“How many times

..shall I forgive,” said Peter to Jesus, “seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Today’s Mass reading from Matthew (18: 21-35)touched my heart deeply.

This is a tough passage in a world riddled with revenge. Why are we so bent on punishing others for what we perceive as an infraction? A misunderstanding? A mistake? Or a difference of opinion?

I see social media lighting up over missteps by those in power, by words spoken in haste, by those who committed an infraction or a crime.  We believe in forgiveness-for ourselves. But not so much for others.

We preach peace, love and tolerance, yet are we these things? We hold signs, we picket, we sign petitions stating that our values surpass those who don’t share our opinion. We don’t speak anymore, but rather, when things don’t go our way, we resort to name calling, violence and shunning.  So clearly do I recall the childhood rhyme we’d yell to the tormenting bullies on the playground, “Sticks and stones make break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”

Yes they can. As a survivor of childhood domestic abuse–the beatings were always much easier than the degradation. My bruises healed long ago, but the words still pierce my heart and I have struggled to redefine myself. It’s so difficult, especially when others imprison you in the labels of your past and choose not to see that you are not and never were what they thought.

The book of Sirach 28:2-4 says, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice, then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the Lord?  Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins? 

How many times have we recited The Lord’s Prayer? Do we say the words without thinking or do we languish on every word, let the meaning soak into our souls?  Try it, slowly, methodically–and when you come to these words, stop after each one.

Forgive. us. our. trespasses. as. we. forgive. those. who. trespass. against. us.

If we cannot truly mean every word, then please, stop praying this prayer until you can.

It took a long time for me to transition from vengeance to forgiveness and mercy.  But in order to grow, in order to truly follow the Innocent One who laid His life down for me and my sins, I had to forgive seventy-seven times.

Forgiveness is an daily hourly choice, but so very important. I want mercy. I want to be merciful.  The only way to reach metanoia is to bring our sufferings to the Cross and give Jesus our pain. And if we truly want to be Christ-like, we have to let go of our pain and forgive those who hurt us. If we can crack open our hearts to receive His grace, we can show others the tender and merciful gift of love that we have been given.

Remember your mercies, O Lord…..Psalm 25