However, they are mere supplements to the lesson that God wanted us to learn from that first Christmas. On a silent night almost 2000 years ago, God responded to mankind’s plea for forgiveness with the cry of a new born babe. The birth of Jesus symbolizes God’s forgiveness of human original sins first committed by Adam and Eve. God sent His only Son from heaven to earth to share in our poverty and pain. Thus, the first Christmas was the first general absolution of sin, and the Christmas of today is a reminder of that forgiveness.
This lesson of forgiveness has just as much importance today as it did at the time of Christ’s birth. No other leader in history has taught and stressed the value and effectiveness of forgiveness more forcefully than Christ. Through our history, from the time of Caesar and the Roman Empire including Napoleon, Cromwell, Castro and finally our own great country, force, fear and power have been the weapons of success. But this not true of the Christ Child whose birthday we celebrate. His instrument of success was his manner of forgiveness. He never carried a gun, and yet, millions of people have come to follow him from every country and culture in civilization. With this instrument of forgiveness, this Christ Child was able to shed more light on things divine and human than all the philosophers and scholars of all mankind. With this forgiveness, he has set in motion more pens and furnished more themes for sermons, discussions and scholastic studies than any other person in time.
Because of the birth of Christ, all men, despite their wrongdoings and sins, have the divine guarantee of forgiveness. This awesome ability to forgive is greatly responsible for the drawing of many people to the Christ Child. Through the authority of God, the Child has told us, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” This same Christ went to his own death carrying a cross rather than carrying a grudge. This same person has taught us the lesson that when we are at odds with anyone, before we go to the altar to leave our gifts, we should go first to be reconciled, and then offer forgiveness.
Why is this theme of forgiveness so important? It is so important because in order to be people of good will as Christ was, we must be able to pardon those who have hurt us. Without this desire to forgive, there can never be total peace in our hearts. On this Christmas day, Christ is saying to Jews and Arabs, to Irish and Protestants in Northern Ireland, to every person who has ever been hurt or disappointed by a family member or friend, “you must forgive them as I have forgiven you.”
Another classic example of forgiveness in the Catholic Church pertains to the story of St. Maria Goretti. As you might recall, Maria Goretti because of her purity and her desire to preserve it, was brutally raped and killed. Over forty years ago at her canonization, her mother was assisted to and from the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by a grey-haired, stooped-over man. The reporters at the canonization knew that the man who assisted her to and from the altar was the same man who had brutally assaulted, raped and killed her daughter. When the reporters met Mrs. Goretti after the Mass, they asked her how she could possible allow herself to be escorted to and from Communion by the man who had killed her daughter. Her reply was classic. She said simply, “if Maria, my daughter, could forgive him before she died, then so can I.”
If Christmas is to have the peace of Christ, it is to come from those who offer the forgiveness of Christ. If this Christmas finds you forgiving those who trespassed against you, because they knew not what they were doing, then there will be great peace in your hearts. This is the true spirit of Christmas. Without this spirit, there will never be personal peace in your lives. With it, you will make Christmas happier for yourself, for your family and for those who are in need of the peace of Christ which comes from your sense of forgiveness.
Help me, Lord, to know and appreciate your love.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153)
In Selected Works