John 12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
The power of forgiveness. We hear about it, we know about it, and most of us have experienced it. Those of us who take advantage of frequent confession—especially if we are prodigal children returned to the embrace of our Father—know very well the power of forgiveness and what it has meant in our own lives. But have we reciprocated that gratuitous gift to others? This is something we must examine ourselves thoroughly on, for it is one of the criteria we will be judged on and it is the true sign of a humble, contrite, and grateful heart.
Every day people cause us grief, just as we cause grief to others. Our fallen natures ensure that we have plenty of opportunities to practice the virtue of forgiveness. Often there are two sides to the story, but sometimes we are viciously attacked seemingly without cause. It is easy to credit this to the evil one. Yet, it is good to remember that for his own reasons, Our Lord has allowed this attack to happen. This is worth pondering, because God often uses such trials to strengthen us in virtue. With every lash of the whip we endure, we should practice saying with our Lord, “Father, do not hold this sin against them.” Seventy times seven times. “Father do not hold this sin against them.” This does not mean that we are doormats and let others abuse us without consequence. People must be accountable for their actions. However, in our hearts we must say with the Lord, “Father, do not hold this sin against them on account of me. For my part I have forgiven them.”
St. Monica is a worthy example of long-suffering forgiveness. Her husband, Patricius, a pagan, was violent and licentious. His cantankerous mother also lived with them giving St. Monica even more opportunity to practice forgiveness. We hear often of how the tears and prayers of St. Monica led to the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. But her charity and prayer also made converts of her husband and mother-in-law. Mercifully her husband converted one year before he died. St. Monica is a worthy example of someone who died daily to self, actions which bore abundant fruit in both time and in eternity. God be praised!
But she’s a saint, you may be thinking. Are we ordinary sinners called to the same level of virtue? The answer is—YES! If we feel unable to accomplish this, let us begin as they do in training camp—with little things. If we build spiritual muscle in the little things, then when the big things come, we will find they are not so big and heavy as they would have seemed had we not been training ourselves in virtue.
Forgiving those who trespass against us is a beautiful way to die daily to self, as we read in the above Scripture passage. This passage also ties in very well with the BSP rule. Certainly we penitents are called daily to die to self in order to bear fruit, fruit that will last. And what better fruit than the fruit of forgiveness born of a contrite heart filled with gratitude at the forgiveness it has received.
Often we underestimate the power of forgiveness in the one we forgive. As we forgive the one who trespasses against us, we unbind them and give them the ability to break away from the power of sin that has them bound. In forgiving them we are working towards their freedom and salvation as well as our own. Perhaps we will not see the fruits personally in our lifetime. After all, the seed that has died has no idea how much fruit if any will be born from its passing. So, too we penitents are not called to look for results but to daily look only for new ways to die to self.
May we ever look for ways to practice the virtue of forgiveness, to loosen the chains that bind others as well as ourselves, in order to free those held captive by sin. In that way, like St. Monica, we will bear fruit both in time and in eternity.