Friday, December 2, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent (Matthew 3:1-12) No Christmas without repentance



How would you feel if you got a Christmas card that read like this: 
Our thoughts of you this Christmas are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist, 'You brood of Vipers! The axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.'
Happy Christmas from Fr. Murchadh."

I suppose we would add Fr. Murchadh, or whoever sent it, to our list of x-friends!

Advent has really become the time of getting ready for Christmas in the sense of buying the gifts we want to give, going to office parties, etc, but this is quite different from the original message. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus and his message was pretty strong. ‘Repent, confess your sins, change your lives and look for happiness in the right place, that is, in God.’ This is the part of preparing for Christmas that is easy to overlook. We want the celebration of Christmas, but we don’t necessarily want to have to repent. Just leave us alone and let us celebrate. We want absolution, but without having to confess. We want the love and blessing of God without having to follow the commandments. We want faith on our terms. That is called ‘cheap grace’. It is empty and it is not the message of God.

The message of God is a wonderful one, but is also a very demanding one. We can not come and pick what we like. Instead we come and ask what is required of us. That is what the people who came to John asked: ‘What must we do?’ To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower. It is understandable that we are not used to thinking this way, because our world encourages us to make sure things are as we would like them. If you’re not happy, move on, but this is not the message of the Gospels. In the Gospel we listen to what it is that God asks of us. We follow God on God’s terms and not our terms. 

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman. He was totally focused on God. He knew what was important and he simply passed on the message he was told to pass on, but it cost him his life. He was beheaded by Herod for speaking the truth. We don’t always want to hear the truth because it is often demanding and challenges us to change. We want to be able to celebrate Christmas and so we should, but if we are serious about celebrating Christmas as a Christian feast, then let us not forget the message of John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ ‘God is coming: get ready.’ The term ‘repent’ can also mean ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ That is a particularly powerful message at this time in history. So many people are looking for happiness in the world, but now so much has collapsed and many have been bitterly disappointed and left with a feeling that all is gone. However, the Lord is telling us to turn to him for happiness. It is only in God that we will find true happiness. The world will disappoint us; God will not.

It’s interesting that the sin of Adam and Eve, was a very similar sin to what we see going on today. It involved three things: rejecting the idea that they had to serve God or listen to his commands; that they could have everything they wanted on their terms and that they were like God themselves. That’s very similar to what we see going on in our world right now and it is a temptation for all of us. We don’t like to think we have to be obedient to anyone. Why should we have to obey commandments? The challenge for us is to acknowledge that we are God’s creation and that we must obey what He tells us if we are to find the path to happiness. The challenge for all of us is to be faithful to that.
  
The most important preparation we can make for Christmas is the interior preparation, the change of heart, the confession of sins. And yes, most of us don’t like to have to confess our sins, we think we shouldn’t have to, but this is what God asks us to do. The celebration of Christmas is meaningless if we skip the kind of preparation that God asks us to make and sadly for many people it has become meaningless. It doesn’t have to be meaningless, because it is the celebration of something very wonderful, the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus. The Lord is still waiting to come to each of us: 
I stand at the door and knock. If anyone here’s my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in and sit down to eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20) 




Those words are from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and this message is repeated all through the Bible in different ways. The Lord wants to be at the centre of what we do, but we are the only ones who can allow that to happen.
Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand.’



Saturday, November 26, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A (Gospel: Mt 24:37-44)




I always think it’s great that we celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter when the weather is often the most miserable (unless you are in Florida where I am at the moment!). Outside it is usually dark, cold and wet. Then we begin to light candles and put up colored lights and decorations to remind us of the coming of our King. It is a time of great hope and hopefully also a time that will bring joy. ‘Advent’—which simply means ‘coming’—is meant to be a time of preparing for two things: we are preparing for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and we are also remembering that Christ will come again at the end of time. Each Sunday in the Creed we say that, ‘He will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ We don’t know when that will be, but we believe that it will happen. The Lord asks us to ‘stay awake’ and not to forget him, because none of us know when we will die, but the important thing is that we do not forget the Lord, who loves us and who created us. And so each Christmas we remember that Jesus came among us, for us, to help us, to teach us about God, about the world to come, and above all to die for us so that we can join in the happiness of God when we die ourselves.

