Love and Forgive Always

Author: Fr Mieczysław Piotrowski S.Chr.

If we want all our sins to be forgiven by God’s infinite mercy, then we should make it possible for Him, by forgiving everybody for everything and not keeping any resentments or wounds to anybody in our hearts.

One day, during his internment in a Nazi concentration camp, Jacek Schwartz upset one of the head guards, who then started to kick and club him furiously. During that savage beating, Jacek prayed for his torturer. At one point he saw a vision of the scourging of Christ. That so filled his heart with such love and sympathy for his persecutor that he turned to him with these words: “Ich liebe Dich” (“I love you”). Those words shocked the camp guard to the extent that he stopped beating the prisoner and started looking at him carefully. What he saw almost blinded him. Right before his eyes, the bleeding wounds that he had just inflicted started to scar and heal. While watching all this, he experienced a spiritual tremor. This sadist and murderer understood what great spiritual strength man possesses when he loves and forgives.

The psychiatrist George Ritchie, author of the book Return from Tomorrow, described the history of “Wild Bill” — a prisoner of a concentration camp who treated everyone with great kindness. He convinced and persuaded his fellow prisoners that it was necessary to forgive everything and everybody. Bill is identified by his exceptional energy and joy of life. He helped others selflessly, especially as a translator. Apart from Polish, he was fluent in English, French, German and Russian. “It is not easy to forgive – George said one day. So many of us have lost all our loved ones, families.” Then Bill recounts his life story: “We used to live in the Jewish district of Warsaw, me, my wife, two daughters and three little sons. When the Germans came to our street, they made us stand against the wall and started shooting with the machine gun. I begged them to allow me to die with my wife and children, but instead, since I spoke German, they took me instead to the group of people destined for work. At that moment I had to decide whether to allow myself to be overcome by contempt towards these soldiers. For sure it would have been the easiest choice to make, but since I am a lawyer, I observed in my legal practice how hatred causes spiritual and physical devastation in people. This rage killed six people, who were everything for me in this world. I then resolved, that for the rest of my life – whether it would be for a couple of days, or many years — I would love every person I came across...” It should be emphasized that Bill is able to fight evil with love only because he believes in the words of the Lord's Prayer: “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”Bill derived from his living faith in God the ability to forgive and love every man, including one's persecutors and enemies. Thanks to everyday prayer and union with God, he could forgive and love his neighbors by God’s love for him. He lived according to the new commandment which Jesus gave: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

Jesus Christ's power to love and forgive during his Passion, Death and Resurrection has conquered the greatest hatred and sin of all people. In this way, He teaches us that the only weapon in our fight against evil is only love and forgiveness. On matters of forgiveness, the Lord Jesus is uncompromising, for there are no exceptions or extraordinary situations which could justify a lack of forgiveness. To forgive from the heart everything and everybody means not to carry any injury from anyone. It means not to keep grudges, never to identify evil with the person who is behind it. Evil, sin and hatred must be rejected with disgust, and that is the main reason why we must always to forgive every person, to accept and love always. To love the sinner, the one who has done me great wrong, means that I can decide to forgive despite the undesirable feelings that may spontaneously arise even by the mere sight of him. This I can do by my will: to forgive him from my heart. It means to pray for the greatest good of this person, and above all for his reconciliation with God. This is the first stage of forgiveness.

The second stage consists of sincerely asking God in our prayers to free us from feelings of antipathy, anger, hatred or resentment, as well as to heal our spiritual wounds and injuries. St. Edith Stein wrote: “Antipathy, anger and injury closes the door before our Savior.” Anybody who does not want to forgive, lives in darkness, which means that he willingly surrenders to the evil power’s control. “Whoever says ‘I am in the light’ while hating a brother or sister (holding a grudge towards one’s neighbors) is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness” (1 John 2:9-11).

“I then resolved, that for the rest of my life – whether it would be for a couple of days, or many years – I would love every person I came across”

It is my will that decides and not my feelings when it comes to loving a person who has wronged me and is my enemy. To love means to reject evil; to accept man always; to forgive; desire his good; and do what is best for him. It is not to concentrate on my own feelings and experiences. A Christian is obliged to love and forgive just as Christ did. It means to always love and forgive those people who in one way or another have wounded or wronged him. He is also compelled to forgive himself in the way that Jesus forgives. In this regard, the commandment of Jesus is crystal clear: “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy- seven times’ ” (Matt 18:21-22). It means always.

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35), the Lord Jesus explains the basis of this necessity to forgive those who have sinned against us. A certain landowner took pity and forgave the servant who owed him ten thousand talents, equivalent to about 340,000 kilograms of gold. Not long after, this servant who was pardoned from his huge indebtedness met his friend who only owed him 100 denarii (a day’s wage amounts to one denarii). Then without showing compassion he seized him by the throat saying: “Pay what you owe!” The one indebted “fell down and pleaded with him: ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt 18:21-35).

