Based on my own personal experience as well as the experience of observing and encouraging parishioners, I know that both statements are very difficult to say with conviction. This is especially true when the hurt is deeply felt; or when you’re embarrassed, ashamed or frightened by what you’ve done.
When that’s the case, it’s a lot easier for us to ignore the situation or seal ourselves off from others. It’s a lot easier to make like nothing happened, and hope the problem goes away. And it’s a lot easier to hold a grudge, or blame someone (or something) else for the wrong we’ve done.
On the one hand, we’re afraid that if we apologize it won’t be accepted; or worse yet, that another confrontation will occur. And on the other hand, we’re afraid that if we forgive, then the other person will think everything’s back to normal, or that the offense meant nothing.
Do you see how much we are controlled by our fears? Our fear of talking to another person keeps us from apologizing. And our fear of being abused keeps us from forgiving.
Because of our fears, we falsely assume that it’s best if we simply don’t deal directly with the person who wronged us—or who we wronged. Oh, we’ll complain to others and talk about what someone has done (or not done) to us. But we falsely (and, often, stubbornly) believe that it’s easier and better—for them and you—just to avoid the other person.
I’m convinced that we so easily avoid the hard thing of saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” because we’re so practiced at it. How many people do you avoid at work or in your family simply because you can’t bring yourself to say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you”? How many grudges do you carry? How many times have you left or avoided an event just because the other person was there—and you didn’t want to (or were afraid to) run into them?
Yet that is not how the mercy of Our Lord calls us to act. Precisely because that is not how Our Lord acted toward us.
Consider this: When
Granted, in many of these instances—to get our attention or theirs—Our Lord speaks harshly and sternly. But even that is better than avoiding and ignoring. And so even Our Lord’s harsh speaking and threats are motivated by His mercy for us—and His desire to be reconciled to us.
Love and mercy—that’s what motivates Our Lord God to sacrifice His Son on the cross. For love and mercy are at the heart of reconciliation. His love for us—each of us—moves Our Father to do whatever He can to reconcile us to Himself. And this He does, even though we are the ones that wronged Him—and that continue to wrong Him (especially when we wrong each other).
Do you see what great lengths our heavenly Father goes to in order to repair what we damaged, and to bridge the gap between us and Him? St. Paul reminds us that “He did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom 8.32). And in another place, the Apostle reminds us that God send His pastors and priests to us in order to accomplish His ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5.17-20).
We are grateful that Our Lord does not treat us as we treat each other; that He continually offers us reconciliation in His Son; and that He does not take the easier road, but does the most painful and necessary thing. In short, we are grateful for His mercy and love.
But do we understand that being reconciled to God means that we also ought to be reconciled to each other; that we ought not let grudges linger; that we ought not hold things against anyone else—especially if he or she is of the household of faith? For that is the point when St Paul pleads with us to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5.20). God has already reconciled us to Himself. For us to be reconciled to Him, we ought to be reconciled to one another.
That means we need to do the hard thing by saying either “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” (Have you noticed that often you need to say both?) And it also means that we need to put away our fears by saying those words to all who need to hear them—Christian or not; stranger or loved one; member or non-member.
For to this you have been called by the mercy of God: to live in the mercy that He has shown and given and poured into you.
Of course that’s not easy! But it is necessary. And, most importantly, it is our Life in God.