LORD, HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FORGIVE MY BROTHER? St. Peter had been listening carefully to the preaching of Jesus and taking in his private instruction as well. He had also been carefully observing his manner of treating with a wide variety of persons, including those who, for different offences against morality, were public sinners. In contrast with the attitudes of the generality of the public and of religious leaders, the Lord has shown himself to be merciful, ready to forgive, and that he preached that God the Father is prone to show mercy. What was still unclear for Peter was the proper limits to set for a follower of Christ when it comes to dealing with offenders. For the same Jesus who was preaching mercy also taught that the provisions of the law of God were not to be rescinded but, on the contrary, carefully put into practice. And so it happened that he felt he was being quite generous in his estimate when he approached the Lord and asked "LORD, HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FORGIVE MY BROTHER? Seven times?" We can readily imagine his astonishment when Jesus replied in a way that made it clear that we are to set no limit at all to our willingness to forgive, for that is the true sense of "seventy times seven times." The true followers of the Lord are to be so disposed to others that they remain always ready to forgive and to move ahead into the future with those who have done them harm in whatever way.
Today as we take part in this common penance service in the first days of Lent, we are invited to take this teaching to heart and to assure that we cultivate those dispositions that make such ready forgiveness a habitual state of mind and of heart. We can hope to arrive at such dispositions only by a careful examination of the attitudes with which we encounter one another and searching out the obstacles to kindly and compassionate reverence for our neighbors. Each of us has, along with the best of intentions, very real hindrances to consistent charity and respect for others, most of which remain largely hidden from us a great deal of the time. We must look for them in order to discover and uproot them. Such inner searching requires a high level of determination and effort for we have developed considerable resistance to recognizing our shadowy propensities; they are too threatening to our self-love to be seen for what they are.
Our Fathers, such as St. Augustine, St. Basil and St. Bernard have each taught how essential it is to remove these barriers to self-knowledge for they constitute hindrances to love of God and neighbor. By our prayerful and recollected bearing during these coming weeks of Lent let us take full advantage of our opportunities for gaining such insight into our hidden dispositions as will contribute to our growth in charity and our confidence in God's mercy. Then shall we be ready and able, with the help of God's grace, to forgive as we ask to be forgiven by God, that is to say, readily and without limit. Jesus here teaches us that there is no surer way of sharing in the fruits of his Paschal mystery than by such a loving readiness to forgive those who offend us.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
© Abbey of the Genesee
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