“As the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” – Colossians 3:13
In this petition we ask God to forgive us our tresspases, or our sins. What is sin? We are taught that sin is an offense against God, and even our neighbor, that damages the relationship between us. Sin against God is classified into two categories, mortal and venial. Venial sin is a lesser offense against the Lord that damages the life of grace in our souls. Mortal sin kills the life of grace in our souls and cuts us off from our relationship with God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “this petition is shocking” because “according to the second phrase, our petition will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement” (CCC, 2838): we must forgive those who trespass against us.
To forgive someone is a very humbling task and often hard to do on our own. To forgive someone, we must ask for God’s help. Here’s why: Despite the offenses and trespasses committed against us, we, as Christians, are called to love as Christ loved. “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). If anyone had the right to be angry and not forgive, it was Jesus. Yet Christ even forgave his executioners because He loved them with a sacrificial Love, to the very end of his life. And so, we, too, must forgive those who offend us.
Sin, by its nature, turns our focus in on ourselves. When we sin against God or others we think of ourselves first. Forgiveness, therefore, requires us to refocus our attention on God and our neighbor.
When we teach about forgiveness, it is also recommended to teach about the virtue of humility. At a retreat I once heard humility described as not thinking less of yourself, but thinking less about yourself.
On the cross, Jesus was thinking about His Father, and He was thinking about us. Because the Lord’s thoughts were focused on us and not on Himself, His humility was on display for all the world to behold. In His humility He said those difficult words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Sin divides, and Love unites.
How do you know when you have truly forgiven someone? When you can look that person in the eye and say “I want to be in heaven with you” and mean it.
Questions for Discussion
What is sin? How do we offend God?
In what ways does God show us mercy and forgive us of our sins?
What is humility, and how is it a remedy to help us forgive?
Why does God put a stipulation on His forgiveness?
Are there people in your life that you still have to forgive?
How do you know when you have truly forgiven somebody?
Read St. Maria Goretti’s story. What does it teach us about forgiveness?
Read Part One and Part Two of this series.
JAMES BLANKENSHIP is the director of religious education at St. Francis De Sales Church in Purcellville, Virginia. He is founder of the St. Isidore Project, dedicated to the poor by growing food and offering education and community.
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