THERE is no lesson Christ loves better to drive home, than this disconcerting fact of our common human fragility: which, when we have truly grasped it, kills resentment and puts indulgent pity in its place. Let the man, the group, the nation that is without sin cast the first stone. God’s forgiveness means the compassionate recognition of the weakness and instability of man; how often we cannot help it, how truly there is in us a “root and ground of sin,” an implicit rebellion against the Holy, a tendency away from love and peace. And this requires of us the constant compassionate recognition of our fellow-creatures’ instability and weakness; of the fact that they too cannot help it.
If the Christian penitent dares to ask that his many departures from the Christian norm, his impatience, gloom, self-occupation, unloving prejudices, reckless tongue, feverish desires, with all the damage they have caused to Christ’s Body, are indeed to be set aside, because – in spite of all – he longs for God and Eternal Life; then he too must set aside and forgive all that impatience, selfishness, bitter and foolish speech, sudden yieldings to base impulse in others have caused him to endure. Hardness is the one impossible thing. Harshness to others in those who ask and need the mercy of God sets up a conflict at the very heart of personality and shuts the door upon grace. And that which is true of the individual soul, is also true of the community; the penitent nation seeking the path of life must also conform to the law of charity.
This principle applied in its fullness makes a demand on our generosity which only a purified and self-oblivious love can hope to meet. For every soul that appeals for God’s forgiveness is required to move over to His side, and share the compassionate understanding, the unmeasured pity, with which He looks on human frailty and sin. So difficult is this to the proud and assertive creature that it comes very near the end of our education in prayer. Indeed, the Christian doctrine of forgiveness is so drastic and so difficult, where there is a real and deep injury to forgive, that only those living in the Spirit, in union with the Cross, can dare to base their claim on it.