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Henrik wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am aware that this is mostly a pastoral question/issue but I think you can still help me out.

Only when Catholics go to Confession and ask for forgiveness, can Jesus forgive them.

If this applies to normal human relationships then it means I can only forgive someone if they ask for it. I can forgive enemies only if they ask for it. The ability to stop holding grudges is something that does not require enemies to ask for anything. One should start loving your enemies but only forgive them if they ask for it.

  • What is the official teaching of the Church on this issue?


  { What is the official teaching of the Church on forgiveness by us and by the priest in Confession? }

Bob replied:


You have an error that has flawed your reasoning.

It is not only by asking for forgiveness that one can receive it. Forgiveness is a gift that is given by the one offended, irregardless of whether reconciliation was sought.

Nor can a person only receive forgiveness by asking a priest directly, nor is Jesus limited to forgiving people through the priest.

While going to a priest for Confession is the norm for serious sin, a completely repentant person can go directly to God if the contrition is perfect, however most of us have an imperfect contrition and therefore the sacramental absolution one receives in Confession is necessary. God can work in whatever circumstances are provided — He is flexible. Remember Jesus is the Law Maker. He is not bound by the Law — if we limit God, we fall into the same trap of those who condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:10-17)

Consider how Jesus said from the Cross, Father, forgive them they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) Jesus did not condition their forgiveness on anything but the Father's Mercy so, in the same way, we are called to forgive even when our enemies don't ask for it.

That being said, if someone has not repented of a known wrong, forgiveness can be withheld, at least for a time. There are judgments that Jesus afforded the disciples and us, at least forestalling the act of forgiveness until reconciliation is sought. That is the nature of excommunication. Also, that is the shake the dust attitude that Jesus talked about (Matthew 10:12-14), and when John said in one of his epistles, there are those of whom I say you do not have to pray . . . (1 John 5:16-17). Sometimes it is better to allow real repentance to happen.

Ultimately, when forgiveness is truly asked for, we cannot withhold it, without incurring judgment upon ourselves.

Bob Kirby

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