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How can I forgive someone when they do not repent? Part I of II

June 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Forgiveness, Fr. Bartunek

Dear Father John, I have had this question regarding forgiveness ever since my husband filed for divorce and treated me terribly during the process. He never acknowledged his treatment of me nor repented and asked for forgiveness, yet, in confession I was always told that I still must forgive him. Fortunately, eventually God gave me the grace to forgive him, as He made me see that, sinner that I am, in God's eyes who am I to feel so self-righteous over the hurt my ex inflicted, when I myself am guilty of many hurts also.

Yet, when I read the first part of Luke Chapter 17, Our Lord says that if our brother sins against us 7 times, and repents and asks our forgiveness 7 times, we must forgive him. I understand that. So, why are we expected to forgive someone when they do not ask for our forgiveness? Also, it is my understanding that, while God still loves us, when we sin against Him, we must turn back to him and repent before we receive His forgiveness. If that is correct, then why are we told by so many priests that regardless of how much someone hurt us, if they do not ask for our forgiveness we still must forgive them?

Forgiveness is central to Christianity. So central, that Jesus made it part of the prayer he taught us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And that is the first answer to your question. The passage from Luke 17 is not the only passage in the New Testament on forgiveness. We need to read it in context of the whole New Testament, and of all the Gospels. When we do that, we see that Jesus never meant for us to hold a grudge until someone asks us for forgiveness.

Forgiving without Limits

The core of Our Lord’s teaching in this area is that God’s mercy is unconditional and unlimited, and so our mercy must be the same. This is clear from the parable Jesus uses to explain the passage in Matthew that is parallel to the Luke 17 passage you refer to. This is the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18). The King calls him in to pay a huge debt, but the servant can’t pay it. So the King orders him and his family to be sold into slavery. Then the servant begs for clemency and the king mercifully forgives the debt. Then that same servant runs across someone who owes him a much, much smaller debt, and treats him without any mercy at all. The King, infuriated , calls the servant back, reinstates his original debt, and sentences him to be tortured until he pays it back in full. Jesus then explains the moral of the story: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart” (Matthew 18:35).

When Jesus explains the Our Father, he makes the same point: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). Dying on the Cross, Jesus didn’t wait for his enemies to ask for forgiveness before forgiving them; while they crucified him he prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). If he hadn’t forgiven them himself, he could not have pleaded so mercifully on their behalf with the Father. And this unconditional forgiveness, which we receive from Jesus, is the model for how we are to forgive others: “…be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgiving and Being Forgiven

We still have to face two related questions. The first has to do with what you mention about the difference between forgiving someone and that same someone receiving the forgiveness. We can never force someone to receive our forgiveness, but we can still forgive them. If we forgive them, they are forgiven – from our perspective. But if they refuse to repent and take responsibility for their offenses, it is impossible for them to receive that forgiveness. In that case, they are not forgiven – from their perspective.

This helps us understand how God’s mercy can be unlimited, but some people don’t experience it. It’s not that God is holding it back; it’s just that they are not open to receive it. I can offer you a glass of water, but if you don’t take the offer, you won’t quench your thirst. Forgiveness is like that. God doesn’t wait for us to repent before he forgives us – his mercy is constant, overflowing, and limitless. But unless we repent, we will not receive that mercy, and we will remain unforgiven – just as someone who refuses to open their eyes remains in the dark.

In our next post on this topic, we will talk about that in order to grow in our spiritual life we need to know the importance of forgiveness and that forgiveness is more than just feelings.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Norm

    Excellent question and answer! Thank you.

    • Thanks Norman! We need to get a post up here promoting Awestruck!

  • God’s mercy! Yes, God forgives us even before we repent. When I can’t go to confession, I ask for His mercy in the Adoration chapel. I’m normally the type who has trouble accepting forgiveness. Yet, when I told God that I would do my best not to commit that sin again, I felt that He was telling me “I know you will.” When I told my spiritual director about this, she told me that God trusts me! I was surprised to hear this! God trusts me? So often we hear that we should trust God but God trusts us?
    But then we see Peter and how Jesus not only forgave Him but gave a a mission to feed and tend for His lambs and sheep.
    Through this He enlightened me that forgiveness is not just no longer bearing a grudge. It is also a willingness to trust those who have hurt us. To believe in their goodness.But this a very difficult thing to do. And I don’t know if I could do this.

    • GHM_52

      Mary, I definitely believe you cannot do it because it is unnatural for our false selves to love our enemies (those who do us harm) in the way God calls us to do. The great news is that with the supernatural grace He gives us we really can follow His call to love (which implies forgiveness). I love your reference to St. Peter… It seems that even before actually having repented and asked for forgiveness over his horrible denial of Whom Peter knew to be God, Jesus was looking at Peter with the eyes full of love of someone who has already forgiven! In fact, it seems that look of love (and forgiveness) seems to have moved Peter to repent, confess and forever cry for his sin! Thanks for reminding us of that great event of forgiveness and full restoration to a state of grace!

      • judeen

        sometimes the wound is so grave and deep one can not forgive.. yet 1 decides to forgive or gives it to Jesus to forgive them , for you cannt get there… please Lord,, forgive them i place it into your hands.. judy

  • JP

    Thank you for this response, Fr. John.

    • Taungare

      At this time I left home since last Friday because I hate my step father after hurting my mom. I wish and I hope that I will never forgive him and as even my own father.
      But this time I would like to give thanks to Fr John that makes me understand more the importance of forgiven someone may be God will forgive me too

      • Becky Ward

        I’m praying for you and your family Taungare!

      • GHM_52

        Dear Taungare, God literally died to forgive you!! So, yes, He thirsts for you and waits for you to come to Him to ask for His mercy…Don’t wait! Just do it! And when you do, place the burden of your bitterness and anger on His shoulders. Believe that He has been waiting for You to ask Him to carry that load for a long time. Do yourself the favor and give God a real chance! I’ll be praying for you!

