All for the Heart of Jesus through the Heart of Mary!

Sr. Mary Amanda, SCTJM

Women’s Midweek Retreat: October 19-21

God bless you. This talk is entitled Forgiveness as fruit of God’s mercy. I will be talking first about God’s love and mercy towards us, especially in His Sacraments of the Church; the nature of forgiveness; how to forgive ourselves, and lastly techniques we can apply to better forgive others.

Forgiveness is a fruit of God’s mercy, and so I will first of all talk about God’s love and mercy towards us, His creatures. In the book of Genesis, when human beings first sinned against God with the original sin, in our disobedience we were banned from the Garden of Eden, lest we also eat from the tree of life, and thus live forever in this way. The consequences of sin were that we would toil for the bread we eat, our labor pains would increase, and that we would suffer death. We were banned from the garden, from paradise, where we had walked so closely with God. We sinned, or hurt God, who is infinite, and so the atonement needed for our sin was also infinite. Jesus, the God Man, came in the flesh, in order to redeem us. God Himself reached out to forgive and reconcile us back to Him. In Genesis, we first hear this good news of the promise of a savior who will crush the head of the serpent. God sent His son Jesus, who lived and died for us. He was crucified, and spoke words of love and forgiveness unto His death, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:24). He gave his life, but has power to take it up again, through his resurrection.

We had sinned against God who infinite. When we think of God’s generosity towards us, His children, it makes it easier for us to forgive others, when we remember that we have sinned against God infinitely more than any person can sin against us.

Jesus calls us to: “Love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). He loved us to the extreme of giving His life for us. Scripture says we must also lay down our lives for our brothers. St. Therese of Lisieux, doctor of the little way, understood this love very well. She called her path to God the ‘little way,’ which consisted of doing small things with a depth of love. For example, there was one infirmed sister in her community who was ill, and she used to assist her in walking. This sister would complain often and in various ways about the way she was being led, and this was very difficult for Therese. Because of the difficulty, she felt it was a beautiful opportunity for practicing charity. She said, “When I was guiding {this Sister} I did it with so much I could not have possibly done it better had I been guiding Jesus Himself” (Story of a Soul, p 249). She says when she was charitable she felt it was really Jesus acting in her, in order to shower His love onto others.

The Church teaches that Christ died for all men without exception, and that there is no offense that the Church cannot forgive (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 605). Some of the Sacraments of the Church, instituted by Jesus, have the power to forgive sins. The Church has the mission to forgive sins, continuing Jesus’ own mission of reconciliation and healing. In the Scripture about the paralytic, it says: “…people brought to him a paralytic ….When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.’ At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘this man is blaspheming.’ Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, ‘Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.’ He rose and went home” (Mt 9:2-7). We see here how the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, and how He continues through His Body, the Church, to do so today.

Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died and rose so that we too might walk in newness of life. We also have the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we should go to for all mortal sins and the Church stipulates at least once a year. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, which Jesus instituted at the Last Supper, He says, “’This is My body, given for you’ …and likewise the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant of my blood which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 22:19). Receiving the Eucharist unites us intimately to Jesus, and forgives our venial sins.

God’s forgiveness of us is a reminder that should then make it easier to forgive others. Forgiveness is really a fruit of God’s love and it flows from God. But what does forgiveness exactly mean? Forgiveness is to give up resentments, to pardon another. We see a good example of this in the life of John Paul II, when in 1981, two years after his election as pope, there was an assassination attempt on his life. His life was spared, and he would later say that ‘one hand fired the shot and another guided it.’ He was speaking here in reference to God’s protection of Him through the hands of Our Blessed Mother. When he was able to, he visited the prison where is assassin was, and was able to talk with him and forgive him in person.

Forgiveness is a decision of the heart. The feelings will follow. Scripture says that when God forgives us, He “remembers our sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). This does not mean that the all-knowing God forgets because He forgives us, but that He pardons us in His goodness.

The Bible tells us that we are to forgive those who sin against us. In the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12). Jesus told us in Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” He also exhorts us to: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Love your enemies, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great” (Lk 6:27-28).

God’s way is forgiveness and love. We’re to pray for our enemies - for their happiness, well being, and salvation. As you pray, God can give them revelation that will bring them out of their deception . . . as sin is always a deception, a blindness. It says to bless and do not curse your enemies, and Proverbs 17:9 says that he who covers an offense seeks love.

