Sunday, December 27, 2015

Imitating the Holy Family in This Jubilee Year of Mercy

Today is the feast of the Holy Family. The primary purpose of the Church in instituting and promoting this feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families. How can we emulate the Holy Family in this Jubilee Year of Mercy?

The primary way we can imitate the Holy Family in being a giver of mercy is to forgive one another of our faults and failings. Although we are not given details of forgiveness in the Holy Family, we know that there had to be forgiveness in the family in order for them to live in peace and harmony with one another. For example, when Jesus suddenly disappeared and was nowhere to be found, Joseph and Mary became anxious. Certainly, there must have been some blame-sharing that occurred and forgiveness that followed.

Pope Francis Shows us the Way

Pope Francis tells us that the family is “a large gym for training in self-giving and mutual forgiveness, without which no love can last. … Love doesn’t remain, it doesn’t last if we don’t give ourselves and forgive one another.”

“In the prayer he taught us; that is, the Our Father, Jesus has us ask the Father: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' And at the end he comments: 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses' (Matthew 6, 12:14–15). We can’t live without forgiving each other, or at least we can’t live well, especially in the family.”

The Holy Father reminds us to “never let the day end without asking forgiveness.”

“Every day we do wrong to one other. We have to take account of these mistakes that come from our frailty and our selfishness. But what is required of us now is to heal the wounds that we inflict on each other, immediately to mend the threads that break in family life. If we wait too long, everything becomes more difficult. And there’s a simple secret to healing the wounds and dismissing the charges. It’s this: do not let the day end without asking forgiveness, without making peace between husband and wife, between parents and children, brothers and sisters, between daughter in-law and mother-in-law."

“If we learn to apologize immediately and grant each other forgiveness, the wounds heal, the marriage is strengthened and the family becomes a more and more solid home that withstands the tremors of our mean behavior, big and small. And long discussions are needed for this, a caress is enough. One caress, and it’s all over and we start again. But do not finish the day at war. Got it?”

What else can forgiveness do for us? Pope Francis explains that forgiveness renews our families and empowers us to be witnesses of Christ’s love to the world. His desire for this Jubilee Year of Mercy is that families “rediscover the treasure of mutual forgiveness.”

This time of year, more than any other, when we spend more time with family members, we need to contemplate the Holy Father’s words. There can be no love without forgiveness. Catholic philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier tells us: "Love is an act of endless forgiveness." We need to be merciful toward family members just as our Heavenly Father is merciful. We need to forgive from the heart.

Six Things I Have Learned about Forgiveness

Many years ago, I sought out the assistance of a spiritual director to help me deal with unforgiveness. I wanted to grow spiritually, but was unable to due to this obstacle.  I wanted to experience the fullness of God’s peace, which He gives so freely to those who open their hearts to Him. Here are six things I learned about forgiveness.

First, without forgiveness in our lives, we cannot experience the fullness of God’s love and the peace and joy that comes with it.

Second, I learned that forgiveness is not an emotion, but an act of the will.  You can still feel hurt by the injustice that was done to you, but make the decision to forgive the person who hurt you.

Third, I began to think of all the times that I needed to be forgiven for the sins I have committed in this life and learned to develop empathy for others who were less than perfect and needed my forgiveness.

Fourth, I realized that if I permitted myself to forgive another person, I could release both myself and the person I was unable to forgive from the shackles that bound us. When you forgive, you are both set free.

Fifth, I learned to remember the painful situation and the lessons I learned from the experience, but to forget the grudge against the person who offended me.

Sixth, I realized that forgiveness is a gift from God and is only possible through the grace of God.  I learned the value of prayer and how important it is to ask for God’s help in order to forgive others completely. I also realized how important it is to pray for the other person – for their healing and the salvation of their soul.

Prayer for Forgiveness of a Family Member

Father God, please help me to forgive __ for ___. Help me to see Your Face in [him/her] and to love [him/her] the way that You do. Help me surrender the anger that I am experiencing that I may walk in the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Heal me from this experience and release me of any bitterness that I may be sheltering. Grant me the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit in this situation that I may deal with it in the way that is most pleasing to You. Help me, Father, to do Your holy will. Thank You for hearing my prayer and for healing me. I pray this in Jesus’ name through the intercession of Mother Mary. Hail Mary, full of grace….

~ copyright Jean M. Heimann 2015.

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