I live at Holy Name Cathedral off of north Michigan Avenue. The sidewalks are crowded with workers and students and tourists. It’s easy to bump into people—accidently of course. An “Excuse me” is often met with a scowl. There’s very little forgiveness, it seems, on the Gold Coast. Actually, I don’t think there’s very much forgiveness generally in our world today. And this is true for many reasons.
Forgiveness, in the minds of many people, is a sign of softness in a tough world. It’s a demonstration of vulnerability in an environment that calls for protection. Forgiveness can even allow you to be exploited. The message is clear: don’t forgive, stay tough, and stay protected.
In faith, it’s a different story. Jesus forgave sinners and called people to forgive each other. This is central to his teaching and to the great prayer he gave us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So often in the Gospels, we hear him say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and live in a new way.” His words are so generous and so amazing and so much in contrast to what we hear on the street. And even more—he lived the teaching. As he was being crucified, he said, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” Saint Aelred says that Jesus not only forgave his executioners but even provided an excuse for them: “They do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus’ forgiveness is amazing and abundant. His forgiveness does not stem from some soft, vulnerable, or exploitable quirk in his personality. His forgiveness comes from strength and creativity. It is the creative and transforming power of God.
Believe it or not—and the choice is yours—Jesus’ forgiveness comes to us today. It comes in a sacrament we call Reconciliation or Penance or, more plainly, going to confession. In an unforgiving world, we have the source of abundant, even infinite forgiveness. Amazing.