In St. Matthew’s version of the "Our Father", he concludes with the words, "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive other, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."
Radical forgiveness is embedded in the center of a Christian’s identity. The reason we find forgiveness so difficult is because we are often living in the ego-filled part of our consciousness. Using the image of a tree, we can say the heart of the tree is what is in the ground. The part above the ground is meant to be an expression of the deeper part. The above-ground part is in motion, moving this way and that way. The leaves are seasonal. They come and they go. Inside all of this movement is hopefully an expression of our essence, who we are deepest down. Often enough, this upper part is egocentric craziness and filled with some delightful Loony Tunes of life. The trouble is, we begin to identify our essence with this upper commotion and passing, changing images and feelings. When someone hurts me, I brood, begin to justify my negative even hateful feelings towards them. My hurt becomes a cancer within me. The other person is going his/her merry way but here I am, in my upper consciousness, turning my own heart into a cesspool. Forgiveness seems to be so illogical and crazy.
It can be so hard to see the genuine self that is deep within. It is hard to die to this surface self and see what is truly real. We may now and then get the intuition into this depth of self. The mystics are individuals who are blessed, on this side of the veil of death, with this perception in an ongoing way. They see the self almost engulfed in union with God and others. The sense of the unifying power of love is so real and powerful that most of the surface feelings and insights fade into almost nothingness. The fact that someone "hurt me" melts away in face of my "unity with all, even my enemies". Jesus, at the moment of his death, cried out, "Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing." In his book, "Tortured for Christ", Richard Wurmbrand tells stories of how Christians, being tortured in the most horrible and evil ways, feel not hate for those hurting them, but a desire that they come to know Christ and his love. They are so emptied of all that surface ego-centric garbage, that the essence of their Christian being is sensing union with those killing them and not hate.
Say the "Our Father" slowly and reverently. It can be a powerful prayer that gets us living more on the level of our real, Christian self and not on the whirlwind level of the blowing and changing images and feelings of surface consciousness.
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Fr. Blaise Czaja, C.P. gives parish missions and retreats. He is a member of the Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.