"Forgive Us Our Trespasses..."

The fifth petition of the Our Father – “…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” – must be recognized by anyone, Christian or not, as a profoundly important idea. Christ’s instruction on forgiveness, writes Pope Benedict, “presupposes a world in which there is trespass – trespass of men in relation to other men, trespass in relation to God. Every instance of trespass among men involves some kind of injury to truth and to love and is thus opposed to God, who is truth and love.” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 157) What a simple yet overwhelming conclusion this is; in a nutshell, it identifies both the role of God as Creator and Father, and the role of humanity as called to love God and seek His truth. But, alas, sin pervades the world, and so God must give us a model not only of love, but of forgiveness as well.

“‘Forgiveness’ is a theme that pervades the entire Gospel. We meet it at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount…You cannot come into God’s presence unreconciled with your brother; anticipating him in the gesture of reconciliation, going out to meet him, is the prerequisite for true worship of God. In so doing, we should keep in mind that God himself – knowing that we human beings stood against him, unreconciled – stepped out of his divinity [in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ] in order to come toward us, to reconcile us.” (p. 158)

“If we want to understand this petition fully and make it our own,” Benedict writes, “we must go one step further and ask: What is forgiveness, really?...[F]orgiveness must be more than a matter of ignoring, of merely trying to forget. Guilt must be worked through, healed, and thus overcome. Forgiveness exacts a price – first of all from the person who forgives. He must overcome within himself the evil done to him; he must, as it were, burn it interiorly and in so doing renew himself. As a result, he also involves the other…and both parties, suffering all the way through and overcoming evil, are made new. At this point, we encounter the mystery of Christ’s Cross,” (pp. 158-9) and it is exactly this final point that makes Christian forgiveness so unique. Forgiveness – real forgiveness – is not within the power of the human person; it is too great a task. Instead, if we truly desire to forgive, we are obligated to participate in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which fulfills what is lacking in our own ability to forgive. In this way, we truly participate fully in our role as member in the mystical Body of Christ, and grow ever closer to the Father, to whom the Our Father is directed.