Our God loves us with an unconditional love. God loves us and showers us with mercy no matter the sin, no matter the transgression. God’s mercy is without limit and we are told that in our lives, we also must practice this same mercy.
Today’s Gospel gives the Our Father as the way to pray and then offers a reflection on the part of the Our Father dealing with forgiveness, ending with the words: "…if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." Those are really powerful words. This all merciful, all loving God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive the sins of others!
The Gospel doesn’t say that God won’t forgive us if the sin crosses some line or is some horrendous transgression. Likewise we aren’t told that we have to forgive unless someone has done something really bad to us – no, we are told that we have to forgive as God forgives. We have to forgive everyone – everyone who has hurt us, who has caused us injury, who has slighted us or who has slandered us. And don’t forget that we also have to forgive ourselves – often the most difficult forgiveness to give.
Letting go of the need to "get even" is sometimes hard to do – how often do we engage in this? When a car cuts you off in traffic, when your spouse or a good friend says hurting words, when a neighbor leaves trash in your yard or even when someone commits a crime against you or your family – do you, like most of us, immediately think of ways to get even?
How would our world look if our lives were based on forgiveness and mercy instead of on retribution? How would it be to be a world, not of punishment, but of healing and love? I think it would call out the best in us. I think we would then be a gentler people, a gentler nation, a gentler church. This is what God is not just asking of us, but demanding of us, in order to receive his forgiveness.
Today would be a good day to stop and reflect slowly on the meaning of each line of the Our Father. And stay a little longer on the words: "…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.