The best way that we can prepare ourselves is in the heart, by trying to give time to God and being open to what He wants to say to us. The Lord is constantly speaking to us but often we are not listening because we are too busy or distracted. People sometimes ask me if God speaks to me. Yes God speaks to me all the time, but not through visions or voices. It's usually through other people or through the Scriptures. It took me quite a while to learn how to listen so that I might hear what God is saying to me. Advent is a good time to try and listen again and hear what the Lord has to say to us. That is why the readings are about getting ready for the one who is coming, and not being so distracted by the world around us that we forget him.

One thing that is characteristic of the Gospels is that they are full of hope. The message of God to us—the Good News—is always one of hope and it is certainly something we need in a world where we are constantly hearing of so many terrible things happening around us. However, we don't hear of all the wonderful things that are constantly happening around us: the many acts of kindness that people continually do for each other, looking out for each other especially when we are struggling. This is the Spirit at work in us and this is what makes the world bearable, in spite of the awful things that happen.


In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is telling us that while we get on with the ordinary things of everyday life—eating, drinking, marrying, working—we must not forget the bigger things. It is a warning to us never to become so immersed in time and the things of the world, that we forget eternity. Even though the worldly affairs are important, we must not let them distract us from the reality of God; the reality that we will die, that life and death are in his hands, and that whenever He does come for us, He must find us ready.

In one sense we can never be ready enough for God. How do you prepare to meet God? And yet this is what God has created us for and we believe it will be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams, if we have made any effort to be ready.

Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes, of two people doing the same thing, one will be taken the other left. What does this mean? It means that although both people were doing the same ordinary things that we all have to do, one of them had not forgotten about God, but the other had; the one who had forgotten got left behind.




If we get totally immersed in the world, or in our families, or in our work, then we have missed what it is about, because there is much more to our life than this. 
As you well know it is often when someone becomes seriously ill, or dies, that we suddenly start realizing how much we have become immersed in the world. We do have to get on with the day to day things of working and living, but we are being told to make sure that we also make time for God. 

I think a good recipe for a ‘happy’ Christmas,  is to keep it simple and spend some time coming up to Christmas remembering what it is about. Even go to mass once a week, or spend a few minutes in a church every few days. That way we will remember what we are celebrating.

The Angel said to the shepherds: do not be afraid. 
I bring you news of great joy.
Today in the town of David
a Saviour has been born for you;
He is Christ the Lord.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King (Luke 23:35-43) Power in weakness





In the book of the Apocalypse (also known as Revelations) Saint John at one stage has a vision of a being that terrifies him. He describes what he saw like this:
…I saw one like a Son of man…His head and his hair were white with the whiteness of wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze…out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force (Rev 1:13-16).

John writes that he was so afraid when he saw this being that he fell down as if dead, but then the being in the vision touched him and said: ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and look—I am alive for ever and ever and I hold the keys of death and the underworld’ (Rev 1:17-18). 

Who was this being? It was of course Jesus, the one that John had lived with for three years. Why would Jesus who was so close to John, appear to him in this terrifying form? Probably to remind John and us, who He is; not just the Jesus whose name we carelessly throw around as a swear word, but Jesus who is Son of God, who will come to judge the living and the dead. This is the one we believe in. When we die we will all come before him face to face and all people of every religion will understand who He is and what He has done for us.




