In the Gospel reading for Mass today our Lord teaches us the following,
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15, RSV-CE
This He said immediately after He taught His followers the Pater Noster in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. I want to focus on these verses from 6:14-15 because they should not be overlooked. With these words Jesus is reiterating what He said just a few verses previous in the Pater Noster. In the twelfth verse Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And, of course, in our praying of the Pater Noster we change ‘debt’ to ‘trespass’. Even though we change debt to trepass for reciting the Pater Noster the words for debts/debtors in the Greek text of verse 12 are not the same as words used for trepasses in the Greek text of verses 14-15. Nevertheless, in the context of the passage it does seem that Jesus is speaking of the same thing in both verse 12 and verses 14-15: trepasses or sins.
These words of our Lord are very weighty. The forgiveness that we desire and most desparately need from God can only be ours if we forgive our fellow man. Therefore, if we hold onto a grudge for months, years or for our whole life can we be forgiven by God? Does going to confession seeking forgiveness do us any good if we do not have a forgiving heart within ourselves? From the words of our Lord here it certainly doesn't sound like it.
At this point someone might want to try to justify themselves by saying, “Yes, but if you only knew what that person did to me then you would know why I can never forgive them.” I don't know if I have ever heard anybody actually say this except on movies or television shows. But, if this happens to be your line of thinking then ask yourself this – is what happened to you worse than what happened to Christ when He was being tortured and killed? And even if another person could suffer what He suffered for us, we must remember His words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
I think part of the problem that people have with forgiveness of those who have hurt them is because they think they will have to like the person after they are forgiven. To that I say this: Christ did not call us to like other people, He called us to love them. If someone has hurt you, you may not like them for a very long time – maybe never. This even applies to ourselves – when we do something bad we don't like ourselves very much. (I must give credit where it is due: this example comes from C.S. Lewis.) But even though we may not like ourselves very much for doing something bad we still love ourselves in the sense that we want what is best for us. And that is the love which Christ calls us to have for others. And what is best for us? Ultimately, salvation and being forever with God in Heaven. Again, this is what we should desire for all people because we have all been made in God's image with an eternal soul – a soul for which Christ gave His life.
What I tell people who are having difficulty forgiving someone, and this is what I do as well, is that anytime we feel anger toward someone that has wronged us then we should immediately pray this prayer, “God I forgive them. Please help me to truly mean it.” By so doing you have done what Christ has asked of you and, more importantly, you have asked His assistance in doing it, knowing that you cannot do it on your own power.
A second step to this process would be to then ask God to forgive you for your reaction to the wrong done to you. Because in the end what is more important for the state of your soul: what they did to you or your reaction to it? Therefore, let us forgive as we have been forgiven.