The Year of Mercy: A Jubilee of Forgiveness and Reconciliation
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The mercy we do others, such as patience and forgiveness, is often a mercy we do to ourselves as well – and the mercy we do not do usually only adds to our woes.
When I was growing up, some of the neighborhood kids had bicycles, but many of us did not. A friend of mine very much wanted to be one of those who had his own bike. His family, like the others in the neighborhood, worked very hard to meet the mortgage payments, see that we were well fed and clothed, keep us in school, raise us in the faith and teach us to know right from wrong. My friend’s parents provided a good home – but a bicycle was a luxury they simply could not afford.
When my friend learned he could not have a bike, his disappointment and sadness became resentment. Before long he started griping how mean and bad his family was. When word got around, his brothers and sisters were stunned and, though they never showed it, I am sure his mom and dad were very hurt.
The misdirected anger of this young boy led to his growing apart from his family and while the grudge he held might have faded as he grew up, the strain was never really resolved. When I met my friend at his dad’s funeral decades later, he had tears in his eyes when we prayed for his father. How many times over and over again had he said to himself what he said that day: “Why did I let my hurt over a bike wound something very beautiful in my family?”
My friend realized what his pointless and lingering anger had done. His dad had never reproached him, although I am sure he shed many tears because of it. The situation had taken its toll on the trust, the affection, the understanding and love in a family that was struggling through life together.
This tale and similar personal stories that you perhaps could tell are, in a sense, object lessons for the Jubilee of Mercy. Born into the fallen human condition, we are all limited. There will always be the temptation to be angry about something that went wrong, did not turn out the way we would like, or left us disappointed. There will always be times when we disagree with someone. That disagreement, disappointment or resentment – which can often be about something small and insignificant in the greater scheme of things – might be directed towards family or friends or maybe the Church or even God himself.
Sometimes discontent is nurtured and it grows into estrangement. Years may then pass before friends or family members see or speak to one another or since someone has last been to church. The result, they ultimately realize, is only more pain as well as regret.
Yet there are other stories I and you could tell. People who have suffered horrific wrong will tell you the only way they were able to move past it was to forgive. Many people who have seen their families murdered, people who were held captive and tortured, victims of human trafficking and others have given us the valuable witness of forgiveness, forgiving even those who did such evil to them.
The Jubilee of Mercy which concludes tomorrow was given us to remind us of the blessing of forgiveness. Whatever the cause of the wound, real or perceived, and the anger, justified or not, whether it originally involved something petty or something grave, this Holy Year has been a time to hear again and take to heart the wise counsel and impassioned plea of the Lord and his Church to shake off old resentments and to heal wounds of long ago.
Pope Francis acknowledges, “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully. Let us therefore heed the Apostle’s exhortation: ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9, quoting Ephesians 4:26).
Patience and forgiveness can be difficult, but the Holy Spirit will help us if we only ask. If we have already let go of past grievances – and maybe do not even remember what caused the separation – we should not allow embarrassment or not knowing what to say prevent us from patching things up. So long as we are on this earth, it is not too late in particular to turn to the Lord in Confession and let him put his loving arms around you.
Long ago, something happened that led to division between humanity and God and one another. That something was sin. Since that time, God’s plan in salvation history, the birth and Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, and now the Jubilee of Mercy have sought to reconcile and repair those rifts between people and God and each other. At the center of it all is forgiveness.