The story of Joseph here comes to mind, from the book of Genesis (37-50). His parents were Jacob and Rachel. Jacob waited many years to have Rachel’s hand in marriage. When they married, she was barren, but eventually she gave birth to two sons. Jacob had other children, but he loved the two sons borne to him by her the best. Joseph, one of those sons, had a dream which he shared with his brothers, where many people, including them, were bowing down to him. The other brothers then plotted on how to kill Joseph. One of his brothers however convinced them to only throw him into a well, thus sparing his life. They did so, and then decided he should be sold to the Egyptians. Afterwards they lied and told their father Joseph had died. In Egypt, Joseph is put into prison. He is released after many years when he is able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream for him. Later there is a famine, and the Pharaoh placed Joseph in charge of rationing the grain for the land. One day, after many years have gone by, his brothers appear before him in desperate need. Joseph convinced them to leave in order to bring his other brother, Benjamin, back with them to Egypt. He was the only other son borne to Jacob by Rachel. His brothers did not recognize him. They came back with Benjamin, and Joseph tested them. He had a cup put into their bag, to make it appear that they stole it, and in punishment for their “crime” he allows the other brothers to go but for Benjamin to remain. The other brothers, saying they could not bear to see the misery that would overcome the father, volunteered to stay in place of their brother. At that point Joseph could not control his feelings anymore, and he made everyone else leave the vicinity so that he and his brothers were alone. He admitted to them, “I am Joseph.” He said, and this section is interesting: “Do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here, since God sent me before you to preserve your lives, and many lives” (Gen 45:5-8). Isn’t that a great way to think of things: it was not a person who sent me here but God. He has a purpose for everything. Joseph asked them to see his father. Then it says he wept, and he embraced and kissed them! What a beautiful story of forgiveness.

We must make a decision to forgive, and trust that the hurts from it will be healed in time. We must also ask God to help us. We cannot forgive without the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are truly willing, God will help us to forgive, but we must turn and ask for His help.

For this we need new hearts. Jeremiah says, “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts” (31:33). As well, Ezekiel tells us, “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (36:26-27). The Holy Spirit replaces our hearts of stone to give us hearts of flesh, capable of loving to the extreme.

We can also look to Our Lady and ask her to help you to forgive. She loved God with her whole being and above all. In fact, the ‘let it be done’ given by Our Lady teaches us, and women in particular, that there is a particular power granted to us by God: often our cooperation in the plan of salvation is in what we humbly and trustingly allow God to do in and through us. So we can invite Him to forgive through us, through the intercession of Our Lady. We remember that she forgave Peter and the other apostles when they ran away and abandoned Jesus in His time of greatest need. She forgave them just as her Son Jesus had forgiven them.

We can petition Our Lady: Blessed Mother, give us your heart of forgiveness and love . . . give us your eyes to see, your hands to touch and heal, so that we may reflect the compassion and mercy of Jesus to others.

And mercy is nothing other than love . . . Saint Paul writes a beautiful description of love found in 1 Corinthians 13: “ Love is patient; love does not seek its own interests, it does not brood over injury, it rejoices with the truth. It endures all things. Love never fails.”

This point is key - that we shouldn’t brood over injury, ruminating over and over again about what happened to us. Instead, we shouldn’t brood over it but think of it in order to ask to be healed. Sometimes we ‘brood over’ our own mistakes as well. When our former sins come to mind, it is good in the sense that it can remind us of how much our sins have hurt God, and how we don’t want to displease or hurt him because we love Him. Sometimes if our former sins come to mind and we have already repented sincerely and confessed, we can make a decision not to dwell upon them, but upon thoughts of the awesome God who forgave us and thank and praise Him for his mercy (Philippians 4:8). We do this because He is so much greater than our faults and sins!!

This leads us into the topic of forgiving ourselves, which can be one of the hardest things we have to do. In talking of this I’d look to look at the examples of Judas and Peter. Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. He loved money over God, and more than God. Afterwards Judas ultimately didn’t trust God to forgive him nor was he able to forgive himself. It seems that he repented, by flinging the money back to the temple, but then he fell into desperation and the Bible says he hung himself (Mt 27:5). He didn’t turn to God or trust His mercy . . .

It is interesting that Peter also betrayed Jesus at a critical moment, denying that he knew Him three times. He had earlier promised Jesus he would never deny Him and was even willing to go to death for Him! Peter repented of his betrayal of Jesus, but there is another difference between himself and Judas in that he came back to Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus allowed Peter three affirmations of his love to counter the three earlier denials. How beautiful – this helps remind us that Jesus can do anything. The Lord is much greater than our faults and sins.

