By Francis Patrick Donnelly
THE FORGIVING HEART
THE FORGIVING HEART
So also shall My heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
I.PARISIANS point with pride to their gigantic sewers and have arrangements by which visitors can go down to and examine the six hundred miles of tunnels, freighted with the refuse of a large city. No village, we believe, has ever conducted with civic self-satisfaction even one traveler to its humble gutters. It may be upon the same principle that great criminals achieve a certain distinction denied to the starving pauper who takes a loaf of bread. Perhaps some such idea possessed the mind of the servant in the Gospel who was forgiven a debt of twelve million dollars. Very few could point with pride to so gigantic a deficit in their accounts, and it should scarcely astonish us when the proud possessor of so great a distinction throttled a fellow-servant whose deficit was just fifteen dollars, or about a million times less. Unhappily for the distinguished criminal, the master of both servants was insensible to mere size as a title to fame, and, revoking the gift of twelve millions which he had made by canceling a lawful debt, he delivered the millionaire debtor to the torture until he should pay all. The amount of that torture is appalling, but more appalling are the words with which the story concludes: "So also shall My heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts."
No doubt our Lord purposely made this parable striking in its details, details which are verified only where God is the master who forgives infinite offences and men are the slaves who forgive not petty faults. In reality, however, it is almost unbelievable that any master would let his servant accumulate so immense a debt, and almost impossible that any man would be so mean, so contemptible, so small of heart as to turn around and throttle his fellow when he had so much forgiven himself. We say "almost impossible," because man's selfishness is so colossal and his imagination can so exaggerate his own troubles and so minimize his neighbor's troubles that no inconsistency of conduct is astonishing where wounded self-love and a heated fancy get to brooding on wrongs.
One great reason why forgiveness from the heart is so scarce among men is to be found in the exaggerations of self-love. No one deserves the consideration we are entitled to. Our wrongs are so great, are so personal, so intimate to us, that no one else, we think, can appreciate them at their true value. We can always see reasons why others should feel their wrongs less keenly, but in our case there was something about the person or the time or the manner of the injury that in our brooding and distempered minds we are persuaded that we have discovered a new, unheard-of species of sorrow—ours. No doubt the servant in the Gospel was a victim of such stupendous self-love. Like the watch-maker, he screwed a microscope into one eye and turned its gaze upon the tiny little sum owed to him until it assumed gigantic proportions, and closed up tight the other eye, which ought to have been looking at what he owed to his master. He exaggerated others' debts; he obliterated his own. It is a calumny upon the honorable profession of watchmakers to liken them to unforgiving hearts. They, at any rate, have this consolation: their work is useful and necessary, and when it is over their countenance resumes its accustomed grace and beauty, but the unlovely, strained looks of an unforgiving heart never relax into peace and sweetness. Equipped with magnifying glass on one eye and an impenetrable blind on the other, the unforgiving heart shuts out the whole world and brings its bent, peering gaze to bear upon the life-long contemplation and distortion of its wrongs.
Forgiveness of enemies was a virtue dear to the Heart of Christ. It is one of those virtues, like humility and virginity, which are so sublime and so opposed to the natural impulses of human nature that their revelation and teaching by Christ seems to many to prove His Divinity. Surely, then, if He may be said to love one virtue more than another, it would be one which was His own because He was the first to teach it to the world.
His revelation of this virtue was as perfect as it was new, and in that we may see another reason why the forgiveness of enemies was dear to His Heart. No one has conceived or can conceive a single perfection which may be added to this virtue as taught by Christ. The forgiveness is to be perfect in extent, including all; perfect in its promptness, letting not the sun to go down upon its anger; perfect in its practice, not calling another a fool, not exacting an eye for an eye, not harboring evil thoughts or judging him. So thought, word and deed were to be filled with forgiveness. The virtue was no less perfect in its continuous performance. The forgiving of trespassers was to be as regular as the
petition for daily bread. There was to be no limit to the number of times it was to be exercised. Its exercise, if necessary, would reach the perfect number, "seventy times seven times." Forgiveness was to be the perfect badge of Christ's followers. "By this all men shall know you." It was to be perfect in its sincerity, forgiving from the heart; perfect in its sanction, because in what measure we mete to others, it shall be meted to us; perfect, finally, in its model and standard, because we are to forgive as Christ forgave, we are to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. If the teacher's heart is in his favorite lesson and perfect lesson, then forgiveness of enemies was especially dear to the Heart of Christ.