At the moment we are seeing huge changes in the world around us. So much earthly power which seemed to be untouchable has collapsed over night. In many ways it is a very disturbing, even frightening time, but I think that we need to remember who it is we believe in and who it is we put our trust in. If we put our trust and hope in earthly power we will be disappointed, as we know only too well, because people will let us down. If we rely too much on the human side of our Church we will be disappointed, as we have been, but the one we trust in and believe in, is Jesus Christ who is God. All things are in his power and all things are completely subject to him. Sometimes you get the impression especially from Hollywood, that the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan, is an equal one. It is not. There is no question of evil being equal to God. All things are subject to God and I think we need to be reminded of that.

As a priest I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the one I worship as God and try to serve. If I stay focused on the world around me I find myself getting depressed or disillusioned. Also if I spend too much time worrying about the state of the Church I also find it hard to keep going, but the Lord keeps reminding me that He is the one I need to stay focused on, because He is the one in charge. He is master of all things. What we have seen happening in the Church over the last few years is the work of his power purifying his Church, because He loves us and will not allow his people to continue with poison festering under the skin. So He allows his Church to be purified and renewed, which is what we have seen happening. I have no doubt that what is happening in the world is also a kind of melt-down which God is allowing which will bring many people back to him. Nothing like a crisis to focus the mind!




People who have a certain amount of power like to show it off and make it felt. People who are really powerful don’t seem to feel the need to show it off. But God who is all-powerful, goes one step further and shows his power in weakness. This is an extraordinary thing and something we find very difficult to get our heads around.

The greatest demonstration of God’s power was shown to us in the death of Jesus on the cross. The Lord God did the exact opposite to what we would do and showed his power by not doing anything; by appearing to be a failure. So the people laughed at him and mocked him, not realising that what they looked at was a demonstration of the power of God. This is why we use the symbol of the cross and why it is so powerful. This is also why Satan hates the symbol of the cross, because it is a symbol of the extraordinary power of God and it is a reminder of the event that broke the power of sin and death. 
St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians says,
We are preaching Christ crucified; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jew or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:22).

What the power of Jesus on the cross also shows us is that in the bleakest and darkest situations of pain and suffering, loneliness and abandonment, Christ is there with us, in his strength. We are never alone no matter what we are going through. God is with us.
Jesus Christ is our king, the most powerful king on earth. If we accept him as our king, we also share in his power, but it is not a power as we understand it and this is where many people find it hard to accept. We want something that we can see and touch. We want to know that we are important and that our King is the greatest of all. But God in his wisdom knows that this isn’t the most important kind of power.
If Jesus is Lord and God as we say we believe He is, then we have nothing to be afraid of.
Every being in heaven, on earth and under the earth,
shall bend the knee at the name of Jesus;
and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).


Thursday, November 10, 2016

33rd Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19) Why do we remember people in each mass?





The greatest thing I can do as a priest, is to bring the Eucharist to you in each mass and offer the forgiveness of sins through confession. There is nothing greater than this for any priest and this is basically what a priest’s life is about. Naturally it will involve a lot of other things too, such as visiting the sick, praying with people, hopefully being a ‘sign-post’ to God in some way, but above all it is to bring the Eucharist to people.

But why do we need to have the mass? Couldn’t we just celebrate mass once a month and then receive Holy Communion every week without a priest? Well we could if we didn’t have enough priests to celebrate the mass, but it is not the same thing for different reasons. It is not just about receiving Holy Communion, although this clearly is the most important part for us.


Every time a priest celebrates the mass, it is Jesus who is working through him on the altar. We say that the priest is alter Christus, ‘another Christ’. I am still a human being and a sinner, but Jesus acts through me as a priest in a unique way, especially when I celebrate the mass. That is why the priest always reads the Gospel, because they are the words of Christ, so it is like Jesus himself is speaking his own words to us, through the person of the priest.


Then at the consecration, when the priest says ‘This is my body which will be given up for you,’ we are present to Jesus being offered to God the Father on the cross.  We are there. We are looking at it, but all we can see is a man holding up a small white piece of unleavened bread. So why doesn’t God clearly show this to us? At least then everyone would believe. Perhaps it is because God wants us to believe, even though we do not understand. That’s what faith is. He wants us to come here and pray, even though we don’t have to.


