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In our culture, a burp in the company of others will often be followed by, “Pardon me.” Some might say, “Excuse me.” The intention is the same. We feel that we have broken etiquette and therefore, we have to repair the offence to good human interaction.
Both these words, “pardon” and “excuse”, are requests to be forgiven. In a more formal way, a pardon given to a prisoner releases the offender from fully experiencing the punishment due for the offence.
These words are requests for forgiveness and the receiving of forgiveness is accompanied by gratitude. Gratitude is probably the most wonderful reason to be in relationship with another person.
A married couple surely experiences gratitude for the gift of each other in their unique experience of married life. Good friends are grateful for the trust each has in the other and the often unspoken understanding which underlies the relationship (grateful spouses are also good friends). Children are grateful for the trust they have in their loving parents (they may not always express it verbally). Parents are grateful for the gift of their children.
Gratitude really does lie at the heart of all good relationships. Therefore, pardon and forgiveness must also lie at the heart of all good relationships.
Our relationship with God is enriched by our understanding of our human relationships. In fact, the best human relationships are those which are signs of the relationship between God and us: “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The story of the Father’s forgiveness for the boy who wasted his father’s inheritance (Luke 15) reveals our relationship with God the Father and our human experience of parents and children. Jesus Christ’s relationship with the Church which is his body (Ephesians 5:25) reveals our experience of husband and wife. Jesus’ relationship with his disciples whom he calls his friends and no longer his servants (John 15:15), reminds us of the trust which exists in our human friendships, along with the acceptance that not all of us are perfect.
Pardon and gratitude are real experiences in our relationship with God just as they are important to our human relationships. To love is divine; to show mercy is divine. Therefore, love and mercy are also very human and the answer to living in good relationships.
Fr Bob Harwood