One constant of the human condition is that we make mistakes. We say something insensitive, overreact in anger, find ourselves spreading gossip, or act in a way contrary to our value system. Additionally, we can find ourselves on the receiving end of another person’s wrongdoing. These kinds of hurts can put relationships in jeopardy and undermine our sense of self-worth.
Forgiveness is a balm to bring healing to these broken situations. But it is not easy to ask for or give forgiveness. When we have hurt another, our pride can get in the way of admitting our guilt and seeking reconciliation. It is a short phrase, but “I’m sorry” seems to get stuck in our throat quite often. When we have been harmed, even a sincere apology cannot undo the initial act and many of its consequences, and our fear of diminishing our hardship seems often to block a chance for grace.
This all begs the question: What is the cost of not seeking and finding forgiveness? Too often, our society and our relationships are hindered by delayed or denied forgiveness. While it usually does not get to the point of the Hatfields and the McCoys, our grudges keep us separated from one another. If and when reconciliation comes, all parties are buoyed by it.
So it is wise to practice forgiveness as much as we can. Here are a few prayers and examples that may be helpful in adopting this disposition.
The prayer of a wounded pope
Shortly after he was shot in an attempted assaisinaiton, St. Pope John Paul II offered forgiving words for his shooter: “I pray for that brother of ours who shot me, and whom I have sincerely pardoned. United with Christ, priest and victim, I offer my sufferings for the Church and for the world.”
This might offer a simple formula for us when we are seeking to forgive:
“I pray…” When we have been hurt, it can be hard to even try to forgive. The pain is what looms largest in our minds and imaginations. Beginning with a prayer can open a new angle on the situation — it allows us to turn to a third party, God, and invite a new dynamic. Simply saying, “I pray…” can be a helpful way to begin.
“... for that brother…” Though he was nearly killed, St. Pope John Paul II didn’t lose sight of the fact that his assassin was a person deserving of love, a person made in God’s image. Perhaps it will help to think about those who hurt us as brothers and sisters with their own human dignity. Even if they have made some wrong turns, they are on a journey through life just like all of us.
“...of ours…” St. Pope John Paul II also remembered that he was not speaking only as an individual. He prayed for the man who tried to kill him from the perspective of being a member of a community, a family. Especially when we are hurt, we need the help and support of others. Adopting that stance in prayer can be a source of strength that we did no’t know we had.
“United with Christ… I offer my suffering...” One of the hardest parts of being hurt is that we do not know what to do with the pain, or how to make sense of it. The pope knew that suffering on his own was a dead-end. But because Jesus suffered with us — even to death — he knew he could align his pain with the suffering of Jesus, which meant that he was not alone in it and that bearing it in love could serve as a spiritual benefit to others.
The pope later met with the gunman in prison in order to reconcile with him. His readiness to forgive is an inspiring example.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Many people have turned to this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi when they have been searching for a source of strength that seems out of reach. It reminds us of a deep sense of purpose we can adopt for our lives:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
The Our Father
Jesus taught us to pray, and the words he shared have been handed down through centuries. The Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, is the fundamental prayer for Christians, and one of the central claims it makes is that our own forgiveness is connected to the way we forgive others. No matter how injured we are or how angry or disappointed we might feel toward another, we also stand in need of forgiveness. The humility it takes to recognize that we need God’s love and mercy is the same kind of humility it takes to offer that kind of mercy to others:
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Prayer for forgiveness
Finally, here is a prayer that could be used in times when we are searching for the grace to offer forgiveness:
God of all love and mercy, we ask for your assistance today in helping us find and offer forgiveness. Though we are injured and struggle with anger and disappointment, we know all too well the harm done by ongoing conflict.
Help us better understand what hurt us and why we feel so deeply.
Give us the courage and perspective to stand in the shoes of the one who has injured us.
Remind us that forgiveness is the only way to find freedom from the pain and desire for revenge that can trap us.
Provide the grace for us to extend forgiveness as an action of strength and hope, not weakness.
We know, from your loving example, that forgiveness possesses a power far beyond our experience of suffering and being wronged. Inspire us, then, to reconcile and to bring peace to our relationships and society through the power of forgiveness.
In your mercy, we pray. Amen.