      • Praying for you too!

      • judeen

        it is so hard , to know that someone is hurting someone you love.. life seems so hard.. yet with Jesus 1 looks past the moment… and looks deep into the heart.. you have a wound with your real dad? this also plays into the whole thing… our emotions run deeper than we realize.. and so much is in 1 action… plus every ones childhood and past is also included in hurts. look deep.. why are you in this situation? What can you do to help Jesus come into everyones life.. ? if they heal.. so peace will come.. ask your preist.. there is help out there for them to over come and heal.. to get to the root of the it will not happen again.. and God may be use you to help it all get started.. God bless judy

        • PM

          Okay, there is another way of recieving this because I relate to Taungare..perhaps the same goes for me as well while our situation is similar and yet very different, I am seeing that the point may be that we are being used to show this brother in law the very same thing (because our own dad is treating my sister just as our mother was treated and I did not handle that situation very well at all when I was 16 and my dad hurt my mom and the rest of us.Now our earthly dad departed in 1996 and oddly this brother in law came into my sister’s life right after (a year after) my dad passed away and at first he was all syrup and sweetness and now he is just as bad as our dad and we find our selves in a very similar situation where these old feelings are returning against this brother in law (who is controlling and taking advantage of my sister–and to my confirmation–has been doing so, obsessively, and now my sister is so sick that she cannot move the right side of her body after a tumor removed from her brain where she endured a stroke and is alive, but now this brother in law is trying again to divide our family against me (just as my dad did) to keep me away from loving my sister when now she needs us. I am here because I was on the phone with him earlier in the day and I feel so angry and I am having these really rotten thoughts about him that are so rotten that they cannot be written on this commentary. I know that I must forgive him and continously do so in order for us to remain close with Our Lord Christ Jesus. I have asked for forgiveness and for Lord Christ’s power and for our Holy Spirit to help us from straying from Our Lord Jesus. I feel so torn inside and sad and angry and I wish she never married him, but she made her choice and sadly the consequences are showing in the wash. They have 2 children and his family are like the Addams Family meets the Devil’s Advocate and many of those Freddy Horror movies. It is sickening and we have so many of our own concerns in our own family (in our own marriage) and we need our Lord Jesus even more than ever! Please pray for us that we remain in following Our Lord Christ Jesus, we are praying for my sister’s recovery. But we really need Our Lord Christ to hold on to us and for us to hold on to Him. Pray that I listen and DO and obey Our Lord Christ so that I will not contribute any destruction to my own marriage to my husband. He does not deserve for us to go down because of my preoccupation with my sister. Please Dear Lord Christ keep us from making a mess and protect us and our relationship and that I lay down my anger and hatred against this brother in law and his family. Me and my husband need Peace and Protection and all of His Love right now and I ask forgiveness to you Lord Christ right on this board so that when we come back, we will have a testamony that will bring many others to Our Shepard. Please keep us from wickedness of every type and deliver us from every evil and defend us Dear Lord Christ, Dear Holy Spirit and Dear Father God in your power, love, sound mind and in Your Name. Amen.

          • I have no doubt that you will find a way. The key to your success will be found in a holy spiritual director and your God given energy, fervency, and love for Him.

  • Babelrj

    Forgiveness is received according to the measure of the repentance of the other. Mathematically speaking, you give 100% of forgiveness. The other repent only 60%. So this will be the measure of forgiveness received: 60%…

  • Teresa

    After many years I was able to forgive the person who abused me when I was a child, even though this person denied the abuse ever happened. I finally understood that the forgiveness was for my peace of mind.

    It is also important to remember that when you forgive someone you are not condoning their actions. It was still wrong of this person to abuse me when I was a child.

    • kc

      Understanding exactly where you are coming from, I have to agree with your statement: “you are not condoning their actions”. How did you understand that the forgiveness was for your peace of mind? I too have experienced the same situation and let me tell you, I get it, I truly do. It saddens me deeply to hear that you had to experienced such horrific acts.To be able to forgive such a person had to be difficult and confusing for you. How have you been able to do this? I’m trying to be forgiving and am having an extremely difficult time. Any words that may help me would be truly appreciated.

    • PM

      I am beginning to see that unforgiveness can attract disease and sickness to our very body and there is a kind of wisdom in forgiveness, the wisdom being “Because He said so..” another is because, He has got this under control as well and to teach us how He had to sacrifice His own Son. A perfectly Loving and powerful Son who Healed and came from His Being whom He had to forgive namkind for abusing and killing HIs Son whom He painfully had to turn away from His Son to take on our sins which Lord Christ did not deserve to take on for those who deny who He is and to reject His Son, whom He knew would have to die like that (but to where Our Father has the final Victory in Resurrecting His Body, but to where Our Lord Christ can save so many people who truly need Him.

      Forgiveness is a sacrifice and that is why it is so hard for many to do. Forgiveness says that though you do not deserve to be forgiven for your cruelty or your selfishness, that you are exonerated from paying the price that the offender has committed.

      It reveals how serious forgiveness truly is and that even in our temptation not to forgive.

      It hurts to forgive and it hurts NOT to forgive. Those who commit crimes are forgiven, but they also pay a LARGE consequence for the sin itself (depending on what that sin is). There is a sin which does not lead to death.

      Remember, it’s not only that we forgive, but that Our Father will set the record straight in one way or another. I am sorry that you were abused and I hope that you are being Healed and Blessed by Our Lord Christ for the pain that you have been through in life; I hope that you are being richly Blessed in a New Peace for you.

      I hope that Our Lord is present with you and speaking to your spirit that you are being hid beneath.

      He will use that sin to bring that person to His Son (just as He brought Paul, who murdered Christians and went out of his way doing so and wrote nearly 80% of the New Testament through the Word of Christ in Our Father).

