“The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), oil on panel, 1857, part of the Wallace Collection, London, England.

Spiritual Life

CONNIE ROSSINI: Forgiveness is an indispensable part of prayer

In our study of the Catechism’s exposition of the Our Father, we have come to the last two petitions. We begin today with “And forgive us our trespasses …”

The Catechism directs us to keep this petition in the context of the entire prayer. “With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging him that his name be hallowed, we were in fact asking him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before him.  Our petition begins with a ‘confession’ of our wretchedness and his mercy. Our hope is firm because, in his Son, ‘we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’” (no. 2839).

As sons and daughters of God, we are called to be holy and to be a sign for others of God’s holiness. If we fall – and we all do – is everything lost? Is it hopeless to think that God’s will could ever be done on earth?

No. Christ redeemed us from sin. We hope not in our own goodness, but in his. It is Christ’s holiness that we hold up as the standard. It is he, as true man, who fully hallows God’s name and fulfills his will. Jesus invites us to become one with him, so that God’s will may be done in our lives. Sin should not lead us to despair, but to hope in God’s mercy. Our Father is the Father of the prodigal son. The sacraments, particularly reconciliation, give us confidence in God’s mercy (ibid.).

Still, God places a condition on forgiveness, “… as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus commands us to love others as he loves us (Jn 13:34). This is only possible for hearts transformed by Christ. “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC, no. 2843).

When we recognize our own sinfulness, our helplessness to save ourselves, we begin to extend to others the compassion we have received. The Holy Spirit within us calls out “Abba, Father” to God (Rom 8:15). This same Spirit gives us the power to see others as brothers and sisters. “Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another” (CCC, no. 2844).

Even as Jesus carried out our redemption upon the Cross, he forgave those who crucified and mocked him. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us …  while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …” (Rom 5:8, 10). If we are truly one with Christ, we will likewise extend forgiveness to our enemies. “There is no limit or measure to this essentially divine forgiveness” (CCC, no. 2845).

Forgiving others is essential for union with God in prayer. “God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace” (no. 2845). The kingdom that we pray for can never come until we fully repent of our sins and seek reconciliation with others.

Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.

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