Forgiveness is a Process,
a Journey of the Heart

Sonia and Jaime Bernardo, SFO
Chairs, National Family Commission

This Jubilee Year is a time for forgiveness – forgiveness of debts and forgiveness of wrongs.  We are called to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness.

There are about 1.3 billion people in the world who are living in abject poverty.  They are mostly women and children who live in the poorest countries of the world.  We, as Christians and Franciscans, are called upon to help feed, clothe, and give shelter to these least fortunate children of God, by showing our solidarity with Pope John Paul II who has asked the leaders of the wealthiest nations to forgive the debts of the developing countries.  We should make everyone aware of the plight of the poor in the world.

Recently, people from all over the United States came to Washington, DC to march in support of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign led by the Franciscan friars and Seculars in support of "Forgiveness of Debt".

Our Holy Father, while celebrating Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2000, the Day of Pardon, asked forgiveness for the sins of Catholics in seven areas of concern: sins in general, sins in the service of truth, sins against Christian unity, sins against the Jewish people, sins against “love, peace, and the rights of people and respect for cultures and religions”, sins against the dignity of the human race, and sins related to the fundamental rights of the person.

Following our Holy Father’s example of reconciliation, we should ask for forgiveness for the wrongful acts we have committed against members of our own family, our relatives, friends, and neighbors.  We should ask forgiveness for the hurt we have caused them, promising ourselves that we will love them as Jesus has loved us.  At the same time we should forgive all those who have hurt us, and make a commitment to be more tolerant of their shortcomings.  Jubilee is the right time for forgiveness, and we can be comforted by the realization that forgiveness is a grace, a wonderful Christian virtue.

Father Lester Bach, OFM Cap, in his Catch Me a Rainbow, tells us that “our profession as Franciscans call us to be the light of the world.  We are asked not to hide our gifts from others.  We are commanded to forgive others.  We are quickly aware that a gospel lifestyle requires a lifetime commitment.  It requires an intimacy with Jesus which is our source of light and power”.

So much of the pain in the world is because of unforgiven hurts.  Often we bring more pain by our lack of forgiveness.  We hold a grudge or resentment towards those who hurt us.  But, holding a grudge binds us to the past.  It usurps God’s rightful role by taking the matter into our own hands.  When we hold a grudge or when we do not forgive others, we are holding someone in debt to us, and we are also not receiving into our hearts the grace and the love that God wants to pour into us – the very things we need to heal our hurt.  The pain does not go away.  That is why forgiveness is so important.  God calls us to forgive one another as God forgave us.  “…Bearing with one another and forgiving one another… as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” (Colossians, 3:13)

Many people need to forgive themselves.  Our Franciscan lifestyle requires us to learn to accept people of all kinds.  It teaches us to offer acceptance and forgiveness for whatever wrongdoing they have done.  The divorced feel left out of life, the AIDS victims stay away from people for fear of not being accepted, the drug addicts and the alcoholics feel unworthy and have lost their sense of dignity.  These are the people whom Franciscans should accept as they are.  As the Father sees in every person his image, so Secular Franciscans should accept all people as brother and sister in God’s image and likeness.  In our brokenness, we become the instruments of peace and bearers of the sacrament of forgiveness in our families and our communities.  Forgiveness is a process.  Slowly, we let go of our bitterness. With patience and perseverance we can find the peace we seek.  Forgiving is a journey of the heart.  It is something you do for yourself, not for someone else.  Begin to love someone you have forgiven.  Real forgiveness comes from the heart, or it isn’t really forgiveness.

Questions for Discussion:

1.   Why is the way of forgiveness a part of a Franciscan lifestyle?

2.   Why do we say that the unforgiving person is the real loser? How does a lack of forgiveness affect my lifestyle as a gospel-person?

3.   As Franciscans what can we do to become a reconciling face of God’s forgiveness?