      Being Loving and Forgiving does not mean that Our Father isn’t less Holy. He made it plain and clear of those who would not see the Kingdom of God.

      Perhaps this may be why Paul had that thorn on his side that he begged to have removed and Paul knew why that thorn was there. It may have very well had to do with murdering Christ’s Beloved as well.

      He has even given us a way through it with more Love and More Peace to help us to forgive because He knows what this is like. Our Lord Jesus walked this earth as a human being and also 100% Abba Father.

      So, Forgiveness is an ongoing process (70×7=eternally as many times as it takes to forgive–which is no error that He uses the number 7 because of the Holiness of the number itself.

      He even forgives us for our short comings in our inability to forgive. It is like He is forgiving us in the number of times that we need to repeatedly asked to forgiven.

      So the number of times is the message that HE knows that forgiveness is a process and THAT is truly a Loving Father for you!

  • JP

    Please bear with me, I am not trying to be difficult, but I am still very confused about this. In both parables referenced above, the ‘guilty’ parties ask for mercy and forgiveness. What I am getting from Scripture on forgiveness is that it seems to assume that the person is repenting and asking for forgiveness when we are told to forgive. It is obviously very wrong to refuse mercy to someone who has apologized and asks for forgiveness. It would be interesting if Our Lord, in the parable of the King and the unforgiving servant, had the servant not care about the debt he owed the King, and then still had the King forgive the debt anyway.
    Please help me to understand this better. Thank you.

    • JRKH

      The best way to approach this is to simplify…Start from the great commandment to Love others as you Love yourself. Then look at the Lords prayer, as pointed out in the answer above.
      The Lord’s prayer says, “forgive us, as we forgive”…So – how do you want to be forgiven by God? This is how you must forgive others….


      • GHM_52

        I agree!

    • Becky Ward

      I can SO relate to this!! I’ve been there often….if people acknowledge their offense and apologize, then certainly we can forgive them! But if they don’t……then what happens? Then I carry this hurt around with me and it festers and grows…often the offending party never even knew they had hurt me…sometimes because I was overly sensitive.
      I was recently on a retreat where the topic of forgiveness was addressed and I learned some very good things about forgiving. Forgiving isn’t forgetting, denying, condoning, excusing, or reconciling. It’s dropping the burden of your anger and resentment and foregoing revenge.
      Having a pie-in-the-sky, all warm and fuzzy understanding of forgiveness was a HUGE part of why I had so much trouble forgiving. In my mind I was thinking that forgiveness meant being reconciled and that everything was like the offense never took place.
      Here are a couple definitions of forgiveness that have also helped me. 1- Letting go of a justifiable “right to retribution” and 2- Giving up all hope of a better past.
      Others have stated here that we forgive for our own peace…….and that is absolutely true. I want God to forgive me quickly…….and in keeping with the words from the “Our Father” – “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I must forgive quickly too.
      Ask God for the grace to forgive……we believe that Jesus is present within us…..especially right after communion……I’ve had to ask Him to forgive for me…I can’t do it yet Lord, it hurts too much! But I know that you want me to…and I know that it will be good for me….please do it for me, and help me to learn to be more forgiving.
      He will do it!

      • GHM_52

        I totally agree!!

      • judeen

        I do not think it is a pie in the sky.. thing to forgive… your right it is hard.. I was disowned by my dad.. and He never took me back… I tryed hard.. but there was a unspoken love.. between us.. yet … he died never taking me back as his child… forgiveness is hard.. and yes I think about it alot… yet it is a decision.. an offering.. and when I am weak I watch the devil try to use it, to hurt me… , so standing firm I remember Jesus on the cross.. and remember I love..

    • Becky Ward

      From the Catechism – 2843: “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.”
      Forgiving is a process..we must decide to do it, and then be patient…….it takes time. You can find more about this petition in the Our Father here:

    • GHM_52

      Dear JP, Some observations that may clear up the issue of forgiveness. The first commandment calls us to: a) love God above any-one, any-thing, and every-thing; and b) love our brother as we love ourselves. Regarding the first part of the commandment, “forgiveness” is something that, theologically, we cannot give to an offending brother because it implies the capacity to blot out sin and restore the soul to its former state of grace. Clearly, only the King, that is, God, has that capacity. So, the point now would be to understand the meaning of “forgiveness” from the point of viw of someone who is not the King (God). Clearly, the meaning has to be different. When someone “sins” against me, he/ she is primarily offending God and above all, needs the grace-restoring forgiveness that ONLY God can give. If the one who has sinned against God by offending me and repents of the sin and confesses it, he/she has asked for my forgiveness, even if not directly communicating with me. Remember when Jesus said that whenever we clothed or fed someone, we had clothed and fed him? Well, it stands to reason then that when my trespasser repents and confesses to Jesus asking for His forgiveness, he/she has adked my forgiveness too, whether I am aware of it or not. Now, what does forgiveness from the point of viw of the servant (you, me, etc.) means? It must have a different meaning from the forgiveness that ONLY God can give. I think that for us “forgiveness” means to renounce the anger, the emotional pain, the bitterness, the desire to punish that trespasses against us provoke. It does NOT mean to literally forget the trespass or the perhaps useful information that a particular trespass may give us about the trespasser. Renouncing that burning pain that cries out for vengeance totally opposes our false selves (wounded natures); therefore, we need to pray hard and unceassingly for the supernatural grace to let go of that bitterness. I hope I have made it clear that human forgiveness does not have much to do with the offender (except for the fact that the offense triggered the bitterness) and has everything to do with the offended party; that is, it is about ridding the heart of the bitterness regardless of what the offender does. Lastly, regarding the ungrateful servant’s parable: as any parable, it is not about an exact blueprint that we need to follow in every detail. It is about a general message or truth. If we are going to identify with any character of that story, it should not be the King: He (God) had the rightful authority to ask for restitution of the debt owed and He ALONE had the right and authority to punish the debtor. We should be identifying with the servants, whose only “right” is to recognize debts owed, ask for mercy, be thankful for the mercy offered, and to imitate the King in being merciful to those who owe us (who have offended us). (By the way, Your questions and issues are incredibly on point as this theme of “forgiveness” is difficult and mysterious…I also liked your tone when asking for assistance when facing Gospel messages that confuse you. I am sure God has been delighted by your questions and your attitude. May He bless you always!

