Blessed are the Merciful… and Peacemakers. Learning to forgive is key to happiness and holiness in relationships because it is key to peace. We best learn this very Christian response, which is never easy, in the family. As Pope Francis reminds us:
When we have been offended or let down, forgiveness is possible and desirable, but no one can say that it is easy. The truth is that “family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life” (Amoris Lætitia 106 quoting St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 21).
We strive to understand our hurt so we can choose to make the sacrifice that is necessary to forgive. If we don’t acknowledge our hurt—and the likelihood that the person who hurt us has just manifested his own woundedness—then we won’t have the needed understanding to pardon the other person. It is easier to fall back on selfish defensiveness, which augments the tensions and makes reconciliation more difficult. One has to make oneself vulnerable in order to forgive. Yet this frees us from past hurts.
The Pope mentions how past hurts can imprison our sense of value and self-worth, entrap us into ourselves, move us to shut out others, and prevent us from loving:
To forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves. Often our mistakes, or criticism we have received from loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem. We become distant from others, avoiding affection and fearful in our interpersonal relationships. Blaming others becomes falsely reassuring (ibid. 107).
Forgiveness is liberating. It enables us to move forward and not let the past define us as a person. Forgiveness increases our self-esteem because we don’t let the criticisms of others, and the fear of criticism, keep us from unleashing our talents in creative and constructive ways. When we hold on to our hurts we become defensive and blame others, we keep our gifts within our own protected shell, and then lash out to others with our own negativity, continuing the cycle of destructive viciousness.
Let us thank our Lord for giving us the tools to be free, to forgive. He allows us to experience him forgiving us, which empowers us to be able to forgive others:
All this assumes that we ourselves have had the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits. We have known a love that is prior to any of our own efforts, a love that constantly opens doors, promotes and encourages. If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us. Otherwise, our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism (ibid. 108).
Let’s focus more on the tremendous mercy of God. Then we will experience his mercy, striving to be a peacemaker in our homes, workplaces, and society.