May 6, 2005


The Church is the home of forgiveness

The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI , in Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, 1996).

In the prayer that Jesus taught us (the Lord’s Prayer), we ask our Father not only to forgive our sins, but also to help us forgive those who have sinned against us. We pray for the ability to forgive because we know that it does not come easily.

Forgiveness restores broken relationships—in marriage and family life, in our neighborhoods and parish communities, in our archdiocese and the universal Church, and in the tensions among nations that can shatter our hopes for peace in the world. When we forgive those who have wronged us, we move beyond ourselves and the hurts or injustices done to us—however real these may be—to restore the relationships of love, friendship and true community that make unity and peace possible. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI , forgiveness “banishes chaos” because it restores harmony and creates solidarity among people who might otherwise be consumed with hatred or the desire for revenge.

Today’s Church, like the Church in every age, is “a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness.” We know that we are not what we have been called to be. As individuals, and as communities of faith, we have failed in our witness to Christ. We have neglected the poor and the vulnerable. We have been self-centered and ­indifferent to the needs of others (whether spiritual, emotional or physical). We have judged others, held grudges and been intolerant. We have not prayed enough or served enough or said “thank you” enough. We have clung to material possessions. We are sinners in need of forgiveness—to banish the chaos in our lives and restore us to a right relationship with God and with one another.

Pope Benedict XVI tells us that we, who are the Church, are “held together by forgiveness.” This means that we have a solemn obligation to seek forgiveness for our individual and social sins and, then, to forgive others as God forgives us. We might say that we are called to be stewards of the mercy of God, who are called to accept the forgiveness of our sins gratefully and to share this gift generously with others. Perhaps if we recognize God’s mercy for the precious gift that it is, we will be less likely to take it for granted or to abuse its power.

Imagine what might result from a sudden and unexpected outpouring of mercy and forgiveness in our world. Fewer marriages would fail. More estranged people would be reconciled to their families and their Church. Divisions in our neighborhoods, our parishes and our archdiocese would heal. Our political and theological discussions would be more respectful (and more productive). Vengeance and warfare would be unnecessary. Peace and harmony would be real and lasting.

Let’s work at being a more forgiving people, a more merciful Church. Let’s look to Peter, “the perpetual living reminder of this truth,” and remember that we are a community of sinners called to witness to the saving power of God’s mercy.  

— Daniel Conwa y

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)  

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