“Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment. It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender. Forgiveness is an expression of love.” —Gary Chapman
I will never forget the call I got to make on my way home from jail. I called my parents to tell them that I got arrested and spent the day in jail with Norma McCorvy, the “Jane Roe” in the Supreme Court case known as Roe v. Wade. On one wall there were four young adults, on the other wall there were four not-as-young adults. The eight of us were sitting in the county jail for one reason: being pro-life. “I think it’s safe to say that the entire abortion industry is based on a lie. … I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name,” McCorvey once said.
Some actions appear to be unforgivable
“God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (Pope Francis). Sometimes it feels like a sin is too big, too public, too harmful, or too unacceptable to be forgiven. If you are the seeker or giver of forgiveness, it is not an easy road, but a road that requires trust and faith in the cross. Norma McCorvy is one of many of us who has tried to walk back things we have said and done, only to find that our actions have already had an impact. The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) reminds us that God will always welcome us back home, no matter how much of His inheritance we have squandered.
When seeking forgiveness, one of my favorite reminders of God’s invitation to confession is by St. John Chrysostom, “Be ashamed when you sin; don’t be ashamed when you repent. Sin is the wound; repentance is the medicine. Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness. Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.” If you believe that there is something, anything, you can do or have done that God will not forgive, then you do not know God’s love and mercy. Satan is a master of manipulating truth in a way that keeps you from God, oftentimes by reminding us of the reality of the gravity of our sins or the opposite: desensitizing us to sin itself. We are more susceptible to those lies than we realize, but God’s law is clear. Venerable Fulton Sheen encourages us to seek forgiveness rather than to justify our sins: “I know a thousand psychoanalysts who will explain sins away, but that is not what we want. We want forgiveness.”
The grace to forgive
C.S. Lewis points out, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Forgiving others is hard. You did not deserve to experience the pain you endured as a result of another person’s choice. The cross affirms that God knows that, even better than we do. If you want to have what God promises, which is peace, forgiveness and eternal life, you must do what He calls us to do. Forgiveness is not a suggestion in Scripture, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). Forgiving allows us to see each other for more than harmful actions, whether it be against us or against another. Forgiving others opens our hearts to love like God calls us to do, without ceasing. “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends” (Proverbs 7:19).
Representations of Christ
We cannot undo what we have already done. There are, however, things we can do as we continue to walk in faith. We can work to repair any damage we have caused by our sins, we can forgive those who have sinned against us, and we can go and sin no more. “Avoid slander because it is difficult to retract. Avoid offending anyone for asking forgiveness is not delightful” (St. John Cantius). If done with the right disposition, forgiving others and asking for forgiveness can bring great peace, restoration and hope.
Norma McCorvy’s name, Jane Roe, carries so much weight in the conversation of abortion that a jail cell from a pro-life event was the last place I would expect to meet her. In humility, we must work toward repairing the image of Christ that we have damaged by our actions or unforgiveness. “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone” (St. Francis of Assisi).
Mary Morasso is a mother and parishioner of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights. She holds a bachelor's degree in pastoral theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary and has taught theology at the high school level.