It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
Living the Gospel
Francis had a deep and personal understanding of forgiveness. It was a quality he considered to be of great importance, one of the ways in which we “follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
In his early Rule he wrote (ch 22):
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose footsteps we follow, called the man who betrayed him his friend, and gave himself up of his own accord to his executioners. Our friends are those who for no reason cause us trouble and suffering. It is these we must love … because for all they do to us we are given eternal life.”
Readiness to forgive, for Francis, is an essential part of living a Gospel life.
Mercy and Compassion
Another reason why Francis stresses the need to forgive is his compassion for the offender, who may be crushed by a harsh and unforgiving attitude:
“… there should not be any brother in the world who has sinned, however much he may possibly have sinned, who, after he has looked into your eyes, would go away without having received your mercy…”
Bitterness or Peace
On reading these words of Francis we may wonder how they apply to our own situation. “If Francis had been treated the way I’ve been treated,” we think, “would he still say that? What did he have to forgive?” Here the historians have something to say to us.
In an ancient account of the “Perfect Joy” story (Om. p 1501), Francis says to Brother Leo:
“… I come to the gate, all covered with mud and cold and ice, and after I have knocked and called for a long time, a friar comes and asks: ‘Who are you?’ I answer ‘Brother Francis.’ And he says ‘… Go away. You are a simple and uneducated fellow. From now on don’t stay with us any more. We are so many and so important that we don’t need you’.”
Was this just a story invented by Francis to illustrate extreme suffering? Unfortunately, scholars tell us it is probable that a powerful group of the brothers regarded Francis in just that way.
If this was so, Francis had “every right” to be angry and resentful! He had “every right” to withdraw into himself and brood over the ingratitude, the injustice, the wickedness of such brothers! But he did not. There is no trace of bitterness in the brief “Testament” dictated at Siena a few months before his death:
“Write that I give my blessing to all my brothers in the Order, and to all who will enter it in time to come… As a sign that they remember me, my blessing, and my Testament, I wish them always to love one another as I have loved them…” (Om. p 1221)
A Gift from God
How did Francis reach this degree of loving forgiveness? Not by his own efforts! Certainly his life of self-denial was part of it, but to be able to forgive sincerely, to let go of a grievance, to put aside the memory of injustice and hurt, is a special gift of God’s grace. And if we have received this gift, then we have experienced a strange paradox: that when we reach out to forgive, believing we are conferring a favour on the person who injured us, we find that we ourselves are the receivers! We receive the freedom and peace of being no longer held bound by our anger and resentment.
Francis had experienced this joy of forgiving, and the resultant freedom and peace shine through in his Canticle of Brother Sun:
“All praise be yours, my Lord,
through those who grant pardon for love of you…
Happy those who endure in peace…
Called to the same Gospel way of life as Francis was, we pray that we too may receive this gift in its
“it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life.”
Points for Reflection
- When discord is experienced, mutual forgiveness brings about healing.
- If we feel resentment towards a person who is not aware of having harmed us, how can this injury be healed?
- Which is more difficult, asking forgiveness or granting it?