The fifth Call of the Message: I ask Your pardon
Immediately after the call to charity, the Message speaks to us of forgiveness, urging us to ask God’s pardon for our brothers and sisters and also for ourselves; for those who do not believe and for those who do; for those who do not adore and for those who bow down in worship before God; for those who do not hope and for those who have every confidence; for those who do not love and for those who practice charity.
The fact is that we all need to obtain God’s pardon: for our lack of faith, which is often so fragile, for our hope which is often so weak, for our charity which is often so cold and insensitive, and for our adoration, which is often so languid. We ask pardon for those who do not believe, for those who do not adore, for those who do not hope and for those who do not love; and very often we ourselves are among this number!
For this reason, in what we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus Christ taught us to ask: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). As we see, we cannot obtain God’s pardon unless we ourselves first forgive our brothers and sisters. It follows that we must not harbor resentment, ill-will, dislike, and still less a desire to avenge any offence, whether great or small, that one or other of our neighbors may have committed against us. Our forgiveness must be generous, complete and self-sacrificing, in the sense of overcoming ourselves. It will be necessary to silence within us the cry of revolt, to calm excited nerves, to keep a firm grasp on the reins of our own temper and keep a lid on the heat of our wounded self-love which, whether rightly or wrongly, feels bruised and irritated.
It is in just such circumstances that we are called upon to forgive our neighbor when he or she comes to ask our pardon: “So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent” (Mt 5:23-25).
These words of Jesus show us that God wants both forgiveness and reconciliation, and it is only thus that our offering, our prayer and our sacrifice will be pleasing to God and accepted by Him. Our forgiveness must be generous, sincere and from the heart, and also clearly manifested so that God can forgive us, too, in the same way. This is what our Divine Master teaches us: “Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either” (Mt 6:14-15). In view of these words of Jesus, our forgiveness of our neighbor is indispensable if we ourselves are to receive pardon from God. Hence it is that the Message instructs us to ask God’s pardon for our brothers and sisters and for ourselves.
God is merciful and is always ready to forgive us, as soon as He sees in us our own repentance and desire of amendment, that is, when He sees that we are sorry, that we have changed our way of life, turning away from the path of sin to embark on the path of grace. The Lord said to Saint Mary Magdalen: “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Then addressing Himself to the Pharisee who had strong suspicions as to what kind of woman she was, and reservations about the kindness and understanding with which Jesus had welcomed her, Jesus said: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Lk 7:47). The Lord saw in Magdalen’s eyes the tears that were coursing down her cheeks; He saw in her hair and in the ointment with which she anointed Him her contempt for the vanities of this world and her resolve to change her way of life; He saw in her heart the pain and sorrow with the resolution to amend her life … so He said to her: “Woman, your sins are forgiven.”
When she saw Jesus, Magdalen believed in Him and loved Him. It was this faith and this love that caused her to hate sin, to weep over and despise the vanities of the world, and to change her way of life. And the Lord was pleased with all this, saying: “Many sins have been forgiven her for she loved much. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” It is faith and love which will cause us, too, to hate our sins, to be sorry for them and to change our way of life, so that God may say to us as He said to Mary Magdalen: “Your sins have been forgiven.”
To the woman taken in adultery, Jesus said: “‘Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord'” (Jn 8:10-11). The Lord saw in the woman’s heart her sorrow and her desire to change her way of life; hence He promises not to condemn her and grants her forgiveness, on condition, however, that she does not sin again: “Go and do not sin again.”
It was from the same point of view that Jesus addressed the people who were content with seeming to be good in the eyes of others without bothering whether they were or not in the eyes of God who, through his messengers, was constantly calling on them to repent and change their way of life. Turning to them, He spoke to them about the many others who, like the woman taken in adultery, repent, change their way of life and do penance: “The harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Mt 21:31).
It is true that the Jews were accustomed to offer sacrifices to God for their sins, offering up animals as victims; but they did not understand the precept of charity, above all in relation to the poor and the outcast, orphans and widows, whom they often left without justice or help, while for themselves they begged Heaven for help and justice. God’s reply, however, was as follows: “Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away…. my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:4-6). Indeed, how can an external sacrifice be pleasing to God unless we offer Him the interior sacrifice of forgiveness granted to others? It is because that act of virtue is so little understood that Jesus tells us in the Gospel: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'” (Mt 9:13). We really need to learn this: to understand fully that it is mercy and the forgiveness of others that must well up out of our hearts as the fruit of the love we owe to God and to our neighbor for the love of God, as love wells up out of the heart of God for us.
One day, St Peter asked Jesus how many times he was to forgive his brother: “‘As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven'” (Mt 18:21-22). In other words, we must always forgive.
This article is an excerpt from Sr. Lucia’s “Calls” from the Message of Fatima, Secretariado dos Pastorinhos, Fatima, distributed by Ravengate Press.