A Season of Lent: Charity (Forgiveness)

The charity we hold out to our fellow man at large is not looking for justice just yet; it is looking to God…

God sets the example of our charity(forgiveness) toward others in Micah…

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your[a] possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.

He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our[b] sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old.” (Micah 7:18-20)

Watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to say, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”… (Luke 17:3-4)

O My Savior, I am truly sorry for having offended you because you are infinitely good and sin displeases you.  I detest all the sins of my life and I desire to atone for them. Through the merits of your Precious blood, wash from my soul all stain of sin, so that, cleansed in body and soul, I may worthily approach the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Ora Pro Nobis.

Chesterton writes of charity forgiveness in Orthodoxy, the kind extended to all of us by God in the beginning that paves the way for us to begin reconciliation, as one of the famous paradoxes of Christianity.  Charity, he says, “gives room for good things to run wild”.

It is helpful at this point to make a comparison between charity and justice, between one audience, a society with individuals still ignorant of God, and another, the Christian brotherhood imbued with the Holy Spirit pressing towards maturity. (Hebrews 6:1)   In Heretics, Chesterton takes the case of two kinds of poverty to illustrate the distinction.  He goes on to observe that the crux of the matter hangs upon impossible situations when compared with the possible:

“Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.”

God in his wisdom, as the great Teacher, brings us to full reconciliation in steps of expectation.  His love when we are unlovable is magnanimous; it covers all that we cannot.  But as we grow in Christian maturity and responsibility, there are expectations, between God and us and between we as brothers.  We are then no longer ignorant of our sins.; we have come to the Light in order that they be exposed (our acknowledgement that we are wrong in doing them).  At this point, we can and need to repent, to grow in holiness and make amends with one another.  Then the fullness of divine love is able to be expressed in us, toward each other and toward the world.  It is only then that we become “the light of the world” . (Matthew 5:14-16) Because the world can now see that it is possible to escape from the darkness and live as Children of Light (Ephesians 5:8).  Hopelessness then becomes hope!

“Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things–pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people. But if we ask ourselves (as we did in the case of pride) what a sensible pagan would feel about such a subject, we shall probably be beginning at the bottom of it. A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t: a slave who stole wine could be laughed at; a slave who betrayed his benefactor could be killed, and cursed even after he was killed. In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild. – G. K. Chesterton, The Paradoxes of Christianity, Orthodoxy, 1908

“The chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild”. – G.K. Chesterton, The Paradoxes of Christianity, Orthodoxy, 1908

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