The lack of forgiveness closes a man’s heart completely to God’s mercy. It causes man to freely yield to the bondage of the evil power that subjects him to terrible spiritual torture: hatred, the desire to seek vengeance and retaliation, the constant feeling of being sorry for oneself, nursing claims, grudges, and remorse unceasingly. This kind of attitude leads man to fully close himself to God’s love as well to various somatic and mental illnesses. Only when he forgives and entrusts himself entirely to God’s Mercy will he obtain full health and liberation from this horrible enslavement to the evil power. This is how Charlie Osburn, a famous American preacher, recalls the story of his road to maturity in forgiving everyone everything: “ ‘I have come here to seek your forgiveness, because for the last eight years I have hated you’ — saying these words were one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. They were addressed to my nearest neighbor whom I had hated with all my heart for the previous eight years. I often woke up at night thinking how to kill him. I imagined different scenarios, like planting a bomb in his car, hiring a killer to murder him or burning his house in the middle of the night. This hatred that I felt towards him led me to a great extent to alcohol addiction. The desire for revenge and my drunkenness gave me hypertension, as well as other serious health problems. In short, I became a wreck. Why did I hate my neighbor so much? It turned out that he repeatedly sexually molested both my son and my daughter. It started when my son was eight years old and my daughter six. He molested them for two years until my wife and I discovered it. It made me think how my children were stripped of their dignity and disgraced by this pervert. That was the main reason for my spontaneous pure hatred for my neighbor. I was serious in thinking about killing him but didn't attempt for it for one simple reason: I was afraid to go to jail. It was only my fear of going to prison that saved me from committing murder. When in the end I gave up my plans of killing my neighbor, I built an eightfoot tall fence between our houses. I could not look at him, and just the sight of him gave me a stomach ache. I was sure that I would never forgive him for the horrible things he did to my children. The fact that I reacted with hatred seems natural to me. When I gave my life to Jesus, Reverend Father Jim Smith started to teach me about forgiveness and unconditional love. He showed me a fragment of the Holy Scriptures which talks about the commandment of love for all men: both those who did you good and those who did you wrong. ‘The Rev. Father claims that I must love the man who molested my children?’ — I asked in disbelief. ‘Can you love someone who is a terrible caricature of a human being and has greatly wounded two small children who belong to God? The mere thought of forgiving such a person is unacceptable to me, and the encouragement to love him has brought me sickness.’ ” Father Jim did not give up and cited to Charlie the fragment from the Scriptures that speaks about forgiveness; that it is a necessary condition for God to forgive our sins: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15).

Charlie started to slowly understand that Jesus demands unconditional forgiveness and love for enemies (see Luke 6:27-28). He realized that he could not be an apostle of Christ if his heart would not forgive his neighbor. So despite his feelings, he gave in and during prayer, by an act of will, he forgave his greatest enemy. The next step after that belonged to God. Three months later, while they were in the supermarket, the neighbor came over to Charlie’s wife. He took out a New Testament Bible and said that he went to confession and gave his life to Christ. He also returned to the Catholic Church which he had abandoned many years ago. Now he wanted to thank Charlie and his wife that they had forgiven him. Three weeks later, this man died.

If we would like to be forgiven all our sins by God’s infinite Mercy, then we should make it possible for Him by forgiving everyone everything that has been done to us. It also means not keeping any grudges against anybody. It is therefore necessary to ask Christ with our whole hearts to teach us to forgive each other always, to love our enemies and to be brothers and sisters with one another. So that just as St. John of the Cross said: “They were able to bring love at every moment where it was not present, in order to draw in love” (Letter to Mary of the Incarnation, 6 VII 1591).

To make reconciliation and the restoration of relationships authentic and long-lasting, first you must go to confession. Admit to Jesus your sins and pray that you may be able to forgive everyone everything done to you. Read the prayer:

Lord Jesus I ask you for the grace of forgiveness for those who have hurt me and caused me suffering (name those persons). Please grant me the grace of unconditional forgiveness of (mention the name of those persons), whom I find it difficult to forgive. Lord Jesus, by the power of your forgiving love, who embrace us from your Cross, by an act of will, from the bottom of my heart, I forgive (mention the name of the person) all the offenses she/ he has committed. Bless and lead her/him to heaven. Lord Jesus, I also ask pardon from all the people whom I have wronged in any way. Thank you for liberating me now from this great evil of lack of forgiveness. May your Holy Spirit fill me with the light of His love and peace and heal my emotions as well as all the wounds in my heart. Amen.

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