‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’ (Mathew 6:15)
The theme of forgiveness has been present in several of the liturgical readings this week in our monastic prayer and meetings and so the following reflection is offered.
The clear, central and challenging teaching of Jesus (as recorded in Mathew’s Gospel) on forgiveness follows immediately his address to his Disciples on how to pray to God the Father using the words we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. It is a teaching he not only proclaimed, but also modelled throughout his life, death and Resurrection. Perhaps Jesus is saying don’t expect to be in good relationship with God if you are holding on to resentments against others because that is just not possible.
Given both the difficulty and great importance of truly forgiving others, how we might ask in practice, can we make forgiveness part of our daily living?
St Benedict, well aware that ‘thorns of contention are likely to spring up’ in everyday life, stipulated in his Rule (Chapter 13) that twice each day all of the Lord’s Prayer should be recited out loud in the monastery (at Morning and Evening Prayer) for the monks to hear. The reason given for this was to routinely provide them with a specific prompt to cleanse themselves of the vice of an unforgiving heart. Such, a regular intentional use of the Lord’s Prayer in all our lives each day could provide us with a good way to notice, address and let go of the resentments that can so easily accumulate within us.
Looking specifically at the challenge of forgiveness using the lens of modern psychology, it is often said that the things we find hardest to forgive others for, are often the things we like least about ourselves. For example, the tendency I might have to perceive my brother as spending rather too much time recovering from his cold leaving me too much work to do, may actually reflect my unwillingness to look after myself very well. Rather than do the difficult job of reflecting on my own needs more deeply it is all too easy and ‘natural’ to blame my brother for his over pampering ways! So the challenge to forgive another may first involve both self-examination and self-acceptance and will usually require honest dialogue between me and my brother. All quite demanding stuff but the rewards are eternal!