Tuesday, 29 March 2016



I really put my foot in it when I gave a talk to a group of middle aged women. I dared to criticise the cult film ‘Love Story,’ which many of them had seen in their youth. I’d presumed to accuse their heroine of talking sentimental rubbish. Her crime? -to say, "Love means never having to say ‘sorry.’’’

That can only be true of God, who never has to apologise. As for the rest of us, we’re all sinners and sometimes hurt each other. Real love then means being able to apologise when we’ve harmed someone, and forgiving him when he’s hurt us. If love is to last it must have the resilience to heal the pain we inflict on each other. Without mercy love would be so brittle that it could not last. Our love for each other must reflect God’s steadfast love for us, which is always eager to forgive the repentant sinner. 

To forgive is hard enough; to do so willingly –that’s really difficult! Yet that’s what the 5th Spiritual Work of Mercy expects of us. Forgiving those who hurt us is the most God-like of the Works of Mercy. Mercy is the very Face of the God, in whose image we have been made. That means we must be as merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.

But that goes against our natural instinct. We fear that will be taken as a sign of weakness. If we don’t stop him he will continue his violence. But we know only too well that if we retaliate the situation will escalate. The innocent person will become as aggressive as the one who started the violence. Nothing will be solved, and we may say and do things which we later regret.

So Jesus takes a different, two pronged, approach, aimed at defusing a hostile situation. Firstly, we should correct the offender (3rd Spiritual Work of Mercy). Next, we should forgive him or her. That’s the present, 5th Work of Mercy.

So what does forgiveness mean? Certainly not denying that someone has harmed us. That would be dishonest. It would also be cruel to prevent him apologising and finding forgiveness. Only through apologising and forgiving can wounds be healed and peace restored. To say, ‘Forgive and forget’ is asking too much, even the impossible. We can’t wipe our memories clean, like a blackboard. Instead, we have to learn to come to terms with past injuries, put them behind us and together make a fresh start.

To help us, Jesus urges us not only to love our enemies, instead of hating them, but also to pray for them. That’s not a pious after-thought, but an essential part in healing a dysfunctional relationship. As we pray for our enemies our attitude towards them changes. We cease to wish them harm and want only their good. That gradually heals our bitterness, anger and desire for vengeance. As we pray for those who are hostile to us, we ask God to heal their aggression. Only when hatred has been removed from both the aggressor and the victim can there be real peace. Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ puts this very well, "The quality of mercy is not strained… IT BLESSETH HIM THAT GIVES AND HIM THAT TAKES," (Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1). Both parties benefit from the merciful removal of hostility and tension. 

But let’s face it, forgiveness can be very difficult when we’ve been badly hurt. We really want to forgive, but unwanted anger and resentment can suddenly flare up, sometimes long after the injury. We then wonder whether our forgiveness was genuine. It was. Such unwanted resentment simply means that the wounds we suffered are still raw. We don’t need forgiveness, but inner healing. Since the same may well be true for someone we’ve hurt we will both need to be patient and pray. That links up with the previous Spiritual Work of Mercy -‘to bear wrongs patiently.’  

Jesus has given us the supreme example of what forgiving willingly means. He not only preached a Gospel of forgiveness, but lived it, above all, on the cross. As He prayed for the forgiveness of those responsible for His death He showed us what it means, in practice, to forgive our enemies. He has shown us the way to be true sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.


Heavenly Father, God full of mercy and compassion, we turn to you in are need for forgiveness. But your Son taught us that your mercy is dependent on our readiness to forgive those who have harmed us.

But when we’ve been harmed we find it so difficult to overcome our anger, bitterness and resentment. We feel hurt and humiliated. Instinctively we want to fight back; we fear that if we don’t, the aggressor will continue and repeat his violence. We know that one way or another he must be stopped. But your Son has taught us that retaliation is not the answer. Like Him we must love and forgive our enemies. Like Him, we must be peacemakers, not warmongers.

Father, since such god-like generosity of spirit is so difficult we beg you to help us. Help us to overcome are instinct to retaliate; heal the wounds of resentment and anger which can still flare up long after we were first hurt.
Father, we know that, if there is to be true peace, the aggressor must be healed of the violence within him. And so we pray that he may find inner peace through loving and respecting the dignity and rights of other people.

May we all find peace through sharing your Son’s healing ministry of reconciliation. 
 We ask this through Jesus Christ ,Your Son, Our Lord.

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.

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