The mass is also the most perfect prayer there is, the one offering that cannot be refused, since God the Father could not refuse the offering of his Son, which is why we offer up so many things in each mass. We pray for the whole Church, the pope, bishops all of us here, those who are sick and have different needs, those who have died and we often mention someone in particular by name as well.


Like anything else we become familiar with it and take it for granted, but can you imagine if you weren’t familiar with what it was and someone said to you, ‘You have to come down to this place where the Christians have this extraordinary meeting each week. Jesus comes among them in what they call the Eucharist and He speaks to them through the Scriptures and then they actually receive the Body and Blood of Jesus!’ That is what the mass is. That’s what happens every time we come together.


In the year 170AD a man called Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Emperor describing what the Christians were about and what happened at each mass, as people were very suspicious about them especially when they heard about eating the Body and Blood of a man. But in his account of the mass back then, 1800 years ago, he describes almost exactly what we still do today, including the collection! It hasn’t changed because it came from Jesus and not from us.


At this time of the year we focus especially on the dead and we pray for them with the greatest prayer that we know: the holy sacrifice of the mass. We always come back to it because we don’t know of anything greater. If we had something greater, we would do that instead and even though if is only us Catholics who believe that, it doesn’t matter. It is enough. God has given us this gift of faith and shown us this treasure in his world, and He invites us to come together and pray for his people, and for all the needs of the world, and to remember what He has done for us.


It is because we are important to God that He gives us such an extraordinary gift.  We are not worthy of it, and could never be worthy to receive Holy Communion, but it is God who makes it possible. ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ Jesus wants us to receive him and that’s why He gives himself to us. Praise God for such an extraordinary gift.




Friday, November 4, 2016

32nd Sunday Yr C (Luke 20:27-38) Ragheed Ganni, priest and martyr (1972-2007)




Fr. Ragheed Ganni

A few years ago I got a phone call from a priest friend of mine in the Irish College in Rome where I had studied for three years, to tell me the sad news that a mutual priest friend of ours had been shot dead in Iraq after celebrating mass. He was my next-door neighbour in Rome for a year and a half. He had just celebrated Sunday mass, and was with three other sub-deacons and the wife of one of them. Their car was ambushed, the woman was taken out of the car and the three deacons and Ragheed were shot. The three deacons had given their time to try and protect Fr. Ragheed, as they knew he was in danger. When he was forced out of the car, one of the gunmen screamed at him:

 “I told you to close the church. Why didn’t you do it? Why are you still here?” And he simply responded,

How can I close the house of God?” 


Ragheed was just 34. He is now a martyr of the church. He had studied to be a priest in Rome and spent several summers working in Ireland because it was too dangerous to go back to Iraq, but eventually he decided that it was time for him to go back to his home country as the people needed him. He knew that it would be extremely dangerous and to be honest I wasn’t that surprised when I heard this terrible news. About a year before, he had sent me an email telling me that armed men had come into his house and brought him out at gunpoint and then blown up the church. He sent me a photo of himself standing outside the church and it in flames. Just two weeks before he was shot, on Pentecost Sunday, there had been another bomb attack on the church.

Fr. Ragheed's funeral
 He also told me that over half of his parish had already left, because it was too dangerous. Anyone who could afford it had gone, but the poorer people were still there and the thing that will probably stick with me the most is this: he said that without the Eucharist, the people have nothing. That is why he was prepared to stay, because he believed that the Eucharist was everything, and the people needed this hope and so he was prepared to stay there and risk his life.

Somehow it is when all our material comforts are taken away, that we suddenly realise the importance of having spiritual hope. It is not as obvious to us because we are fairly comfortable and thankfully we can practice our faith freely, but it is not so easy for many people in the world right now. However, often when people are suffering for their faith they are much more tuned in to their need for God, their need for the Eucharist.

