How do we forgive our enemies, those who hate us?

I find that one of the hardest things about being a Christian is living by Our Lord’s command to “forgive your brother from the heart” (Mt 18:35), especially in the face of injustice. We will all have witnessed, or been hurt by, callous acts of injustice committed by medical professionals, civil servants, employers, even family members or fellow Christians, about which there are no means of redress.

The impact of such injustices to people’s health, reputations, and/or livelihoods can be profound and life-changing. This is on top of the sleepless nights, stress, anxiety, and sense of humiliation endured when powerless to stop the injustice.

There comes a moment of resignation and outward acceptance of the injustice, but people are often left with a burning sense of outrage at the brutality and callousness of the perpetrators, particularly if they held positions of trust or care.

This sense of anger and frustration can burn in the heart for years, even a whole lifetime, every time the injustice is recalled and relived in memory. It is like a poison, that can leave people bitter and sick at heart; or people push it deep down and get on with their lives, but sadder, disappointed in themselves for not fighting hard enough, never trusting others or never expecting justice.

Resentment is so toxic to the soul that St Paul advises that we deal with it the moment we’re aware of its hold on our heart,

Do not let resentment lead you into sin; the sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27)

This is why Our Lord’s command to “forgive your brother from your heart” can be so difficult to live in practice, and so vitally important to make a reality. How do we forgive our enemies, those who hate us?

Pope Francis gives this advice:

Forgiving, however, is not an easy thing, it is always very difficult.
How can we imitate Jesus? From what point do we begin to pardon the small and great wrongs that we suffer each day? First of all, beginning with prayer, as St Stephen did. We begin with our own heart: with prayer we are able to face the resentment we feel, by entrusting to God’s mercy those who have wronged us: “Lord, I ask you for him, I ask you for her”.

Then we discover that this inner struggle to forgive cleanses us of evil, and that prayer and love free us from the interior chains of bitterness. It is so awful to live in bitterness! Every day we have the opportunity to practice forgiving, to live a gesture so lofty that it brings man closer to God.

Like our heavenly Father, may we too become merciful, because through forgiveness, we conquer evil with good, we transform hatred into love and in this way we make the world cleaner.
(Angelus, 26 December 2015).

There is no better time than now to ask Our Lord for the grace to forgive others, especially those who have deeply hurt us, entrusting them to God’s mercy. We are made for forgiveness.


 

Finding Forgiveness with Pope Francis, by Rev Nick Donnelly

 

Ways of Forgiveness – How to let forgiveness set you free, by Fr John Edwards SJ

 

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