      • PM

        I really liked your answer because you take another insightful and truth approach directly from the Word of Our Father and brought me to an additional understanding that I had not seen before from this POV. I could now understand (and this is WOW) that there are sins that Only Our Father can forgive and if HE can forgive us for sins that we commit against HIM (then they certainly must be significant) and then for another to ask for forgiveness of a simple sin (I do not mean this lightly)..lets say that the first servant to was given mercy and forgiveness harmed another soul physically wounding that person deserving of a greater punishment but was forgiven and set free and the next servant who asked for mercy may have committed a sin of carelessness and the servant who was forgiven of the greater sin punished this 2nd servant as severely as the other servant SHOULD have recieved. WOW! I mean this is like, I need to read this over again so that I will not forget this in my own life. This helps me to appreciate forgiveness in a most spectacular way and even Our Lord Christ directed you to post this for such a time as this in my own life right now because we were praying for me to forgive in such a way to truly appreciate the seriousness of forgiveness. Sometimes we can miss the details and miss the entire point (as I had many times with this) but this was an annointed answer speaking to me where I live. Now that is just the awesomeness of Our Father and Of Our Lord Christ Jesus. This was so very well written with depth and intensity. I am blessed also for this response. i will be back soon. Thank you Lord Christ Jesus and thank you GHM_52!

    • Mark

      I am quite certain that I read something by Blessed John Paul II where he taught that forgiveness requires reconciliation. I am getting ready for work and a quick search did not find the document, but I know it exists because it transformed my understanding of forgiveness, particularly in regard to JP’s post above.

      Forgiving someone who is not interested in reconciling is a gesture with meaning only for pop psychology.

      I will try to find the passage later today.

      • JP

        Mark, if you can find the doc, I would really be interested. Thank you.

    • judeen

      1must go through stages.. a person has to say they were hurt.. /egknowledgement of the pain.. a person can not forgive if they pretent it didnt hurt.. it is part of the healing… it is nice if the other person egknowledges it.. once it took 20 years…. after much gossip and put downs before they admitted they did a horrible thing.. and Jumping the gun before realizing the whole wound before telling them they were forgiven. made it harder to heal… yet for a person to forgive.. it is a healing inside of your self.. and later when the other admits it,, it too will help them heal and change ….maybe.

    • PM

      Well, the King (in this parable) IS our Father and WE are the servants and even more, that Our Father watches everything (another thing to remember that He does not miss a thing) and that we as human beings tend to forget when we are forgiven for much worse things that Our Father has watched us do in secret. That servant “forgot” how much he was forgiven and that Our Father is HOLY and He Will punish the sin that we commit, especially when we have been forgiven many times, how dare we oppress another by not only forgiving his fellow being, but also placing a yoke at the same time on the other servant. Notice, that the parable did not describe how much time had passed or whether this happened later on in the day or in the servant’s life…the entire point is that even after the one servant was not only forgiven but was shown great love for the amount of his debts that this servant turns around (this goes back to not taking the log out of one’s eye and looking at the other’s as a speck). We fail to look at our own short comings and we have the nerve to place higher demands on another when we may be worse than the other that we are accusing or oppressing. It isn’t that the King just said,” okay, here comes the pain!” The whole point is that, no only did the servant forget that he was forgiven, but acted in such an unloving manner and didn’t seem to care that he was being watched (By Our Father). Another is that Our Father WILL punish wrong doing. Period. Our Father wants us to know that while He is Loving that He is also Holy. And it does not mention how many times this servant had been treating others in this way that one day Our Father will just not strive with mankind for long on this point. That it is not about “asking for mercy to be forgiven” but having the mercy to give when one does not deserve it.

  • Salvatore Buttaci

    I had held a grudge against members of my family for more than ten years. Finally I let it go and forgave them. There is no true living unless we are at peace with ourselves and the world, no matter how close we say we are to God. Forgiving those who have hurt us is not easy, but if we think about Jesus forgiving his murderers while he was in the throes of agony, it might become easier for us.

    • kc

      How did you start your journey with forgiveness? Where do you start and how do you begin? I’m so happy for you that you were able to accomplish your journey. I agree with you about there is no true living unless we are at peace with ourselves and the world. My question for you is this: how did you “let it go?” Can you explain this process that you did? Thank you.

      • LizEst

        kc, I truly feel for you.

        You want to forgive but don’t know how to start. Please keep a few things in mind: 1–Unlike the hurt you feel, forgiveness is not a feeling. 2–Forgiveness is a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better and quicker, the more complete and freer will your forgiveness be. 3–Just because you forgive someone does not mean you approve their action(s) and it doesn’t give someone permission to do it again. 4–Your forgiveness is a free gift. The offender doesn’t have to earn it. They may have to do something to have a relationship with you, or a better relationship. If you wait for someone to acknowledge their mistake(s) or ask for your forgiveness, you may wait all your life (I once forgave someone who hurt me deeply and it was many years later that I received a letter of apology; in another case, I’m still waiting for the apology–but, I’ve forgiven). 5–Remember Christ’s admonition, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15.

        So, let’s get started. First of all, ask God for the grace to forgive. As many have said, it’s not a cheap grace.

