A Reflection on Forgiveness:
Forgiveness is an individual act. But it is also a communal mission, in which we all share as members of the Church, as the continuation of
Christ’s human presence on earth. With Saint Paul we are “ambassadors of Christ.” God, he wrote, has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; …entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17- 21).
What is this ministry of reconciliation? Besides being the proclamation of God’s forgiveness to individual persons, it is also the work of bringing individuals and ethnic groups, different races and nations, into unity of mind and heart with each other. It is the work of peace.
with those around us. We make this gesture in the act of asking Jesus to grant us the peace and unity of his kingdom. It is a gesture which says we are opening ourselves to the grace of God at work on earth, bringing acceptance, unity and harmony to the whole human race. It is a promise to accept Christ’s peace for ourselves and to extend that peace to others —not just to those present in church, but to the whole world.
The peace of Christ is what Paul described as the goal of Christ’s coming to earth: Jesus came to bring everything in heaven and on earth together into unity in himself, to reconcile everything to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross (see Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20). The peace of Christ is that loving union of all people with each other and with God that can only be realized in the communion of the Holy Spirit. It is made visible when all the members of the Church are united with God and with one another in the act of receiving the Eucharist at Mass.
Receiving Communion is a commitment, a dedication, to working for peace. The Church emphasizes this by inviting us to offer a Sign of Peace to the Body of Christ present around us before we receive the Body of Christ in Communion. The Sign of Peace expresses more than friendship, even more than reconciliation.
Peace is not an accomplished fact but a process. The “peace of Christ” is the presence of the Spirit in our hearts, working to perfect our reconciliation with God and with one another. The peace of Christ is the “ministry of recon- ciliation” to which every member of the Church is dedicated by Baptism. When Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27), he is giving us a gift. But it is a gift like life, a gift to be used in action.
In The Scent of Jasmine, Sister Patricia McCarthy, C.N.D., writes: “Every gift from God carries its own responsibility. God’s gifts are free but they draw us into the experience of love and the need for response. With [the sacraments], we are drawn into the process of forgiveness. And forgiveness is a process, not a feeling. To enter into this process is to enter into continual con- version. Forgiveness requires faith, effort and determination. We acknowledge our need for forgiveness, we believe God forgives us, and we accept the obligation to forgive others. Throughout our lives we live this cycle of forgiveness as a never-ending process.”
Jesus tells us that the man who would not forgive was “handed over to the torturers.” As long as we cling to anger in our hearts and look for revenge—against individuals, groups or nations—we choose the torture which our own hearts inflict on us. We prefer the torture that racial and ethnic divisions bring to society. We can cling to torture—or we can work for peace.