Forgiveness is difficult because self enters so fully into the wrong and because the wrongs have been so exaggerated by the imagination. The Heart of Christ, by meeting and overcoming these two difficulties is the model of the forgiving heart and the healing of all unforgiving hearts. If the unforgiving heart is selfish, the Heart of Christ is entirely unselfish. If the unforgiving heart exaggerates the faults A one it, the Heart of Christ has endured wrongs and sees in them a malice which, because it is infinite, cannot be exaggerated.
Away back in the depths of eternity, what was God's first view of the Heart of Christ? Some answer that He saw It as a vessel full of the fire of love; others, and they are more numerous, declare that the Heart of Christ never appeared in the thoughts of God as anything else than a suffering, wounded Heart, created to be crucified, to be pierced, to die. The symbol of Devotion to the Sacred Heart was never, so they hold, even in God's designs, to be different, if the Heart was to be at all. It was made to be a holocaust for sin. From first to last, and in every part of Its brimming contents, It was destined for others and for the sins of others. It was to be the great peace-maker between infinite worth and infinite offence, between God and God's enemy. The Heart of Christ, then, had not a trace of the taint of unforgiveness. It was planned from eternity for forgiveness; it was created in time for forgiveness; it lived and died for the same Divine purpose. The Heart of Christ is forgiveness itself. It is mercy in its most winning and most perfect form, mercy made into a Heart.
How well, then, may the Heart of Christ serve as a model of the forgiving heart! No selfishness there; no acute sensitiveness to receive and retain wrongs. It was pure unselfishness, utterly flawless forgiveness. A diamond is transfigured carbon, changed from density and darkness into marvelous brilliance by the power of crystallization. Imagine all the carbon of the world collected into one mass, heated to glowing incandescence, subjected to the necessary pressure, and allowed to cool so that every atom would fall into line in obedience to the marshalling forces of crystallization. Then you would have a diamond planet without a flaw or blemish, which would flash back the garnered sheaves of sunlight in blinding splendor. A poet's dream all that, you say. Yet the Heart of Christ is more wonderful still. Infinite love has transfigured It into total unselfishness. It gathers up into Itself God's infinite mercy, and pours it back upon the enemies of God, making every drop of His blood to reflect God's infinite forgiveness.
The unforgiving heart is not only selfish, but it exaggerates its wrongs. Humorists are fond of showing how a lively imagination and a poor nervous condition can bring upon a man more diseases in an hour than he could get in the contagious ward of a hospital in a century. Wrongs and offended dignity are, if possible, worse victims of the tyrant imagination than weak nerves. Does the Heart of our Lord meet this weakness of the unforgiving heart? It does, and most successfully. Let us take, unforgiving heart, the very wrong which infuriates you most, which has been turned into a monster by a heated imagination. The Heart of Christ felt that very same wrong, has seen in it not any false malice manufactured by temporary madness, but the true malice of it, which far exceeds the" powers of imagination. His Heart is more tender than yours and has felt your wrong more keenly than you have, and has felt it longer than you have, because He felt it from His first heartbeat to His last. You are wounded for one reason, because you are offended; Christ for two reasons, because He is offended and because you are. He feels your wrong, because you are His brother, because your wrong is His wrong, because your wrong is God's wrong. There is, then, a malice in your wrong which Christ knows and feels in His Heart, a malice that is infinite. You think it is a great thing that you should be offended; our Lord understands that it is an infinitely greater thing that God should be offended. The Heart of Christ, therefore, says to you, unforgiving heart: "I have understood your wrong better than you, have seen it so black that it could not be blacker, have felt it more deeply because it was more Mine than yours, have forgiven it after ail, and have died for it." What will you answer to that appeal, unforgiving heart?
And yet that is not all the Heart of Christ has done. It has not only forgiven the wrongs done to it, but by a divine refinement of mercy and charity It changed the blow that was dealt It into a benefit for the hand that dealt the blow, and conferred on Its murderers the power of salvation and life everlasting in the very act in which they robbed It of life, dying for those who were killing It, saving those who were slaying It. The blood that rushed from the Heart of Christ went speeding upon an errand of mercy, hurrying out to heal Its enemies and destroyers; it was warm, eternal, infinite forgiveness from the Heart.