Placing Conditions on Forgiveness, Mercy, and Relationships

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34 (RSV)

JesusCrucifiedDuring this time of Lent and in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I feel compelled to talk about the topic of forgiveness, mercy, and relationships.  It has become exceedingly clear to me that it is a person’s ability to forgive others, accept forgiveness from others, and forgive oneself that truly defines the character of an individual.  It is not only the ability to forgive in all three of these ways, but more importantly the condition in which they are rendered to the individual.  Do we really forgive offenses unconditionally?  Do we really accept mercy from others unconditionally and with heart-felt gratitude?  Do we recognize Jesus in that other person no matter how hurtful their offense was towards us?  Maybe we even give them our blessing while still reminding them how they hurt us?  The second part of that last question is a condition we are often tempted to place upon our forgiveness towards another.

 “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (RSV)

We can extend our blessing to others with our words but if it does not come from the heart, it does not come from the One who resides in our heart.  When we place conditions on our mercy towards others, it is half-hearted and really isn’t mercy at all.  Did Jesus half-heartedly go to the cross for us, to die for us, for our sins to be “half-forgiven”?   I think we all know the answer to that question.

“To forgive takes love. To forget takes humility.” – Mother TeresaMercyPic

As Mother Teresa says in simpler terms, true heart-felt forgiveness and the acceptance of mercy takes every bit of humility that we can muster within ourselves. How often do we forgive someone or receive mercy from someone, but still continue to carry the weight of a hardened heart.  For many people in today’s world, forgiveness is a very difficult thing to grasp.  Pride in one’s self-righteousness can get in the way of developing this very important virtue.

“Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain, but simply loves.” – Pope Saint John Paul II

Just as we can choose to place conditions upon our forgiveness, we can also choose to place conditions on our relationships with others.  Can a person truly accept others for who they are and be able to love them the way Jesus loves us?  In my opinion, next to life itself, love is the greatest gift that God gave mankind.  True love is defined in many ways by many different people.  True love cannot have conditions placed upon it or it really isn’t love at all.  True love is not caring what other people think.  It’s not caring whether they or the other person is popular among their friends or their community.  It’s not caring whether the other person’s given affliction will affect one’s reputation within a given social setting.  When we place conditions on others in our relationships, they become the leper.  The leper is an individual that is rejected or avoided for social reasons.  It is interesting to note that it is this type of individual that Jesus gravitated towards. As we come to the end of Lent and enter into the Resurrection season, let us contemplate the leper and embrace him or her.  In doing so, we are embracing Jesus and the message that he has already written on our hearts.