Just before the war started in Iraq I asked Ragheed what were his fears for his country. He told me that the problem wasn’t when the US forces moved in, but rather when they would leave again, because then there would be civil war and the Christians would be wiped out. That is exactly what happened. Actually right now on the news we are hearing about the battle to take back Mosul from Isis. Mosul is where he was from. It is the biblical city of Nineveh.

Mosaic in the Irish College which includes a depiction of Fr. Ragheed 
carrying the martyr's palm on the far right

I am not telling you this story about Ragheed’s death to just paint a depressing picture of the terrible things going on in the world, but rather because it reminds me of the enormous treasure that God has given us in the Eucharist and the priesthood and what people will endure because of their hope in God’s promise of life after death. That gives people great inner strength to go through difficulties. We also need to hold onto that hope of the world to come. Hopefully we won’t have to experience that kind of persecution, but even for the ordinary difficulties that we continually face, it makes all the difference if we have the inner strength and hope that our faith gives us. What is that hope? It is the hope that something wonderful awaits us in the world to come if we choose for God. That helps us to keep going, to be faithful, especially when things are difficult.

Today’s readings are about this: religious persecution. In the first reading we hear about a family who are prepared to face torture and death rather than turn their back on their faith in God. And the Gospel Jesus is reminding us that the life after this one is real and worth struggling to reach. People are prepared to die for the mass and for their faith because it is the greatest thing that God has given us. It is what makes sense of why we are here.

As it happens I was in Rome shortly after Ragheed’s death and I was there for a special mass that was celebrated in the Irish College where I studied for three years. It was celebrated by several Iraqi priests, mostly in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke,  and which Ragheed also spoke at home. It was very moving to see several other young priests there from Iraq who could easily face the same fate as my friend Fr. Ragheed.

Irish College Rome where Ragheed studied for several years

 During the mass, the words that kept going through my mind were the words of the consecration: ‘This is my body, which will be given up for you.’ Those words reminded me of Ragheed’s life. He was prepared to sacrifice himself for his people so that they could have the Eucharist, the greatest treasure that God has given us. In the same way the Lord Jesus sacrificed himself for us as well, so that we might have life. May we also have the grace to be faithful and persevere as he did.

Ragheed Ganni, priest and martyr, pray for us.


Friday, October 28, 2016

31st Sunday Yr C (Luke 19:1-10) Remembering the dead





There is a lady called Maria Simma (1915-2004) who became famous because the Holy Souls apparently used to appear to her and ask her for prayers for them. She lived in Austria as a peasant for most of her life. She tried religious life but was unable to continue because she was too weak physically. She actually tried three different convents but had to leave each in turn. She ended up doing simple work and living on her own. She only received education to the age of 12, but her mother had great devotion to praying for the souls in Purgatory and she seems to have inherited this too. 

The first time a soul appeared to her she was 25 years old (1940) and for the following several years only two or three souls appeared to her over the course of a year, but then from 1954 onward they continually appeared to her. In reading about her I found it very interesting to learn what some of the souls said to her. One case in particular is as follows. She recalls how a young man appeared to her asking her to pray for him. He told her the circumstances of his death. He lived in a mountain village somewhere in the Alps. He wasn’t a very religious man and in fact lived a pretty wild lifestyle. One year there were a series of avalanches. 

One night while he was asleep there was another avalanche and he woke up to hear the screams of people nearby who were trapped. He jumped up and rushed out to help them. His mother tried to stop him screaming, ‘Don’t go out, you will be killed too!’ However, he went anyway and he was killed. But he explained to Maria Simma that God in his mercy had allowed him to die at a time when he was being most giving, most self-less. This action had redeemed so much of what he had done wrong in his life. 

That story has always stayed with me since I read it. God in his mercy gives us the benefit of the doubt. He goes out of his way to make allowances for us, even excuses for us, you might say, because that is when all that we have believed in and struggled to be faithful to, will make sense.

