WE are all familiar with the Lord’s Prayer or the “Our Father.” It’s the prayer Christ told his apostles when they asked him to teach them how to pray. Since it contains all the basic elements and purposes of prayer, it is considered the model prayer. Our personal prayers should reflect at least some aspects of this paradigmatic prayer.
A part of it is most relevant in guiding us in our relationship with one another. It’s when Christ said, “Forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us.”
As if to underscore the importance of this point, Christ reiterated: “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Mt 6,14-15) It’s clear therefore that we can only be forgiven if we also forgive others.
We have to be clear that his injunction is meant for everyone, and not only for a few whom we may consider to be religiously inclined. That’s why when asked how many times we should forgive, he said not only seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning always.
That’s also why he easily forgave the woman caught in adultery. And to those whom he cured of their illnesses, it was actually the forgiveness of their sins that he was more interested in.
To top it all, Christ allowed himself to die on the cross as a way to forgive all of our sins, and to convert our sins through his resurrection as a way to our own redemption. What he did for us he also expects, nay, commands that we also do for everybody else.
Thus that indication that if we want to follow him, we have to deny ourselves, carry the cross and follow him.
It is presumed that all of us sin one way or another. That’s why St. John said: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1,8) I am sure that our personal experience can bear that out easily.
No matter how saintly we try ourselves to be, sin always manages to come in because of our wounded humanity and the many temptations within and around us. As St. John said, we have to contend with three main enemies: our own wounded flesh, the devil and the world corrupted by sin.
The awareness of this truth is not meant to depress us but rather to keep us humble and always feeling in need of God. We should be wary when we would just depend solely on our own resources to tackle this predicament. We need God.
The awareness of this truth should also help us to develop the attitude to forgive one another as quickly as possible, since that is the only way we can be forgiven. When we find it hard to forgive others, it is a clear sign that we are full of ourselves, are self-righteous, proud and vain.
We have to continually check on our attitude towards others because today’s dominant culture is filled precisely by the viruses of self-righteousness, that feeling that we are superior to others, etc. We have to do constant battle against that culture.
That’s why we need to douse immediately any flame of pride and egoism that can come to us anytime. We have to learn to understand others, to accept them as they are, warts and all, while praying and doing whatever we can to help them. It’s not for us to judge their motives which will always be a mystery to us.
In fact, as St. Paul once said, we have to consider others as always better than us. Only peace and harmony can result with such attitude. The abuses that can arise will soon be overcome if we are consistent with this attitude.
We should not fall into the trap of putting justice and mercy in conflict. Both have to go together. Their distinction does not mean they are opposed to each other. Any appearance of conflict is only apparent.
But obviously the way to blend them together is to follow the example of Christ, and not just to rely on our own lights, no matter how brilliant these lights may appear. We can always forgive, and forgive from the heart, even if the requirements of justice still have to be met.
We need to be clear about the intimate relationship between justice and mercy. One cannot go without the other.