Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” MT 6:7-15
If you are Christian at all, you have heard this prayer before. This is Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. I learned this same prayer, as it was handed down to me. As a Catholic, it is apart of every Mass. So, on day seven of this Lent, it shows up as part of the Mass readings for today. I was trying to figure out why it would be important for it to show up, seeing how we all know it (if you don’t, it is o.k.), and that as a Catholic, I say it at every Mass. It is second nature to me, it comes easy, and I can say it without even looking at the scripture. As a matter of fact, if you were to ask me before today, I could not have told you where it actually came from, I just have it memorized.
Then it hit me, as I was meditating on this today. Why does it show up like this again? It is because Jesus wants us to remember the reason why we are saying it, not the fact that we can recite it like the next Top 40 hit on the radio. He never meant this just to be something that was just said, out of ritual, or out of habit, but something that we commit to. This prayer is supposed to be part of the standard that we live by. It is not supposed to be just something we mindlessly pray, we are supposed to really be trying to forgive one another.
That also made me start thinking about mercy itself. The Pope declared this a Jubilee Year of Mercy. We are supposed to be extra generous with our works of mercy, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that all past transgressions should be forgiven? Does that mean we should all just be on the same level, as in, everything and anything is o.k., because we are forgiving everyone. I don’t think that is the case. Mercy in itself has to come from somewhere, which means that we have to have a standard set to begin with. We can not have just an “everything is o.k., so you are o.k., and I am o.k.” attitude towards it. No, by all means, sins are sins, no matter what the context. If we didn’t have them, there would be no reason to extend any mercy at all. Everyone has faults, and has fallen short in some way shape or form when it comes to morality and sins in general. I am no exception. I am just in as much need of mercy as the person who is sitting on death row.
So, yes, we are being called to forgive. We are not being called to love the actions of others, we are being called to forgive them. We are being called into dialogue that helps to mend the relationship, not to keep that burden any longer. We are called to remove the roadblocks that are in our way, preventing us from actually forgiving. We are not being called to change our moral standards because of that. We are being called to have our hearts open to the idea that we can forgive someone, even if what they did was so horrible, so painful, that we may never ever speak to them. I know I have a person like this in my life, I have talked about it before. My father is one of those people in my life.
For those of you who don’t know the story, my dad is an alcoholic. I haven’t spoken with him in a very long. I have no idea what he is doing in life, nor do I know if he has changed anything about himself. Truth be told, I don’t honestly care to know. That sounds cold, but based on the circumstances, I am not trying to be. I have found a place to forgive him for the fact that he could not face his own demons and chose to not get any better over having a relationship with his family. That does not belittle for one second the feelings that I still have over those actions. It does not change the fact that it hurts, and to this day, hurts as if it was just yesterday. I forgive the person, but not the actions. If the day comes that we finally have a conversation, I will walk into it with an open mind and heart, but that day will have to be initiated by him. I think this is a great example of what mercy is supposed to be about. I think. I am not an expert on this by any stretch of the means, but I honestly think this is close.
I pray that everyone can find it in them to work on those relationships that are in need of mercy.