When my Grandmother used to hear people using the expression, ‘rest in peace,’ she would sometimes say, ‘I don’t want to “rest in peace” I want to be alive and active!’ I think she had the right idea. What God has created us for in the world to come is something unimaginably wonderful and that is why God goes to such lengths to make sure we get there. The greatest thing God has done for us after giving us the gift of life, is making sure that we can reach that happiness and that is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God will do everything to make sure we reach that happiness, but God cannot force us because of the free will He has given us, so we must be careful to make the right choices ourselves.

November is the month where we traditionally remember those who have died and it is good that we do. Starting with the feast of All Saints on Nov 1st we celebrate all those who are in heaven; probably many if not all of our family members who are now saints. Anyone who is in heaven is a saint. Even though we officially recognize just a few of them, everyone there is a saint. Then on Nov 2nd we have the feast of All Souls where we pray for all who have died.




Why do we need to pray for the dead? Aren’t they all in heaven? Hopefully most of them are, but if you think about yourself for a moment, if you died today, do you think that you would be ready to enter the presence of the all holy God straight away? I doubt if I would. Most of us probably need a little refining, or being purified before we are ready for that. A good analogy is of someone waking up in the morning and being faced with the blinding light of the sun. Initially even the bedroom light is too much and we have to slowly wait until our eyes adjust; the light of the sun would be absolutely unbearable at first. The funny thing is that we want to see the sun in the morning because it is beautiful, but at the same time we are not able for it straight away.

Traditionally the Church teaches us about Purgatory, which is the last stage of getting ready to be in God’s presence when we die. This is not a punishment; rather it is a purification to make us ready for the wonderful presence of God, which we will enjoy for all eternity. So in fact it is a great gift from God and not something we should be afraid of. The Church also teaches us that we can help those who are still at that stage of Purgatory by praying for them. That is why we pray for the dead in every mass we offer throughout the whole year and we remember them especially during the month of November.

In St.Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he says the following: ‘If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are of all people the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:19). In other words if we think that this life is what it’s all about, we have completely missed the point of our faith. What God teaches us is that we are all the time preparing for the world to come. This life is a kind of school or training ground, where we are free to love or not, to choose for God or not and the choices we make have consequences. If we keep in mind that something wonderful awaits us, which is what we will experience sooner or later, that helps us not to get too immersed in the world. We all get distracted and bogged down with the worries of this life, but we need to keep reminding ourselves of what our life is about, so that we don’t waste it. If we keep in mind the thought and hope of the world to come, where we will experience life in a way we can never experience it here, it helps us to keep the right focus. Death is not something for us to be afraid of; rather it will be the beginning of something unimaginably wonderful.




I leave you with this thought: Why do those who have died not come back to tell us what it is like? I’m sure it is because they know that it is not necessary for us to know. The ‘not knowing’ is part of the struggle of faith. For now we try to believe and trust in what the Lord has taught us: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there were not would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:1).

Eternal rest grant to them O Lord and may perpetual light shine upon them.  May they enjoy the happiness that awaits us all.


Friday, October 21, 2016

30th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 18:9-14) The need for forgiveness



There is an extraordinary true story about a woman called Corrie Ten Boom, a Protestant living in Holland during the Second World War. She lived with her sister and father and they used to read the bible every evening after dinner. During the war as Holland was occupied by the Nazis and Jewish people began disappearing, they ended up hiding people in their home, although they didn’t set out to do this. Eventually they were caught and sent to one of the Concentration camps in Germany called Ravensbruck. Her sister and father both died there, but she survived and was eventually released.  