        Next, just begin: Even if you don’t feel very forgiving (remember it’s not a feeling), say in your heart, “I forgive you.” You can also say this out loud in private. Now, just because you say it in your heart or out loud once doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the end of the matter. For some things or people, that may be so. For very deep hurts, expect to have to keep forgiving every time the memory of that hurt comes up. Christ taught we must forgive seventy times seven (some Bible versions say 77
        times), meaning that the forgiveness is to be limitless. Eventually, the act of so much forgiving will soften your heart and you will find peace. Even then, the devil will try to steal your peace by bringing the hurt up to you. Forgive yet again. By using this method privately, you will be ready to forgive that person to their face if they should ever come to you to ask for forgiveness.

        Third, pray for the person you want to forgive. Pray a lot.

        Fourth, if an opportunity to do something good for that person presents itself, do it. Say, it’s a person who hurt you in your childhood, you can have Masses said for that person even if that person is in the same parish as you. Many religious communities (in another town or state) will have Masses prayed for your intention…even if you can’t afford to pay for the Mass cards (just tell them that).

        Lastly, remember we are all flawed human beings. Sometimes, our
        incapacity to forgive others is because we want them to be perfect fathers and mothers, perfect husbands and wives, perfect family members, perfect friends, perfect clergy and religious, perfect like God. This is unintentionally idolatrous. They can’t be perfect like God because only God is God. But, God, the divine healer (Ex 15:26), has given us the ability to forgive as supernatural medicine for binding up the wounds and hurt that the sins of others have caused us. And, just as God forgives our sins, we must imitate Him and forgive the sins of others, for “the measure with which [we] measure will be measured out to [us].” Mk 4:24. By forgiving, we participate in God’s divine goodness and we are not “conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” Rom 12:21.

        My prayers for you in your journey to forgiveness. God bless you, kc!

        • kc

          WOW! Some response. Thank you very much. As I was reading this, I just broke down and cried. Your words and message have touched me, truly touched me. I just love your comment: By forgiving, we participate in God’s divine goodness and we are not “conquered by evil BUT conquer evil with good.” I will read your response over and over until I have it right. My hope and prayers are to be able to forgive and be able to feel the freedom from this sadness, hurt, and pain. Words and actions can be so hurtful and so hard to get over when you are on the receiving end of it. I always want to do the right thing , do right by others, and to be true to God. Thank you so much for taking the time to help me with this. I will be forever grateful for your kindness. kc

          • LizEst
          • LizEst

            …my thanks to you, kc. I am moved and humbled by your response. Truly, the credit goes to the Lord, for He is at work within you. Forgiving is very hard to do when the hurt is very deep. But, you are very, very close to starting that journey of forgiveness. May the Holy Spirit continue to move you in taking that first step and continuing on that Way that leads to peace. May God bless you always and give you abundant life and happiness.

        • PM

          But see, I am not asking or even expecting folks to be perfect; there’s a decency that we ought to hold one another accountable for. Even Our Lord Christ has told us to gently restore those who have trespassed or missed the way. Forgiveness is a repeat process for as many times as we ask for HIs Forgiveness is as many times as we should give the same Mercy. It also means that we tell the truth (not terribly easy because folks want to hear how great they are, they do not necesarily want to know that they are a walking jerk—and I am being honest here just as He would have us to be. People CAN be jerks and mean spirited and as HIs Beloved, this is why WE are no longer condemned for those who belong to Him. That is why Our Lord discusses the importance of forgiveness and the seriousness of forgiveness because behind that there is a even greater plan than we realize in His reasons for asking us to Forgive. We are not to take forgiveness lightly, this is where honesty comes in. For example: ” I forgive you and I forgive you because I want to continue a close and intimate relationship with my Lord, while at the same time, as I forgive you, you need to know that what you said or did was wrong and you need to be forgiven for it…” We can be honest in forgiveness, there is a lot of connective scripture which ties into forgiveness in which forgiveness in itself is not a stand alone action; it ties into everything that is written in His Word and then some…

    • PM

      It takes time to heal as well because I can relate to how you feel about family. It’s like, the forgiveness is there inside, but each time they tend to re-open wounds in their attitudes and in their ways. So , yes, it is not easy and Our Lord said that in this world we would have trouble, but for us to take heart, that He would overcome the world. It is the same thing, He knows and He reveals to us just how much bitterness is inside of us so that we will tell Him and so that we will confess to who He is and to who we are. And the point is that He calls us to lean on HIm and rely on Him. We can’t forgive in our own power, that is why Christ Jesus tells us to call on Him. Only HE is the Master of Forgiveness and He is who we go to for the power to forgive. We cannot do anything apart from HIm, He said that to us as well and He also said that He already knows what is in our hearts and that He sent the Holy Spirit to help us. With Christ Jesus, all things are possible; for mankind, it is not easy. SO, that Our Father that Our Christ lives with us because there is no way that we could do this on our own. Only He can clean our cups from the inside.

  • nameless

    Forgiveness is the Cross of Jesus ~ we must learn to carry ours with Him ~ “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” that is the key for our daily living; forgive everyone before fall into sleep, no matter what. Do that each night, soon all is forgiven, that PEACE of Christ indwells. The goal of our Faith is to be Christ like: “carry your cross and follow me.” without forgiveness we are not carrying our cross with Clarity and Charity about Jesus’ Teaching and our love for HIM! Love is painful for the good of the beloved. Love never dies, the more pain there is, the deeper is that love. Love is the only thing that is worthy of giving ~ it never perishes but grows in time and in silence, because God is watching and does the Watering!

