Sunday, April 21, 2024

Prayer of Forgiveness: Extending God’s Mercy to Others

I originally shared this story in 2016, but it is worth repeating now as we continue the series on prayer.

Jameel McGee was walking down a street of an inner city in the mid-west section of the United States. He was stopped by Andrew Collins, a police officer who arrested him for dealing drugs. McGee completely denied that he had the drugs on his person. The courts favored the testimony of Collins and sentenced the young man to ten years in prison.

As time went on, Collins’ illegal activity caught up with him. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months for falsifying reports, planting drugs and stealing. In turn, all his cases were reinvestigated, and McGee was exonerated after spending five years in prison.

One would easily assume that McGee would absolutely hate the arresting officer, since he seemingly wasted five years of his life because of Collins’ actions. In the beginning, McGee confessed that he wanted to meet Collins and hurt him. But, in prison, he realized that hatred would only make him bitter and angry, something that God would not want him to do. This realization was brought to a head when both men appeared at a faith-based employment agency that assisted former inmates in getting a job. Waiting in line, the two saw each other and their glances locked. Collins, fearful at first, watched as McGee approached. It was the police officer who spoke first: “I am so sorry! I was so wrong! Please forgive me!” With that, he fell to his knees. McGee helped him up to his feet and embraced him with these words: “I forgive you with the same love that Christ has forgiven me.” They instantly became friends.

The two of them joined forces and travel throughout the country, talking to high school students about the power of forgiveness, mercy and redemption.

I cannot help of thinking of this story as I continue my series on prayer as suggested in the book “13 Powerful Ways to Pray” by Father Eamon Tobin. In this book, Father Tobin writes about the Prayer of Forgiveness. This is indeed such an important part of prayer! The Catechism of the Catholic Church even declares, “Asking for forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer.” (2631) Read that last sentence again. Forgiveness is truly important!

But what is it? Father Tobin writes, “Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning, minimizing, or excusing a hurt done to us. It doesn’t mean surrendering a right to justice when, for example, something is stolen from us. Forgiveness is a decision to let go of a hurt done to us. It is the gift we give ourselves so we do not allow the hurt to control our emotions.” 1

Father Tobin describes four different ways to pray for forgiveness. The items below in bold face are his and the explanations are mine.

Praying for a desire to forgive – We may know that we should forgive someone, but, for some reason, we hold on to the hurt and the pain. The first step is to pray for the grace to pray to forgive. This is a prayer that can be repeated and takes time in order for it to happen. The amazing thing is that it does happen! God does provide us the grace to forgive others!

Prayer of repentance – “Prayer of repentance? Me? Heck, that person is the one that should repent after all they did to me!” Sound familiar? I know I have thought a lot about this myself. However, when someone hurts us or wrongs us, how often do we harbor evil thoughts about them? How often do we speak ill against them to others? This is what we need to repent about. When we can truly own this about ourselves, we are on the road to forgiveness.

Prayer for the offender – Yes, we are expected to pray for our offenders! Remember the Our Father, the prayer that came from Jesus himself! He said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our offenders need as much mercy as we have received from God. They too are weak humans! They too need to be forgiven, not only by ourselves but by God. Prayers for our offenders allow us to experience the tender mercy for another that comes from God.

So, don’t you see how important this type of prayer actually is? Father Tobin was so right!

1Tobin, Eamon. 13 Powerful Ways to Pray. Beacon Publishing, 2016. Pg. 109.

By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness

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