When we began this season of Lent, I invited the faithful in the Archdiocese to reflect upon the great importance of forgiveness in our own spiritual lives and in the world today. Now, as we approach Holy Week and Easter, we turn our hearts to the saving actions of Jesus’ passion, suffering, death, and resurrection. Continuing in the theme of forgiveness, I invite us to meditate on the importance of the Our Father prayer in Jesus’ own life, Jesus’ words of forgiveness on the cross, and the connection between forgiveness and resurrection.
In the pastoral note, As We Forgive, I focused on the petition in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). Not only does this specific petition capture the necessity of forgiveness, but the entire prayer is a revelation of Jesus’ own prayer life. The Catechism teaches,
“The prayer that comes to us from Jesus is truly unique: it is ‘of the Lord.’ On the one hand, in the words of this prayer the only Son gives us the words the Father gave him: he is the master of our prayer. On the other, as Word incarnate, he knows in his human heart the needs of his human brothers and sisters and reveals them to us: he is the model of our prayer” (CCC 2765).
The petition, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” contains both the words the Father gives to Jesus and the words that our hearts need to hear. I cannot stress enough how helpful praying the Our Father with sincerity is for changing our affections and aligning our hearts to the will of the Father. Regarding this power to help us change, the Catechism teaches, “Jesus not only gives us the words of our filial prayer; at the same time he gives us the Spirit by whom these words become in us ‘spirit and life’” (CCC 2766).
These words in the Our Father are not recommendations from Jesus but they are the words that he lived by. Jesus does not ask us to do something that he would not do. We need only look to his example on the cross to see him prove his words by his actions. As our Lord suffered on the cross, he cried out to the Father, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
This is a powerful moment in the passion of Christ, and it leads to the repentance and conversion of one of the criminals who was crucified next to Jesus. In the midst of the physical pain inflicted upon him, the immense rejection of his gift, and utter exhaustion from the crucifixion experience, Jesus’ first words from the cross are words of forgiveness.
Jesus goes on to do several things before breathing his last. He welcomes a thief into Heaven (Lk 23:43), completes the seder meal and establishes the new covenant, and gives to the Church the gift of his own mother (Jn 19:26-30). But before all of these, he offers to everyone who has wronged him his full forgiveness. The importance of this cannot be understated. Forgiveness is essential for the plan of God to develop and bear fruit in our lives.
Jesus knew that he must pass through the gate of death in order to resurrect to the glory of the Father. In order to resurrect, it was necessary to cut every tie to sin and death. Being free of sin, he had nothing to repent of. But being wrongly accused, unjustly handed over and mistreated, he had every opportunity humanly to hold onto unforgiveness. Jesus chooses to forgive because the Father is calling him through death to the resurrection and there is no room for unforgiveness in the resurrection.
My sisters and brothers, as we look toward the gift of the resurrection at Easter, let us contemplate that beautiful life that our Father has in store for each of us. In light of the hope that lies before us, let us let go of all unforgiveness that would tie us down and prevent us from walking freely with the Lord in his resurrection. May this Easter bring you blessings and the ongoing renewal and conversion of your hearts.