    • judeen

      I will try this every night.. thanks… 1 never thinks of the little things until it all adds up.. then it is like a mt… judy

    • judeen

      another thing I ask myself.. why am I hurt? why do I cry…? is it because.. of I want their love? or am I being selfish I want things my way? is it my pride? why should it bother me? instead of looking at whay they did.. I need to look at myself… and why I am so hurt.. or wounded? do I understand where they are coming from… have I miss understood them? it is a self examimation.. in a deep way… reasons why I feel the way I do

  • greg

    I struggled with the same thing, having the head knowledge of scripture that I had to forgive but still for years my body wouldn’t forgive. The pain kept reminding me, kept bringing up the hurts. Finally God said I had to do it now, that day! That day He showed me that by loving my enemies I somehow forgive them by default. So now I love her and my hurts seemed to go somewhere else. Kind of the way my kids can never hurt me… I just shine it on and keep loving them. Like, oh, that’s okay. It took me a while but I made it! We are worth it!

    • PM

      I hope that I will begin to transform the way you have. I believe that you have been Divinely helped and that every word you have spoken is true because that is about the way that Our Lord Christ transforms and helps us and this is so refreshing to know. This is why He deserves the Glory because only He can Heal like that. That is really inspiring to read. Thank you!

  • Charisse M

    I think forgiving others who are not repenting are also for your heart. At the end of the day, that anger/sadness will well up in the tiny nooks in our hearts and stop grace from flowing. It will keep us from continuing to forgive others who even ask for forgiveness. The more we hold inside, the more we hold from others, the worse off we are. Unforgiveness is a burden not easily taken away the longest we hold it in, as we humans are very good at self-deception and we are very good are believing these are not burdens in our hearts, but it is a burden easily lifted if we continue to forgive.

    • kc

      How does one start forgiving someone they love? When the hurt is so deep? I think I have it and then I realize I don’t have it at all. I want to be able to forgive, however I don’t know what stops me from being able to do it. Your words have really sunk in and I agree with what you’re saying, I just don’t know how to accomplish this. Any ideas or suggestions? Thank you.

  • Roseann Buchanan

    As a nurse, I always considered myself as a “student of people”, especially in their misery and suffering. One thing to remember is HURTING PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. This rule applies to all of us. If someone is so content to inflict some form of affliction or misery upon someone else, they cannot be truly happy from within. And true happines, in the Christian sense, is freedom! I also experienced the end of a marriage initiated by the other spouse. But there did come a day in which MY PITY FOR HIM OUTWEIGHED MY ANGER for what he inflicted upon me and my children. I believe that was a day of grace. To not be capable of love that extends to the closest other reflects deep disorder, an affliction within one’s inner soul. In the grand scheme of things, it truly is pitiful especially from God’s perspective. It is the recurrent sickness of humanity, the unending turning inward in an act of selfishness leading to the incapability of relationship – whether with God or others. May God have mercy on us all.

    • GHM_52

      Powerful story, Roseann B.! I agree with you!

  • judeen

    unforgiveness affects us in many ways… 1st it is a decision not a feeling.. I was told the feeling comes later.. 2. it leaves a heavy weight on our shoulders.. a sadness too… many have had to make some hard decision to forgive.. and when they did . a very heavy weight came off of their shoulders.. also their life becomes more easyer , to control , not so out of control… 3 when we dont deal with our feelings and hurts.. we hand them down to our children.. and they seem to carry a saddness and even become bitter.. 4. when we do not forgive our spouce it really hurts the kids.. , no matter who they are.. (spouce ) a part of them are in our kids.. so if we hate our spouce so too our kids feel like they are not totally loved.. for they carry trates from both parents.. been through it .. felt what it feels to not be forgiven.. heavy burdened from being judged hard… with out them knowing why.. alot of the times our problems are stemed from childhood.. our uncontrol or anger or selfishness. look in His past… judeen

  • JMV

    Thank you so much. I had the exact same questions as above and never received an adequate response. But your explanation on the difference between forgiving and being forgiven resolved what I perceived as an apparent contradiction perfectly. I always thought I was being expected to be more forgiving than God, which didn’t make sense. Thank you so much clearing this up.

  • sojourner

    I have read Fr. John’s article, and the many subsequent comments. I am in a situation of a serious offense within the family. I see a basic two-way split: there is the intellectual act of deciding to forgive, and there is the emotional development through which the pain and anger subside, and forgiveness is instilled in the heart. The intellectual act has not been difficult for me, and it gives me some comfort to feel that I am taking that step. But the wounded heart has been slow to heal. It seems that I am no more able to force the heart to stop hurting than I would be able to tell a freshly broken bone to stop hurting. On the one hand Jesus requires us to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35), but at the same time many of the commenters point out that this forgiveness from the heart is a grace from God and often takes a long time. So, if I have chosen to forgive, and pray often for the grace to forgive, but am still struggling with the pain, and with the anger and desire for revenge that the pain provokes, am I fulfilling my Christian obligation? As many commeters have mentioned, the burden of the pain and anger is a heavy one, and provokes peripheral problems of its own. But I feel less that the pain is something that I can “let go of”, and more that it is a wound of which I cannot be healed simply by my own force of will.

    • judeen

      offer it up to God , joined with the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ… to God the Father for families in trouble… the pain is real… and yes it hurts alot… what would Jesus do? to change things in a family is hard… we are in a ciricle.. each reacting off the other.. a person in AA could tell you about this.. it is hard to get out of the rut of how we treat each other or react to each other.. alot of it is tuff love.. a love so deep your willing to hurt to help the others to get back on track with God… remember the devil feeds off hurt.. so fight the hurt.. love more. be kind to the 1s that hurt you .. do extra kind things for them… love melts the hardest heart..

  • kc

    How does one start to forgive someone that has continually hurt you? How do you start forgiving and where do you start? I’m so lost with this.

