and also the good of others. To give an example close to us: Christian forgiveness has not prevented the widows of some of the victims of terror or the mafia to pursue truth and justice with tenacity in regard to their husbands’ death.

However, there are not only great acts of forgiveness but also daily acts of forgiveness, in the life of a couple, at work, between relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. What can one do when one discovers that he has been betrayed by his own spouse? Forgive or separate? It is an extremely delicate question; no law can be imposed from outside. The individual must discover within him what to do.

But I can say one thing. I have known cases in which the offended party has found in the love for the other, and in the help that comes from prayer, the strength to forgive the one who erred, but was sincerely repentant. The marriage was re-born as from the ashes; it had a sort of new beginning. Of course, no one can expect that this could happen in a couple’s life “seventy times seven.”

We must be alert so as not to fall into a trap. There is a risk also in forgiveness. It consists of the mentality of those who think that they always have something to forgive others — the danger of believing that one is always a creditor of forgiveness and never a debtor.

If we reflect well, however, many times, when we are about to say: “I forgive you!”, we would do better to change our attitude and words and say to the person before us: “Forgive me!” We would then realize that we also have something that the other must forgive. In fact, even more important than forgiving is the humility to ask for forgiveness.

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana. Translation by ZENIT]

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