By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 March, 2016
Forgiving others is not easy. It costs; it is a sacrifice. But with God’s grace we can do many things that otherwise would seem to be impossible, Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe has said in his pastoral letter for Lent.
Discussing the challenge in this Year of Mercy to forgive those who may have offended and hurt us, he said the Year is an invitation and an opportunity to forgive others the wrong they did, just as God forgives us the offences we commit against Him.
“We expect to receive God’s forgiveness and he does pardon us if we repent, no matter how serious our sin may be. We should do the same with anyone who offended or hurt us,” the Bishop of Raphoe states.
But he emphasised that if we are to be merciful and to forgive others as God forgives us, then we have to mean what we say, to forgive from the heart.
“The person who offended us may not deserve our forgiveness, but that is not the point. We do not deserve to be forgiven by God, yet “God shows his love for us in that, while we were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5: 8),” he said.
Referring to cases such as when neighbours ‘fall out’ become enemies and no longer greet or speak with each other, the Bishop said this could also happen between members of the same family.
Instead of both sides seeking reconciliation, there remains bitterness and anger and blame.
“Of course, forgiveness has to come from both parties. But if we refuse to forgive a neighbour, a brother/sister or an acquaintance, then our unforgiving heart afflicts and punishes us more than it does our enemy,” Dr Boyce warned.
He added, “Within our own heart it remains a burden and a pain. We are enchained and refuse to be set free.”
But if we have the courage to say “Sorry”, “I forgive you”, then we ourselves are relieved of a burden and we give the other person the chance to be set free as well.
Forgiving, he said, is not a feeling within us toward someone who hurt us. Rather, it is a decision of the will, even though our feelings may be quite different.
“It means not keeping grudges, not seeking revenge, but letting mercy and forgiveness guide our attitudes and actions.”
The Diocese of Raphoe has three Holy Doors opened for the Year of Mercy: one in the diocesan Cathedral, another in Ards Friary and a third in Rossnowlagh Friary.
A plenary indulgence may be gained by walking through a Holy Door, going to confession within a week, receiving Holy Communion that day and saying the Creed and a prayer for the Pope’s intentions.
“Going through the Holy Door is in itself not a magical or automatic way of receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy. We walk as pilgrims through a Holy Door which is a symbol of Christ who said: ‘I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved’ (Jn 10: 9).” The bishop said.