A reflection from Father Richard Rohr
When all is said and done, the gospel comes down to forgiveness. I’d say it’s the whole gospel. It’s the beginning, the middle, and the end. People who know how to forgive have known how good it feels to be forgiven, not when they deserved it, but precisely when they didn’t deserve it.
If we’re Christian, we‘ve probably said the “Our Father” ten thousand times. The words just slip off our tongues: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” By saying this prayer, we’ve asked and prayed for forgiveness. Notice the full correlation between how we give and how we receive: “Forgive us as we forgive.” They’re the same movement. We need to know that we need mercy, we need understanding, and then we also need to know how to give it. Each flows with the energy of the other.
I have often found people in 12-step programs or in jail who were quite forgiving of other people’s faults because they’d hit the bottom. They knew how much it hurt to hurt. They knew how terrible it is to hate yourself and to accuse yourself. When someone with a generous heart and a loving spirit entered their lives and forgave them, it was like being reborn. Someone else loves a part of me that I can’t love myself! They just taught me how to do it!
I remember when I was jail chaplain in Albuquerque, I would read in the newspaper the stories of criminals in our city and I would form an opinion about how terrible they were. Years ago, a young woman committed murder to steal a baby. Everybody in the city hated her, I think. I went to the jail the very next day, and they told me that she wanted to see a priest.
I didn’t want to go in the cell because I knew I wouldn’t like her. I knew I would judge her because I’d already judged her. I can’t tell the whole story, but I will share this much: when I left that cell, I had nothing but tears and sympathy for the suffering of that young woman.
You see, the One who knows all can forgive all. But all we know is a little piece—the part that has offended us. Only God knows all, and so God is the One who can forgive all.
If we’re honest, none of us have lived the gospel. None of us have loved as we could love, or as we have been loved by God. I talk about it from the pulpit much better than I live it. And yet that very recognition—that I have not yet lived love—allows me to stand under the waterfall of infinite mercy. It’s only then that I know how to let mercy flow through me freely. That I receive it undeservedly allows me to give it undeservedly.
The words of Father Richard Rohr