    • judeen

      Kc, someone continually hurting you…. prayer,, depends on who it is .. someone not with you all the time… and what are they doing? been through alot of this stuff… if it is verbally .. ask God protection from their harsh words… and forgive them it is a decision not a feeling.. if it is abuse/ physically and emotionally… bless the house.. pray for Gods protection.. cover your self with the precious blood of Jesus… avoid them if you can.. stand up for what is right and also call the police when you can… show you are not a vicim and God is on your side.. Ask God for words to defuse the situation.. and wait for His words , before you do anything….do not accurse , but say I feel like this .. or that hurts me …. ( that is how to work with abuse….. -dont let your self be a victim, ) but if it is on going hurt from someone… ask why? how come? what is making you like this… have you been hurt in your past? 1 really needs to know the situation to really help you…. forgiveness takes away the pain i your heart , but the devil will bring in back to see if he can keep the hurt going… so stay stronge stay forgiven

      • kc

        Judy: Thank you so much for your kindness and consideration in your words. I’ve not thought about forgiveness in the way you have presented it. I do believe once I forgive this person, I will feel free from the pain and anger that weighs heavy on my heart. The pain and anger I feel comes from being lied to over and over and the deceit that comes with it. I have forgiven this person in the past, however I’m faced with it again. This person is a very good person, however, I feel they are quite lost due to their personal situation in life. I’ve continued to be a good friend, I continue to show my love and support, and I continue to pray for them all the time. I don’t care to be treated this way no matter what. I feel sometimes I’m being taken advantage of and this doesn’t sit well with me. I want so much to be able to have this pain and sadness lifted. I will continue to pray for them as well as pray for God’s guidance. I feel my prayers have been answered by this website, people like yourself who have taken the time to respond and share their thoughts and prayers with me. Thank you so much, God Bless You.

        • judeen

          kc, when people do things over and over .. alot of the times there is a reason… I use to exagrate alot.. …. feeling lost a alone .. ask this person some time… why they do it… maybe they do not even know they do it… ask about their past… find a wound.. I dont think it is about you that they try to hide.. and run from the truth.. do they like them selves… you are there , maybe for a reason.. to help them … pray about it

  • Forgiveness is thought to be given to others. In truth accepting it first automatically gives it to others.

    • PM

      Forgiveness is a Truth and the Central and Primary source of His Redemptive Plan this is what Our Lord Christ lay His very life for (not taken by mankind–He laid it down for us at the time when we deserved it the least).

      It is far more than a thought and we must recieve His Forgiveness through understanding what His Forgiveness means. It is about this unconditional love, unmerited, that we do not deserve, at all.

      Yes, we are forgiven, and yet, if we fail to understand the richness of what His Forgiveness is truly all about, then, how can one recieve it automatically?

      The forgiveness is a Grace and to gain insight into forgiveness through an actual relationship with Christ, is the greater inheirantance.

      If we fail to appreciate it, or take it for granted, then, none of us can truly be healed or recieve the massive effects of the very Power of forgiveness.

      His Forgiveness is far more different than the way that we “forgive”. However, as we become intimate with Our Lord, then, we truly know that forgiveness is more than automatic.

      It is what true love is and that His forgiveness is unconditional and that we do not deserve it, but that as He lives in us, we discover that it isn’t automatic as we once believed, because many of us are struggling to recieve forgivenes. As Christ Jesus said to us, “Seek Ye The Kingdom First and all of HIs Righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you (us)”. We can ask Our Lord Christ for anything. Even for help to Forgive the trespasses that others do against us, that we have wrapped in Great Peace from His Throne and that we Rest at His Feet. Amen

  • Mary@42

    Once again, forgive me for having been off for a whole week. Reading your responses, I realize Christ’s Lesson in forgiveness is hard, especially for one who has hurt you DELIBERATELY, and they are not even apologetic about it. That truly hurts and makes is very difficult for the person who wants to forgive to do so and let go. As an Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy, the Pillar I teach to the Sessions we hold during the Training of Trainers Lessons, is the Hour of Great Mercy – 3.00 O’Clock to 4.00 O’Clock. Initially, I was stuck on what to teach for an hour on this Pillar.

    I then remembered a Homily we were given, oh, about 12 years ago, on the Holy Mass of the Last Supper. We were informed that Jesus gave His Last Will and Testament to His Apostles in His Farewell Discourse and when He instituted the Holy Eucharist – He in fact, celebrated the first Holy Mass. From this reflection, I realized that during the three Hours Jesus was in agony and utter desolation on the Cross, He left us, His children, His Last Will and Testament in the Seven Words He spoke while slowly, painfully, dying on the Cross.

    The First Word is, of course : “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. Forgiveness is at the core and Centre of our Christisan Life. However, one needs to realize one cannot do this on their own. God’s Grace must be there, working in one’s heart and Will to forgive. Our forgiveness must not depend on the one we are forgiving accepting our forgiveness – or even admitting they have hurt us. The Chief Priests knew who Jesus was. And even though He forgave them, they did not accept they had crucified the Messiah. To them, they had got rid of a troublesome, irritating Person who challenged their Authority, pointed out their hypocritical application of the Law of Moses, threatened their hold on power over the people and they simply had to get rid of Him. So, to them they had done no wrong and they did not need any forgiveness from Jesus. In fact they shouted that His blood (curse) be upon them and their children.

    We need to always fall back to God’s Grace to be able to forgive – unconditionally – the one who has hurt us deeply and does not even accept they have hurt us. Our forgiveness does not depend on their accepting that they need forgiveness, or accepting they have hurt us. Mother Church reminds us Forgiveness is Divine and it is, therefore, to the Merciful Jesus that one needs to turn and pray for His Grace to be able to forgive. With prayers, one will even find it easy to accept some responsibility of what happened and also forgive oneself. The best place to take these deep hurts is before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It is the experience of this old granny that, at such moments, when we lay our aching hearts before Him, He truly heals as one surrenders the hurts and pains at His Feet and by and by, He does the inner healing Himself. This is what we learned in the Retreat I attended last week.

