Forgive!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on Palm Sunday, Year C.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

Forgiveness.

It is the most distinctive feature of our Christian faith.

Every day, we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The story of the Lord’s Passion is shot through with forgiveness.

Peter, you will deny me three times, but once you have recovered, you must strengthen your brothers.

One of the disciples cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, but touching the man’s ear, Jesus healed him.

They crucified Jesus. He said: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

The good thief acknowledged that he deserved punishment, and said “Jesus, remember me.” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The story of God’s people through the ages is also shot through with forgiveness.

St Stephen, the deacon and first martyr of the church, was stoned, and died crying: ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’

In 1679, St Philip Evans was brought to the gallows in Roath and was permitted to make a speech before he was hanged. “If I have or had any enemies in the world, which I do not know that ever I had in my life, I do heartily forgive them for anything done or said against me, and if I have offended anybody, I am heartily sorry for it and ask them forgiveness. I pray God bless and prosper the king.”

In 1902, a young Italian girl was fatally wounded by a young man who attacked her. Her parish priest brought her Holy Communion and asked whether she forgave her attacker. St Maria Goretti replied, “Yes, I forgive him and want him to be in Paradise with me.”

Blessed Miguel Pro, about to be executed by firing squadIn 1927, a Jesuit priest working in Mexico was falsely
accused of plotting against the President. Rejecting the traditional blindfold, Blessed Miguel Pro stretched his arms out in the form of a cross and facing the firing squad said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”

Beyond the ranks of the Catholic Church, we could speak of the Methodist, Gordon Wilson, who forgave the IRA for the bomb which killed his daughter, Marie; we could point to the Anglican Bishop Festo Kivengere, who dared to preach forgiveness towards the homicidal dictator, Idi Amin; we could mention of the Russian mystic Seraphim of Sarov, who was brutally assaulted and left crippled for life, but refused to press charges against his attackers.

Christians forgive. If we do not forgive, we are not followers of the Crucified One.

But how can we forgive? If someone has wounded us so deeply that our only feelings towards that person are hatred and revenge, are we not entitled to say, “I cannot forgive – I will never forgive”?

No.

Say not, “I cannot forgive”, but “I will not forgive” – because forgiveness is a choice.

Forgiveness is nothing to do with your feelings, and everything to do with your willpower.

How can you forgive your worst enemy? Here are three steps you must take.

  1. Say the words. “Heavenly Father, I forgive this person. Do not hold their sin against them.”
  2. Choose not to punish the person for what they have done. If there is any ongoing situation where you are being vindictive, stop it immediately.
  3. Show some sign of love towards the other person, if it is safe to do so.

None of these actions require you to feel warm towards your enemy. They only require an act of will. You forgive with your mind first, and eventually your heart will follow.

Perhaps this seems too much to ask. It will certainly require a great deal of emotional energy. If you cannot find it within yourself, ask God for a share of the love which flows from the wounded heart of Jesus. But if you need inspiration, if you need motivation, look to the Crucifix, and remember what we celebrate this day.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”