Forgive and Set Ourselves Free
By Father Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose, and Vicar General for Special Projects, Diocese of San Jose.
Corrie wasn’t quite prepared for the moment when she would meet the person whom she had so often thought of; the guard at the Nazi concentration camp that had been brought to trial. Now she was called to testify. She was ready with so much hatred and vengeance inside her heart; she was ready for this event, or so she thought. When he stood before her and their eyes met, he reached out his hands and asked a simple question: “Will you please forgive me?”
She was overwhelmed because she had remembered so much abuse ; the humiliation, the starvation and all the hatred. Just then a little voice came from inside, from Jesus saying, “Forgive him.” So she reached out her hands. Their hands met. Their eyes met. And she said, “I will forgive you.”
She spoke of that moment as the moment that transformed her life. A peace came over her body that she had never experienced before. She wrote about that occasion: “Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things in the world; it is like you set a prisoner free and then realize that prisoner is yourself.”
Often we hold onto judgments of others and the hurts of ourselves and we become consumed with unforgiveness. Today’s Gospel is yet again another powerful story of God’s outrageous mercy and forgiveness.
The core of the story in today’s Gospel is about God’s forgiveness and our need to recognize our own need for forgiveness. The adulterous woman was placed in the middle of the crowd: she would have been lightly clad if anything at all; nobody had her back; there was nowhere to hide; she was in front of all waiting to be stoned to death. She was exposed in all ways; her whole life before her.
They tried to put Jesus in the conundrum of doing or saying something that they could later use to trap him. Jesus always finds a way out and reminds them that they are not without sin themselves. “Go ahead, the one who is without sin, throw the first stone.” In other words, if we expect God to forgive us then we must forgive one another. It is not that he condones her sin; he tells her, “Go and sin no more.”
It seems that the one person whom we all struggle to forgive the most is ourselves. We cannot give to others what we have not received ourselves.
Can we allow God’s overwhelming, outrageous mercy and love to heal our own wounds; to touch that part of our heart that is broken; that part that is wounded and bleeding from something that we may have done or said or that we allowed to happen in our life and we regret it; and to allow God’s forgiveness to heal our wounds? It is only from there, from that healed broken heart, that we can then genuinely offer the door of mercy to others. May we, like Corey ten Boom, set ourselves free for we are the prisoners of our own unforgiveness.