” I confess to almighty God…”, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy…”, “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world have mercy on us…”, “Lord I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof…”. Think about how often we ask for forgiveness during mass. The Gospels we read at mass are full of stories about forgiveness and mercy, The Prodigal son, the woman ready to be stoned, and today’s parable are just a few. Lastly in praying the Our Father, amidst the many requests we have for God, the one request the Lord has of us is that we forgive others their trespasses. Our Church fathers, guided by the Holy Spirit, understood how important forgiveness was and thus filled the mass with merciful requests to the Lord. They understood that forgiveness is the true way to draw closer to the Lord.
How often should we forgive in our lives, today’s reading tells us seventy seven times meaning really no limit. But the question can also be flipped. How often are we likely to need God’s mercy in our lives? And again, for most of us it’s going to be a big number. Jesus certainly lets us know through parables and example how important it is for us to forgive others, but He also teaches us that we need not be afraid of our own sinfulness and weakness. We have a very merciful father. Hiding our struggles from the Lord, or from others, separates us from the possibility to be loved, to be free, to grow in relationship.
It is interesting that in the discussions about forgiveness the emphasis is not on the specifics of the offense that requires mercy, but purely on the need to forgive. Jesus doesn’t respond to the question in today’s Gospel by saying, “well that depends on the sin committed against you.” No, He puts all the focus on having a merciful heart.
Each time I go to mass and find myself repeatedly asking for mercy as I draw closer to receiving Our Lord in communion, I realize it’s not when I don’t feel in need of forgiveness that I am closer to the Lord, but when in my brokenness I humbly approach Him and am fully open to His merciful love that I feel closest to Our Lord.
Steve Walsh is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a good friend of the Passionist Community.