Mercy & Forgiveness


Triduum for the Feast of St Therese: Day 2, 29 Sep 2016

“There was once a man who was not a very nice person. He mistreated his wife very badly, and he had a son, whom he didn’t treat well. After a few years, he abandoned both of them and disappeared.

The son grew up filled with resentment and hatred for his father. Years later, the father returned one day, telling his son he wanted reconciliation.

The son looked at his father with disgust, and he said that never in his entire life would he want to forgive him. He felt the father had created so much misery for the family, so he wanted the father to feel the same pain and be punished for the rest of his life.

Unknown to the son, one of the reasons his father came to seek reconciliation, was that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and he was starting to have dementia. The son didn’t know this, and the father left, very sad.

After a few years, a family friend told the son that his father was in bad shape and suggested he pay a visit. Very reluctantly, he went to visit his father, who was in an advanced stage of the disease.

When he saw his father, he was filled with a lot of anger and resentment again, but the person sitting in front of him was just smiling. His father couldn’t recognise him or respond much, and just kept smiling.

The son shouted at him, saying he was supposed to feel pain. He berated him for smiling back at him. The old man didn’t react and continued to smile.

Finally, the son broke down. After crying a while, he looked up and said: ‘I’ve had enough of this. I want to move on. Today, I want to tell you, I will forgive you for all the things you’ve done in the past.’

The father didn’t respond and just smiled, but the son suddenly felt a very heavy burden lifted. All that darkness within himself just dissolved.

We realise then that forgiving the father was not so much for the father’s benefit, but it was for the son to set himself free.

Today, we are talking about mercy and the family. Yesterday, Father Simon Pereira spoke about the need to go out and show mercy. But we need to focus on our own families too.

This is very real. Many people who come to us priests for confessions say they cannot forgive a particular person in their families.

What can we learn from the parable of the prodigal son? The father should be very much angry with the wrongdoings of the son, but he focused on healing the relationship.

To bring about mercy within our families, we have to learn to be very sensitive to people around us. This is the first challenge I want you to ponder on.

Such sensitivity doesn’t come naturally to all of us. If you have such a virtue, grow and nurture it. For some of us, we must work more on this, to be more aware of what the other person is going through.

That is the core of the word ‘mercy’, which is from the Latin word ‘misericordia’. It combines two words: ‘miseriae’ means misery, and ‘cor’ or ‘cordis’ means heart.

The meaning of ‘misericordia’ is to be able to go into the heart of the other person, to experience the pain the other is feeling.

Here is where the next challenge comes: To bring about reconciliation.

Many of us have heard this: We have to forgive, but we don’t have to forget. Because the reality is that things have been done.

The forgiveness? It is not something that we feel we want to do. Rather, we make a choice to forgive someone. It is therefore an act of intention. I can still feel annoyed with you, but I can choose to forgive you.

Ask yourself: Can I make this choice?

We are also here tonight, preparing for the feast of St Therese this weekend.

St Therese was someone who truly valued her family and she shared a lot about relationships within families. She also admitted that sometimes, family relationships are not perfect.

She said: ‘True charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbours and our family members, and in not being surprised at their failings, but edified by their smallest virtues. Charity must not remain shut in the depths of the heart, but to enlighten and make joyful, not only to those who are dearest to us, or to me, but to all who are in the house, even those we are not very happy with.’”

– Fr Terence Wee, CSsR

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