Goretti-style Forgiveness is Something You Need to Know

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Goretti-style Forgiveness is Something You Need to Know

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One of the scariest prayers, if you really think about it, is asking God the Father to forgive us AS we forgive others. Don’t we really want to say “Forgive us Lord as we OUGHT to forgive others.” Or, “Forgive us as we WOULD forgive others if they finally apologized for how they’ve wronged us.” Or, “Forgive us according to the way we will forgive others.. eventually…”

It so easy to justify unforgiveness. It’s always based on a wrong that is very real to us.

I used to bear terrible grudges. If someone wronged me, my approach was to ignore them forever. This was a very silly and downright inconvenient approach when it was directed toward family members. There was a kind or satisfaction in this behaviour. It felt gratifying to be constantly reminding someone that they’ve wronged you, that they have incurred a great debt by their behaviour and that they are now in the bad books. It was kind of like they were in a long timeout from my life.

Eventually though I realized that unforgiveness requires effort. You have to carry those hurt feelings with you, and they can become a pretty heavy burden. You feel like you are punishing the other person, but you are sentencing yourself to a measure of bitterness at the same time.

To forgive is to cancel a debt, and we know that this is what we Christians are called to do. Jesus answers Peter’s query about the measure of forgiveness we must give: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)

When I think of radical forgiveness I think of the mother of St. Maria Goretti. Maria was an 11-year old Italian girl who lived at the turn of the last century. She was very pious and loved God with her whole heart. She had a neighbour named Alessandro Serenelli, a 19-year old farmhand who was obsessed with pornography. One day he made advances toward young Maria. When she resisted, urging him not to commit the sin he tried to rape her, but as she refused he choked and stabbed her several times, leaving her for dead. She survived for two days in the hospital. From her hospital bed she forgave Alessandro, and prayed for God’s forgiveness of him before she died.

She said that she hoped to see him in heaven. 

Unrepentant, he was imprisoned for 30 years and haunted by memories of his crime. After 8 years in prison he had a dream where Maria appreared to him surrounded by lillies, offering one to him. He awoke repentant for his sin. 

When he was eventually released on Christmas of 1934 he went to Maria’s mother and begged forgiveness for what he had done. Following the example of her daughter, she forgave him. She even invited him to Christmas Mass, where he spoke before a hushed congregation, admitting what he had done and asking the pardon of the community. 

When Maria was recognized as a saint in Rome in 1950, Alessando and Maria’s mother sat together at the canonization. Mother and murderer, side by side.

Forgiveness gave Alessandro hope. At the end of his life at 80 years old he wrote:

“When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer.”

"Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me."

Forgiveness is hard, and can be painful. But we look to our Saviour’s words from the cross for strength: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) 

Are there debts owed to you that you need to forgive?  Will you ask God to forgive those who’ve wronged you?

This is an edited version of a post originally appearing at AlphaCanada.org

One of the scariest prayers is asking God the Father to forgive us AS we forgive others. — Josh Canning

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