Last Sunday, September 17, I was lucky enough to be invited to offer a reflection during the homily at my Church in Boston. It was overwhelming, humbling, and a true honor. The readings, centered on forgiveness have given me much to think about. The truest lesson, however, was the notion that forgiveness is a process, not a transaction.
After recalling a moving experience I had in the confessional as a college student, I remembered the feelings that came after. Instead of listing off a laundry list of mistakes I would surely make again, I looked deeply at my relationship with God. In that room, I unloaded my grief and frustration with God. The priest gently consoled me and offered penance of telling God how I feel. I did that, but didn’t feel any better and when I asked the priest why I couldn’t feel a clean slate he told me: forgiveness is a process, not a transaction.
And most often, it is not I who needs forgiveness (God has already done that). It is I who needs to do the forgiving. In the reading from Matthew, Jesus’ lesson to the disciples is abundantly clear. God wants us to forgive those around us, just as God continues to forgive us. In the parable, Jesus holds up a mirror to show us our own faces. We are the servant who has been forgiven a vast and staggering amount of money, and God is the great king that has forgiven us.
When we embody an ethic of process, we no longer leave room for guilt and shame, because we are always becoming, always growing, always learning, and working toward bettering ourselves. Simple mistakes no longer feel like life altering moral-wrongdoings, but a part of life. And the actions of others begin to fall into this category too. God’s unfailing forgiveness encourages us to be just a devoted to others. That’s a tall order!
But what might it look like for you? Forgiveness for me often looks at the past and asks the question: what have I learned? How can I be better? What then shall I do?
Forgiveness, even on the best days, does not erase the past. It holds onto memory in hope that each of us will work to create a better world. It allows us to heal our relationships and find comfort in what was before difficult. It allows us to rest, humbly and quietly in the loving embrace of God. A God who holds us dearly and forgives us before we have the self-awareness to say sorry.
The readings for last week started with Sirach about how wrath and anger are the emotions of the people hurting, but ended with a message of hope to let the hard feelings go and love charitably. As a woman, this can feel exhausting and harrowing. Always hoping, always forgiving, when this Church can feel hopeless and harmful. My blessing of the week is the reminder that I am a work in progress, stumbling, climbing, and hoping in the midst of the messiness of our humanity.
And for now, I’ll take it, knowing that forgiveness is a process, not a transaction.