Lent is a time we are encouraged to pray more, fast more and give more, and all these should be for no other reason than to strengthen our walk with God.
Lent is a time of repentance. A time we make extra effort to amend our ways and come back to God in repentance of our sins, just as the prophet Joel urged us in Joel 2:12, “Yet even now”, declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning “.
To return to the Lord means going back to Him with a humble and contrite heart, asking for forgiveness and believing that He will forgive us; “a broken and contrite heart (broken down with sorrow for sin and humbly and thoroughly penitent), such, O God, you will not despise “(Psalm 51:17, The Amplified Bible).
Forgiveness is a gift God graciously gives to us at any time we sincerely ask for it. God is never tired of forgiving us of our sins. He is ever ready to forgive us. He is not intimidated by our sins; therefore, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask Him for forgiveness, knowing that “if we (freely) admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His nature and promises) and will forgive our sins (dismiss our lawlessness) and (continuously) cleanse us from all unrighteousness (everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought and action)” (1John1:9, The Amplified Bible). If we have this conviction then, nothing should stop us from “fearlessly and confidently and boldly drawing near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favour to sinners), that we may receive mercy (for our failures) and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming when we need it] (Hebrews 4:16).
If, therefore, we receive forgiveness unconditionally and without charge, God expects us consequently, not just during this Lenten season but every day of our lives to readily forgive others of whatever perceived offence or offences they committed against us. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
If we receive forgiveness, we must not refuse anyone our forgiveness no matter what happens. Yes, sometimes it may be challenging to forgive someone who has not just broken our hearts but also betrayed every single trust we reposed on them. Jesus did not make forgiveness conditional. He did not say we ‘May forgive’ (conditional), He said we ‘Must forgive’ (unconditional), “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses “(Matthew 6:14-15). Asking for something we know we can’t give to others will make us selfish, and Jesus has made it clear that it is impossible. I can’t be asking God for forgiveness every day at Mass during the penitential rite, saying ‘Lord have mercy’ when I have refused to have mercy on my brother or sister who is even there present at Mass.
During the Lord’s Prayer, I ask Him again to forgive me my trespasses while I know I have refused to forgive someone who has trespassed against me. Who benefits from forgiveness? Is it the one who forgives or the one who has been forgiven, or instead both? We shall find out in the next edition.
Fr Alvan Ibeh SMMM