Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

from St. Teresa of Avila

Our kind Master sees that, unless the fault be our own, this heavenly Bread renders all things easy to us and that we are now capable of fulfilling our promise to the Father of allowing His will to be done in us. Therefore, continuing to teach us the prayer He says: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,’ Notice, daughters, He does not say, “as we are about to forgive our debtors,’ because we are to understand that we must have already done this before we beg for so great a gift [as this Bread] and the surrender of our own will to that of God. Therefore Christ’s words are: ‘as we forgive our debtors.’ Whoever wishes to be able to say to God in all sincerity: ‘Thy will be done,’ must have forgiven others beforehand, at least in intention.

Now we see why the saints rejoiced in injuries and persecutions, for thereby they had some payment to offer God when they made this petition. Otherwise, what could such poor sinners as myself do, who have so little to forgive and so much to be forgiven? We ought to think over this very seriously, sisters; it is so grave and so important a matter that God should pardon us miserable creatures our sins which merit eternal fire, that we must pardon all offences committed against us, which are not really affronts nor anything at all. For, how is it possible to wrong, either by word or deed, such a one as I am, who in simple justice deserve to be treated unindly in this world and tortured by the devils in the next? Thus it is, O my God! for I believe that I could forgive my neighbour anything since Thou dost pardon me, or that I might fulfil Thy will unreservedly — yet, when it comes to the test, if I were unjustly accused, I know not what I might do. But in Thine eyes I am so guilty that all the evil men could say of me would fall far short of the truth, although those who see not all which Thou knowest might think that I had been injured. Therefore, O my Father! Thou must indeed forgive me freely, which demands from Thee mercy. All praise is due to Thee for bearing patiently with one so poor as I am. When Thy most blessed Son promised Thee this repayment from other men, He left out my name because I am utterly destitute. But, O my God! are there not other souls, which, like mine, have never grasped this truth? If there are, I beg them in Thy name to remember it, and to ignore the trifling matters which they call affronts, lest, in their care for points of honour, they resemble children building houses out of straw.

Ah, my sisters, would that we realized what such ‘honour’ means, by which true honour is forfeited! I am not speaking about what we are at the present moment: it would indeed be shameful if we did not recognize this. I apply it to myself in the days when I prided myself on my honour, as is the custom of the world, without knowing what the world really meant. Oh! how ashamed I feel at recalling what used to annoy me then, although I was not a person accustomed to stand on ceremony. Still, I did not realize where the essential point of honour lay, for I neither knew nor cared for real honour, which is of some use because it benefits the soul. How truy has some one said: ‘Honour and profit do not go together!’ I do not know whether he applied this meaning to it, still, quoting his words as they stand, the soul’s profit and what men call honour can never agree. The perversity of the world is most astonishing: thank God for taking us out of it! May He always keep its spirit as far from this house as it is now! Heaven defend us from monasteries where the inmates are sensitive as to their fancied rights: they will never pay much honour to God there.

What can be more absurd than for religious to stand upon their dignity on such petty points that I am absolutely surprised at them! You know nothing about such things, sisters: I will tell you so that you may be on your guard. The devil has not forgotten us — he has invented honours in religious houses — he has settled the laws by which the dwellers rise and fall in dignity (as men do in the world), and they are jealous of their honour in surprisingly petty matters. Learned men must not descend to read philosophy. This is a point of honour which consists in advancing and in not retrograding. If obedience obliged any one to do the contrary, he would secretly take it as an affront and would find others to take his part and say that he had been ill-used: the devil would easily find reasons, even from the holy Scriptures, by which he would appear to prove this. Even among nuns, she who has been Prioress must not afterwards fill any lower office: deference must be shown to the first in rank and she takes care we do not forget it; at times this even seems a merit because the Rule enjoins it. The thing is absurd, and enough to make one laugh — or rather weep, and with better cause than can be told. I know the Rule does not forbid me to be humble: the regulation is made to maintain order, but I ought not to be so careful of my dignity as to insist on this point’s being obeyed as strictly as the rest. And perhaps I keep those injunctions very slackly, while I will give up no jot or title of this one. Let others see to what concerns my rank and let me take no notice of it. The fact is, we are bent on rising higher although we shall never mount to heaven by this path, and we will not dream of descending.

O my Lord! art Thou not our Pattern and our Master? Indeed Thou art. And in what did Thine honour consist, O ever honoured Master and King? Didst Thou lose it in being humbled even unto death? No, Lord, Thou didst thereby gain it and didst win graces for us all. Therefore, sisters, how far we shall err from the right path if we follow this way, for it leads us wrong from the very beginning. May He grant that no soul may be lost through observing these miserable points of etiquette without realizing in what true honour consists. At last we come to believe that we have done a great thing when we forgive some trifle which was neither an affront nor an injury nor anything of the sort, nor gave us any just cause for resentment. Then afterwards, as if we had done some virtuous action, we petition God to forgive us because we have forgiven others. Give us grace O Lord! to know that we do not understand what we are saying, and that all such souls come to Him as empty-handed as I do myself. Grant this for the sake of Thy loving mercy. Indeed, O Lord! I see nothing that I can offer worthy to obtain from Thee so great a gift, for all earthly things perish, but hell is eternal: yet I plead to Thee for souls who think that others are always injuring and insulting them.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

from St. Louis De Montfort