“Be merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Imagine going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and pouring out your heart in repentance, only to have the priest withhold absolution. This sounds absurd, since we know our sincere confession will result in for­giveness from God and his church. At the same time, we can’t expect God to forgive us if we aren’t will­ing to forgive other people. Jesus did tell us: “Forgive and you will be for­given” (Luke 6:37).

But how difficult it can be for our wounded hearts to let go of past hurts! We may find the courage to forgive those who apologize, since we feel that justice has been served. But what about those who don’t apologize? What about those who won’t acknowledge their actions? What if they are so self-absorbed that they’re not even aware of the hurt they have caused? Are we supposed to forgive even those?

Yes.

Mercy is meant to be a free gift you give to someone who may not deserve it—a gift given out of loving kindness, not because the recipient earns it. Do you expect your spouse to “earn” an anniversary gift every year? Do you make your children do extra chores before you will give them birthday presents? Of course not! That’s how Jesus wants us to think about his command to forgive: Mercy should come from a generous heart without waiting for certain cri­teria to be met.

To forgive someone who has wronged you is one of the great­est gifts you could give Jesus this Lent. It’s also a powerful sign of God’s kingdom on earth. So ask the Holy Spirit to help make you merciful. Some things take time to work through, and God knows how badly you’ve been hurt. But at the same time, don’t wait for the perfect moment or hold out for an apology that may never come. You can begin to speak words of forgiveness even now, even if you don’t fully mean it. With the Spirit’s help, you can come to the point of forgiving so genuinely that you’ll be able to smile at the mention of the person’s name. Now that’s being merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful!

“Holy Spirit, lead me to a place where my heart bathes in your love and overflows with waves of mercy toward others.”

Daniel 9:4-10; Psalm 79:8-11,13