When she returned home she began working to help the many people who were so hurt by the war and she felt above all that God was calling her to speak about the need for forgiveness. And so she did and she was invited to speak all over the country and then in other countries. While speaking in Germany one day, a man came up to her after her talk and thanked her for this message of forgiveness. He said, ‘It is good to know that Jesus forgives all our sins.’ She recognised him as one of the SS officers who had been in charge of their prison and who was responsible for the death of her father and sister. As he extended his hand to her, she found herself freezing up and unable to respond, but she realised that if she did not forgive this man then all her preaching would be meaningless. So she found herself praying to God on the spot asking him to forgive this man for her and finally she was able to put out her hand to him. The book is called The Hiding Place. She wrote:
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

One of the hardest things that any of us are faced with is trying to forgive people who have hurt us. Often the people who hurt us the most are the people closest to us. When people say to me that they are angry with someone, it nearly always indicates that they need to forgive that person. Let me try and clear up a few misconceptions about what forgiveness is and is not.
Forgiveness is a decision of the will, as opposed to something we feel like doing. Most of us rarely feel like forgiving someone and if we were to wait until we actually felt like it, we would probably not forgive at all. When I forgive someone I make a decision to forgive that person because the Lord is asking me to, not because I feel like it. The reason why it is so important to do that is because when we forgive someone we open up the door to God’s grace to help us begin to heal. If I refuse to forgive someone I am blocking God from helping me to heal from the hurt. We are the ones who suffer, not the person we are angry with.
 
We may think that if I say I forgive someone I am saying that what they did doesn't matter. When we forgive we are not saying that, or that we no longer mind, or that the hurt is all gone. But when we refuse to forgive someone, we are the ones who suffer. The anger, hurt and resentment eats away at us inside. It is a terrible thing to meet people late in their life who have continually refused to forgive. You can see the bitterness in them and it is a sad sight to see. None of us want to end up like that. The good thing is that it is never too late to forgive.
It is easy to think that if I don’t forgive someone they will go on suffering because of what they did. The truth is that they may not even be aware of it any more. We are the ones who suffer. We are the ones who lose out. The first step in the process of healing from the hurt is to make the decision to forgive them and say the words. ‘Lord I forgive this person because you ask me to.’ It doesn’t mean that everything will suddenly be alright, or that we will suddenly love that person. In fact we may need to say those words again and again, but slowly we begin to heal. When we make the decision to forgive, we allow God to heal us, because we are the ones who are injured.
Another thought is this: All of us make mistakes and do wrong. We are well aware of that. I’m quite sure that all of us expect and hope that God will forgive us, but Jesus was very clear that we also need to forgive others if we expect to be forgiven ourselves. Jesus gave some very strong stories about people who refused to forgive, finishing with the words: ‘And that is how my heavenly Father will treat you unless you each forgive your brother from the heart’ (Matthew 18:35). In another place Jesus says:
If you come to the altar to make your offering and there remember that your brother has something against you. Go and be reconciled with your brother first. Then come and make your offering’ (Matthew 5:23-24). 

Even if it is the other person who has a problem with us, we are asked to at least be willing to reconcile, to reach out to them. If they don't accept it, that is their problem, but we must not be the one to refuse to reconcile.
I remember the story of two brothers who lived in an apartment block next door to each other and they had a falling out over something. They refused to speak to each other and would have nothing to do with each other. Eventually one of them began to leave a small bag of candy outside the door of the other and then the other brother did something similar. It was their way of saying I forgive you and I'm sorry, even though no words were spoken.
We also need to forgive ourselves for the sins we have committed. So many people carry the guilt and shame of sins from years ago. If we have asked for forgiveness then God has forgiven us, because He has promised us that. By dying on Calvary Jesus won that forgiveness for us. All we have to do is ask for it and it is ours, no matter how terrible the sin was. God assures us of his forgiveness for anyone who asks. We will always carry the memory, because that is the damage done by the sin, but we have the freedom to know that we are forgiven.
Finally, remember the lady I mentioned at the beginning, Corrie Ten Boom. When she was faced with having to forgive the man responsible for the death of her sister and father, she found it nearly impossible, but she prayed for the grace and it was God who enabled her to do it. By our own strength it is often nearly impossible to forgive, but that is where we turn to the Lord and ask him to help us, and He does.
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us…