In a way, we have all betrayed and hurt Jesus. But He forgives us, and is there to pick us up after a fall. It is so important to not give up when we make a mistake and give in to discouragement. We must allow ourselves to be picked up after a fall, and remember that it is the main orientation and the direction of our hearts and lives that are most important. We retake the path. This is so important. An example to illustrate this point came to me one day – I heard about a couple who had remained married and celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. What a privilege and a blessing for that couple! And I got to thinking, I’m sure over the years they had various problems etc. and I thought, what if one of them had done something big, maybe committed an affair after thirty years of marriage? I’m inventing, but let us say for example’s sake it was the husband and it went on for a year, but afterwards he was truly sorry, and was sincere in his repentance. He ended the affair, sought forgiveness and reconciliation from God, from those he hurt, from his wife, and also he forgives himself. He never repeated the affair again. I was reflecting, what if he was sorry, but had thought to himself, “Well, I’ve ruined it. No one will ever forgive me – ever . . . I might as well throw in the towel…” and he gives up. He is so disgusted he leaves the marriage. Or he could have given up on life. What if he felt unworthy and thought, what have I done my wife will never take me back, I’m a horrible person, etc., never asking for forgiveness. And this analogy can be applied to any sin. My point is, in this example, the husband seeks forgiveness and retakes the path: he continues, tries to work on his marriage and its problems. He doesn’t give up. In the long run, it occurred to me that the orientation of his heart was what was important: that although he messed up, the orientation of his heart was towards his wife, even though there were some failures, and even maybe pretty big ones, in this man’s life. This is how it is with our relationship with God as well.

Another example that I thought of in regard to renewal is the Chastity pledges we used to receive in high school – to promise to abstain from sexual activity until marriage. And what is beautiful is that if you have already been sexually active, you can recommit yourself to remain chaste. We were taught that chastity is not seen so much as a no to everything, but as a “yes” to your future spouse. Thus, if you’ve fallen, you start over, you recommit, and you GO ON. This is so important, not to give up. The Lord can transform anything, and our God is a God of second chances. These previous examples can also be an analogy of our relationship with God. We say were sorry and we orient our heart and lives back towards Him, trusting not in our strength but in the greatness of his mercy.

Now I will speak of some practical steps we can do to help us to forgive others. Dr. Worthington, a psychologist who has researched forgiveness for decades, has developed a five-step process called REACH (

R is for Recall. Recall the events and the hurt as accurately and objectively as you can. Think of a person who has wronged you and describe what happened and how you felt.

E is for Empathize. Try to understand what happened from the perspective or angle of the person who wronged you.

A is for the Altruistic gift of forgiveness. What helps with this is to appreciate being forgiven by reflecting on a time when you were forgiven, and offer this gift to the person who wronged you. ‘Acting to the contrary’ of your feeling can help us forgive too. By this I mean you might consider performing an act of kindness toward the offender.

One example of a great saint of forgiveness is St. Maria Goretti. She lived in the early 1900’s, and when she refused the sexual advances of an older teenager named Alexander, he went into a rage and stabbed her fourteen times. She had many wounds, which killed her, although not immediately. It took a few days, wherein she could not eat or drink anything. She united her sufferings to Jesus’ on the cross.

As she lay dying a priest held up a crucifix for her to look at and asked if she could forgive Alexander, and unite her wounds with His. She said she did, and she wished he would be in heaven one day with her. Many years past, and Alexander, still in prison for his crime, had a dream in which Maria Goretti handed him fourteen lilies, one for each stab wound. He later deeply repented, became a monk, and later attended her canonization.

C is for Committing yourself to forgive publicly. Ideas could include to: Imagine forgiveness, by imagining what you might say to the person and how you would feel. You could write a letter of forgiveness – expressing what you wish the person had done. You could write in a journal, or if you can, speak to the person who wronged you. You can reframe the event: meaning to keep the event in perspective, remembering nothing last forever. Sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees. Also, a good mediation is to reflect that we aren’t going to live forever, and we can reflect on the day of our death. We could ask: who is it important for me to be reconciled with?

H is for Holding onto forgiveness. Replay the situation again in which you were hurt. You can ask yourself what you can learn from it about yourself and the situation for the future? Memories of the wrong and feelings will come up, and when they do, remind yourself of the decision to forgive.

To conclude, we embrace forgiveness as a fruit of God’s mercy –returning love for love – forgiving others in light of the great forgiveness we have received. We must have great confidence in His love. Scripture reminds us that “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us.”

We can imitate St. Therese, who had great trust in God’s love. She wrote: “Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus’ arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love . . .” (Story of a Soul, p. 259).



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