I had a powerful lesson in forgiveness last summer, taught to me by Michael, a remarkable young man who is mentally handicapped. In the short time I had gotten to know Michael, his sparkling eyes, infectious laugh and perpetual good nature had endeared him to me. But one day I heard him talking about his childhood. In a calm and clear voice, this handsome young man in his 20s spoke of parents who had hit him, burned him with cigarettes and who, when he was a child, often gave him beer to drink, laughing at him as he stumbled around the room.
I was horrified as he spoke, unable to fathom that kind of treatment to a soul this gentle, kind and vulnerable. It was a mental image that would haunt my prayer for a long time. But so would Michael's next words. "They couldn't help it," he said softly. "They didn't know how to be good parents and that's sad."
With those words, Michael showed me a compassion and forgiveness for his parents I could barely comprehend. "They couldn't help it. That's sad." He felt sad for the people who had abused him. There was none of my anger, bitterness or need for revenge.
I think of Michael when I read in today's gospel, "Forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us."
Today Jesus offers us a very simple prayer with a number of challenges. He invites us to trust in God for the things we need, to avoid being showy in our prayer and the one I stumble on, forgiveness. The exact words of Jesus make us pause. "As we have forgivenů" I cringe at that. I don't want God to forgive the way I do, begrudgingly and with a secret scorecard of hurts in my heart. I want God to give me a pardon much better than that. I want forgiveness with great love, compassion and generosity. The way God forgives. The way Michael forgives.
In the community of people where Michael lives, they pray the Our Father saying, "In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us." In the thousands of hurts Michael has absorbed over his young life, he has forgiven. God asks me to do the same, to forgive over and over with a generous Michael heart.
It's not something I can do on my own. I ponder that for a while and realize that knowing that is probably the very gift God wants to give me.
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