    In my country, Kenya, we have had this experience where neighbours rose against neighbours after the 2007/2008 disputed General Elections. Worked to a frenzy by the Politicians who lied their victory had been stolen, they killed over 1,300 men, women and children who have been their neighbours and friends for decades, burned their homes, took away their livestock and everything else they owned, and chased them from their small farm holdings. To this day more than 700,000 people are still living as Internally Displaced Persons, having lost everything they had and living in tattered Red Cross Tents and suffering the vagaries of Nature. Visiting these people, one is moved to tears to hear their stories. One is moved with amazed wonder and awe to witness what TRUE FORGIVENESS IS. These miserable people, who once had peaceful, thriving lives, have no bitterness whatsoever that their loved ones were brutally murdered and they lost their small farm holdings now occupied by their attackers and everything they had earned through the work of their hands. They know one day, by God’s Grace, they will get alternative land and begin to re-build their shattered lives once again. This proves that, no wrong is impossible to forgive. God’s Grace enables one to forgive even the worst injustice, attain lasting inner healing and move on with one’s life.

    • judeen

      so good to hear from you.. been looking for you… thanks for what you wrote… still I need to every day.. think about forgiveness… a gift from God.. May God help those who are in such need … they sure could teach us alot… God bless

    • PM

      This is horrible what has happened in Kenya to these citizens. I pray right now that the United States will not spiral into this again (because this has happened in the 1940s & 1950s called “The Great Migration”.

      Please research this, how so many were treated in the exact same way and were burned out or beaten, threatened , intimidated, murdered (and of course no one was ever convicted in the crimes that were committed against these entire generations of families who were forced to live in cold climates and off of their land (because their land was stolen as well).

      In the Great Migration in the United States, there was upwards of over 50,000 or more men, women, and children who had their lives settled and were terrorized and displaced.

      The thing is that while our Father and Our Lord Christ DOES forgive, Our Father does punish the sin, we can never forget that. Never.

      He does defend His people and the enemies of His people are HIS enemies as well and this is in the New Testament.

      There is justice on earth as it is in Heaven (in HIs Way) and at times this is hard to take because we want the justice right now, however, what action Our Father takes must lead the person or people back to the Cross.

      He will allow those whose deeds take place in the dark to be seen in the light and in the darkness that they choose, they reap what they live by (and Our Father does not do this TO them, per se) however, He allows the darkness that such people want and pursue and by the nature in which Our Father has created all things.

      He has given to us Our Lord Christ, we follow Him or we don’t and when we don’t, or refuse to, the wages of sin is death.

      This has not changed. There is a difference between struggling with one’s sins and deliberately or refusing to acknowledge the Living Father.

      We perish for a lack of knowledge, but by Grace, we have the Holy Spirit and Lord Christ Jesus so that none will perish, however, when those commit murder and crimes against his created ones (particularly His Beloved) there are consequences because He tells us not to get into trouble for being; ” a murderer, theif or a busy body”. (Also in the New Testament)

      He tells us that because He knows what happens as a result of opting for such a life. God cannot be mocked. Yes, He is Loving, and yet, He will defend His people just as He promised in the New Testament.

  • If you pray for someone who has done terrible evil deeds, can the person be forgiven by God even if they don’t seek his forgiveness?

    • LizEst

      This is a very good question, Jason, because we have been given free will. So, everyone must make his or her choices in life. One thing we know is that God is rich in mercy. By means of our prayers, our intercession united to Christ on behalf of someone, they receive grace to come to realize their deeds. The final choice is theirs. But, we can be like Moses and stand in the breech for them, pleading for God on their behalf, pleading for God to recognize their good deeds and not hold their evil deeds against them. Christ asked our heavenly Father to forgive the sins of those who crucified Him even though they did not know what they were doing. So, too, can we recall this scene to our heavenly Father in, with and through Jesus and beg for the forgiveness of those who have done terrible deeds. Christ has given us this example and we should do the same. What we do united to Christ has infinite merit, not because of ourselves but because of the infinite merit Christ has before the Father. God bless you Jason…and keep praying!

      • Thank you for going to the trouble of answering my question. You have provided a very clear answer and your post is full of hope and comfort. I feel I understand things now for the first time. I will keep praying. I have learnt so much. God Bless you and thank you.

        • LizEst

          You’re quite welcome, Jason. The glory, of course, goes to the Lord. May the Lord bless you and keep you!

  • PM

    The thing is that I have never read the phrase from our Lord Christ or Written through our Father about “free will”. “Free Will” is more of mankind’s definition than ever how He communicates to us though His Word.

    [Dear Friend, we are grateful to have you commenting on this site but please review the FAQ’s so you can get an idea regarding the unique approach we take.]

    • Dear Friend – thank you for your comment. Because your combox post was longer than the post itself, I left you a note and edited your comment down to one simple idea. With respect to this thought, my only comment is that the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture but it does of course reflect the truth of the triune God revealed in scripture. Of course, a phrase or word need not be in the bible to be true. I think we would both agree that the idea reflected must be in keeping with scripture. As this is a Catholic site, we don’t adhere to sola scriptura but recognize the bible as it was given to us – a Catholic book compiled by Catholic Bishops within the context of the entire body of tradition both oral and written. With respect to our use of “free will” it appears that you are not familiar with Church teaching on the matter. I would suggest a review of the Catechism on the topic. I look forward to your continued engagement with us. We are glad to have you.

      • PM

        Dear Friend,

        What do you mean?

        (I write this with a gentleness of tone, so please listen as if I were speaking in gentle tones to you—the internet does not allow us to truly listen to our tone— You wrote to me about a unique approach that your website takes.

        Have I offended you in the manner in which I view the words “free will”? Hs Power and in His Love. Sincerely, PM

        • Dear Friend, No, you have not offended me – but it is obvious by the length of your response that you have not taken the time to read the FAQ. Please do so. Once you do, send me an email at and I will open up your ability to comment again. We are happy to have you but we are strict regarding our policies on combox interaction.

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